Would you torture a stranger on command?

In the famous Milgram experiment 82% of the subjects followed the orders of authorities and administered (fake) electric shocks to strangers as instructed.

A Santa Clara study that repeated the experiment (2008) found that 70% of their volunteers did the same.

We suppose that we should applaud the "improvement" or attribute the differential to the more laid back nature of the Californians recruited for the new study through Craigslist.

Remember however, the Milgram experiment was not meant primarily to be a means of evaluating the moral fiber of our society. It's often discussed in the context of investigating the actions of Eichmann, the Nazis and the Holocaust. But the research in fact was sponsored by the US military to help establish the limits of effective authority in the chain of command and to set guidelines and expectations for field commanders. Accordingly we don't consider the results indicative of whether our evil neighbors will eagerly engage in torture, or indicative of philosophical or moral trends.

Here is a high level account of the new study.
Shocking revelation: Santa Clara University professor mirrors famous torture study
By Lisa M. Krieger

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.

More than two-thirds of volunteers in the research study had to be stopped from administering 150 volt shocks of electricity, despite hearing a person's cries of pain, professor Jerry M. Burger concluded in a study published in the January issue of the journal American Psychologist

"In a dramatic way, it illustrates that under certain circumstances people will act in very surprising and disturbing ways,'' said Burger.

The study, using paid volunteers from the South Bay, is similar to the famous 1974 "obedience study'' by the late Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram. In the wake of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann's trial, Milgram was troubled by the willingness of people to obey authorities — even if it conflicted with their own conscience.

Burger's findings are published in a special section of the journal reflecting on Milgram's work 24 years after his death on Dec. 20, 1984. The haunting images of average people administering shocks have kept memories of Milgram's research alive for decades, even as recently as the Abu Ghraib scandal....more... //repost from 12/08//


Rabbi Ariel Sokolovsky said...

Yeah, and when a similar experement was conducted in Israel few years ago they have reached the same results on a larger scale see here:

Richard said...

Interesting video. Although the situation with the settlers is both controversial and sometimes very sad, we should remember that Arial Sharon was democratically elected and that his decision to leave Gaza was a political calculation, not that I necessarily agree with it. Sharon's decision may have been motivated by the same factors as De Gaulle's decision to leave Algeria. In hindsight it seems to have made the security situation even worse, at least in the interim. That being said, these events can never be equated to the horrors of the Holocaust.