I read this book about 20-30 years ago. It's about a group of teenagers who wake up in a huge room where each is on a separate platform. As the book progresses, they go unconscious and the platforms change, move or become connected. The children are punished or rewarded through a variety of methods including food and pain. The goal is to get them to either hurt each other, or see if they band together, I can't quite remember. Please tell me if this sounds familiar.
House of Stairs
House of Stairs (1974) is a science fiction novel by William Sleator about orphaned teenagers placed in a house of stairs, similar to the lithograph print by M. C. Escher, which provided the novel's title and setting, in a psychological exploitation of a social dynamics experiment.
Set in a dystopian America in the near future, the story tells of the experiences of five 16-year-olds who were living in orphanages who wake up to find themselves in a strange building that has no walls, no ceiling, and no floor: nothing but endless flights of stairs leading in every direction, seemingly infinite, so that it is impossible to get one's bearings or have perspective. On one landing is a basin of running water that serves as a toilet, sink and drinking fountain; on another, a machine with lights that intermittently produces food. The five, thrown together in these bizarre circumstances, must learn to deal with the others' disparate personalities, the lack of privacy and comfort, their clear helplessness, and a machine that only feeds them under gradually more exacting situations.
It fits with the bit about teenagers waking up on platforms (not really floating, but connected by stairs), as well as the time frame (1974).
There are some differences, though:
- It's not meant to study group dynamics, precisely. Rather, the purpose of the experiment is to condition youth into soulless government operatives.
- They don't seem to be subject to pain-based condition, besides the absence of a positive stimulus (food).
- They don't seem to go unconscious, and the platforms don't seem to move around.
I agree with the comment — House of Stairs by William Sleator. From the Google Books description:
One by one, five sixteen-year-old orphans are brought to a strange building. It is not a prison, not a hospital; it has no walls, no ceiling, no floor. Nothing but endless flights of stairs leading nowhere, except back to a strange red machine. The five must learn to love the machine and let it rule their lives. But will they let it kill their souls?