21 December 2008

SCU psychologist replicates Milgram's famous experiment

The San Jose Mercury News, among others, reports:

Replicating one of the most controversial behavioral experiments in history, a Santa Clara University psychologist has found that people will follow orders from an authority figure to administer what they believe are painful electric shocks.

The setup was essentially the same as in Stanley Milgram's 1974 experiment. The conclusions are the same, too.

Additionally, the volunteers confronted a novel situation—having never before been in such a setting, they had no idea of how they were supposed to act, he said.

Finally, they had been told that they should not feel responsible for inflicting pain; rather, the "instructor" was accountable. "Lack of feeling responsible can lead people to act in ways that they might otherwise not, said Burger.

"When we see people acting out of character, the first thing we should ask is: 'What's going on in this situation?'"

Milgram's assessment of his own experiment seems no less true today:

Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.

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