Saturday, March 20, 2010

Milgram Experiment on French Television

I had written "this is shocking" as the first sentence here and then thought better of it. The famous Milgram obedience experiment is replicated on French television  (HT Marginal Revolution). We have to be careful about reporting on a TV simulation in the same way as a controlled experiment so keep your wits about you when looking at this. However, it looks like approximately 80 percent of the individuals continued shocking right up to the point where the supposed victim is likely to have had severe pain or even death inflicted on them. There is not a university ethics committee in the world that would allow this experiment now and I am sure there will be a lot of complaints on that side. But it does show, once again nearly fifty years later, that people will do extremely nasty things to one another when their morality is switched off by authority or other features of a social situation. We do not know in this case the precise make-up of the participants and so on. It is possible, I suppose, that they were all latent psychopaths who selected themselves on the basis of a preference for administering torture. But it seems likely that they were fairly normal, if fame-hungry, french people who were, they thought, just participating in a game show. Scary stuff though I am quite sure none of you would ever act in this way?

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