Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Milgram experiment rerun by French TV station

You may recall the landmark Milgram experiment, in which subjects were ordered to inflict what they believed to be genuine electric shocks of increasing severity upon the people they thought were the subjects of the experiment (but who were actually actors). Well, a French TV documentary has rerun the experiment, with an interesting twist -- the subjects thought they were participating in a reality TV show:
A French TV documentary features people in a spoof game show administering what they are told are near lethal electric shocks to rival contestants.

Those taking part are told to pull levers to inflict shocks - increasing in voltage - upon their opponents.

Although unaware that the contestants were actors and there was no electrical current, 82% of participants in the Game of Death agreed to pull the lever.
From the BBC. Note that in the original study, "only" 62% complied; could this mean that TV is even more powerful in driving people to behave badly?

Incidentally, there are some caveats here. I'd like to know more about the methodology; for instance, I'd like to know if the subjects were questioned beforehand as to their familiarity with Milgram's original study. Also, it should be noted that Milgram's subjects were given counselling after the fact (and today some people consider the study unethical in spite of that); I wonder whether similar precautions were taken here.

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