Wednesday, 13 May 2009

What would you do?

Did any of you watch this last night? As part of the BBC's Violence Season there was a documentary on TV last night called How Violent Are You? Basically, Michael Portillo was investigating what makes ordinary people commit extreme acts of violence. It was fairly interesting, he visited Bolivia to take part in a Tinku (an annual battle that takes place between the people of Potosi...they use it to settle conflicts that have arrisen over the year and everyone gets involved including women and children!!), met a man that had been a child soldier and also met a man addicted to the chemical rush he got from being violent. The reason I am blogging about this is that it became very interesting when they re-created a scientific experiment from the early 1960's.

I had never heard of the Milgram experiment before and I found the whole thing really really disturbing (I would like to think that I would never be capable of of seeing this experiment through to it's conclusion!!). The experiment basically measured the willingness of ordinary people to obey an autority figure who was instructing them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience. The participants were told that it was an experiment to measure would be the teacher and the other the student. They were both given a sheet of paper and the student was told to memorise the answers to multiple choice questions which the teacher would then ask. If the student got the answer wrong then they would be punished with an electric shock the volt of which would get stronger every time they answered incorrectly. They were put in seperate rooms so couldn't actually see each other but prior to this the teacher watched as the student was physically restrained in a chair and then the teacher was given a mild shock to re-enforce the idea that the student would be receiving painful electric shocks. The teacher was then put in a room with the professor sitting at a desk behind them and told to start the experiment. Now, what the teacher didn't know was that the student was actually an actor and that in reality no such punishments were being administered. In order for it to sound real the electro-shock generator was wired to a tape recorder which played pre-recorded sounds for each shock level giving the impression that the student was recieving the shocks. The big question......would the teacher be willing to administer a seemingly lethal electric shock to someone.

I couldn't believe what I was seeing!! The teachers (there were 12 in total), despite hearing screaming and cries to be let out coming from the other room, carried on increasing the shocks when they recieved the wrong answers....even when the shock generator was at a dangerous level and noise had ceased from the other room most went ahead and administered the final lethal shock!! All participants at some point indicated to the professor that they were not comfortable about continuing but after being told that it was essential they keep going only 3 of them stood their ground and said no!! This backed up the original findings.....I don't know about you but I find that absolutely chilling.


The Accidental Fan said...

Well, shocking as it is, if someone told me to "torture" someone else as part of an experiment....

...I'd drop kick the scientist with the clipboard, headbutt the armed guards and then go head first through the one way glass to rescue the prisoner. Being Van Dame like in physique the fact that the glass was really just on a wall wouldn't stop me, I'd punch through the wall and end up in the canteen. Eskimo roll past the swinging batons of the security guards, leap up and over with my best Fosbury Flop the counter, nick a sausage roll and head out the doors to catch the next bus home.

Yes, I can see why you are worried about my sanity.

Carol and Chris said...

TAF - LOL....yes, you have just confirmed everything that I suspected.....but I do have to say that you could at least have nicked something better than a sausage roll!!

On a serious note, the way the experiment was put to the people taking part was very very subtle. For the majority of them it was only after it was all over that they actually thought about what they had done....One bloke was absolutely horrified (and so he should have been!!)

C x

The Accidental Fan said...

Van Dame? That conjures up images of being emaciated from spending my life stuck in the upstairs room of the red light district in Amsterdam.

More dried frog pills doctor.

Carol and Chris said...

Not to mention looking like you've been attacked by a bicycle pump!! Oh, and you forgot to mention the dodgy hair.....

Doc, he doesn't just need more dried frog pills but he needs the dose increased too!!

C x

Tam said...

People are easily subverted aren't they? And we all have a slightly cruel streak which can be tapped into if approached in the right way.

I hope I'd have stood my ground. Actually, I know I couldn't have knowingly hurt someone. I can't even kill flies.

Thought provoking post :-)

Malmesbury Photography said...

I've seen this before, and you are right, it poses all kinds of ethical questions? What would I do? I don't know really....depends on my mood on the day I suppose.

Anyway, what is really shocking, was the fact that I couldn't use the shortcut through the Abbey yesterday because of filming. My shoes will wear out: SEE

Lane said...

I saw this once on a programme and it was truly shocking. The way people who seemed pretty well adjusted went along with the 'orders' was as you say truly chilling.

Carol and Chris said...

Tam - I'm exactly the same!! I don't think I would be able to inflict pain upon anyone either (I also don't tend to do things just cause I am told to...I don't know if it's because I have a curious nature or because I am just stroppy :-)).

Malmesbury Photography - I was stunned just how many people went along with it without question!!

LOL I had no idea that Paul Whitehouse was filming in Malmesbury....will need to keep a look out for it on TV.

Lane - You've hit the nail on the head!! All those people came across as normal well adjusted individuals yet, with very little prompting, nine of them actually administered a lethal shock to another person.

C x

French Fancy said...

This sounds a programme I'm glad to have missed. As for me, I don't think I would have administered the 'shocks' - I've always been a bit of a rebel.

funny TAF with his Van Damme physique - I always thought of TAF as a tall bloke, VD is a titch

HelenMHunt said...

That really is chilling.

DJ Kirkby said...

Scary and I think it is a shame the teachers seem to have come out as the focuss as it could ahve been any authority figure really couldn't it? I mean that is the really scary thing about some human's behaviour under pressure.

Debs said...

I remember seeing something about that experiment and it haunted me.

Love Accidental Fan's answer, brilliant.

Blu said...

Well I just dont get it. Doh..why would sensible people agree to do this? I mean you wouldnt would they are nutters. I must have missed something. You dont torture people for quiz questions!!! LOL

ladyfi said...

I remember reading about this experiment many moons ago and being shocked. I don't really remember what conclusions they drew in the actual report though. Could be that we can't stand up to authority figures and that fear overrides our impulses to cause harm?


Carol and Chris said...

French Fancy - It was fascinating in a horrifying way!!

Hehehe, I know what you mean about TAF....I have always thought of him as tall too!!

Helen - It is isn't it!! *shudders*

DJ - It was just a normal person playing the part of a teacher for the purposes of the experiment....the authority figure was the Professor.

Debs - I found the whole thing so disturbing I actually dreamed about it!!

Blu - I know!! I think that was why I couldn't quite believe what I was seeing. I just didn't understand why they did what they were told without questioning it.

hehehe, some of the quiz programmes on TV are pure torture!! (just not in the same way :-D)

Ladyfi - I looked it up and a shocking 65% of the original participants (there were 40) administered the final lethal shock. Milgram also repeated the experiment in a number of different countries and recorded the same response!! I don't know if it's fear or a willingness to please but your is frightening!!

C x

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