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Author Topic: The experiment requires that you continue.  (Read 1847 times)

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Offline TriesteTopic starter

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The experiment requires that you continue.
« on: January 12, 2009, 06:37:48 PM »
One of the most famous (and infamous) series of experiments in (American - dunno about other places) psychology is that conducted by Stanley Milgram starting around the late 60's. It's back in the news lately, especially with the still-stinging slap of prison torture, wartime atrocities and ongoing horrors that we hear about (it seems like) on a daily basis. CNN did a recent piece on it (found here) and it even has its own website.

The circumstances of the original experiments are famous because they apply to many fields of study. Behaviourists (in sociology, anthropology and psychology, among others) think it's interesting as a study on the effect of authority. History buffs in general and those who focus on WWII in specific tend to focus on Milgram's experiments because it shows how so many, many people could have turned their backs so easily on their friends, neighbours, and colleagues during the height of the Nazi party as led by Hitler. Medical professionals and most social workers point to these experiments in ongoing debates about informed consent versus accurate results (the subjects were supposedly not ever informed that they weren't hurting anyone, causing possible trauma and anguish, but researchers argue that that's how it's gotta be).

Despite what we would like to believe about ourselves, a shocking percentage of people followed instructions to the point of seriously hurting and supposedly killing someone. What do you think you would do? How convinced are you that you would be in the small percentage that would stop? And how do you think the experimental subjects answered that question?'

Chilling.

Edit: Fixed link. Originally posted the wrong article.  ::)
« Last Edit: January 12, 2009, 06:52:51 PM by Trieste »

Offline Heart

Re: The experiment requires that you continue.
« Reply #1 on: January 13, 2009, 10:53:23 PM »
I studied this experiment two years ago in my high school psychology class.
A fair few of the students were quite affected by how easily a person will listen to someone who seems to have authority or is supposedly a professional, despite their morals and conscience.
It was pretty intense as we watched a film of the original experiment.

Offline Pumpkin Seeds

Re: The experiment requires that you continue.
« Reply #2 on: January 14, 2009, 02:32:10 AM »
Social Sciences can be very scary in their implications.  Experiments that not only give substance to theory but also dare to prove them are even more frightening.  A great deal of effort is given in those courses to prove to people that the social sciences are indeed real and should be taken seriously.  This experiment is, unfortunately, one of the hallmark ones.  The application of this experiment and what it means are drastic and so obvious that they cannot be ignored.  Many of my fellow students though refuse to believe that they would be among the people willing to kill someone.  I believe this to be simple arrogance and preservation of the ego, since many of my fellow students also like to believe they are above social constraints.

Simple truth is that none of us stand above them.  We are all subject to them no matter how much we deny.  Each of us violate particular norms , each of us raised to believe in certain things over others and we each have our own little rebellion.  These would be called variables by any other science but for us they are individuality.  Upbringing, past experiences, instilled morality and perhaps a simple bit of human nature or insight determine our ability to make choices.  Sometimes those choices are indeed frightening and people are faced with how easily they can become monsters.  Riots and lootings when civil order breakdown are also prime examples of humans without social constraints at work.

I do think this experiment would not have work on me.  Not because I am any less susceptible to the role of authority, but merely because of my background.  I have medical training so I am familiar with the causes and effects of shocking the body.  Also, while I have yet to take the official oath I sincerely believe in the nurseís creed of Do No Harm.  Mixing this with knowledge about this experiment and my background in sociology, Iíd never make it past the entrance exam.  That said I would still pull over if lights came on behind me in the dead of night.  I would still scramble to get out of my house if a National Guardsman pounded down my door and ordered me out.  Sadly I would also believe what Iím told if someone is guilty or worthy of dying, just as is done by the death penalty.

There was a book I read during college titled On Killing that went into this subject.  Written by Lt Colonel David Grossman, the book has insight into the difficulty of people to kill one another without being told to do so.  Among the evidence gathered from interviews was an event during World War II.  A unit of Russian soldiers came into contact with a unit of German soldiers.  Both were of near equal size, armed and had come upon each other suddenly in a fog.  Each unit had been in heavy fighting and was mostly composed of lower ranking troops as their officers were injured or dead.  The two units opened fire with rocks and insults for nearly an hour.  Neither side fired a single shot during the engagement.  Another thing of interest was a consistency in what people remember before opening fire on enemy combatants.  They did not remember being shot at or feeling a desire to defend themselves, but instead remember their commander yelling to open fire.   A very interesting read that I recommend to anyone intrigued by human aggression and fighting.

Offline Valerian

Re: The experiment requires that you continue.
« Reply #3 on: January 14, 2009, 11:36:20 AM »
I also saw some of the film, in one of my psychology classes, and it's an unsettling thing to watch.  Personally, I have a deep-seated aversion to physically hurting anyone, even accidentally or in self-defense, which I like to think would have saved me... but there's no way to be sure.  It's easy to sit here, forty years later, and comfortably say that you would never have gone so far as to risk causing physical damage, but none of us can truly be sure of that.

Perhaps equally infamous is the Stanford Prison Experiment of 1971, where volunteers were randomly divided into either prisoners or guards, and were put into a simulated prison environment.  The planned two-week long experiment had to be stopped after just six days.  In that short space of time, the students had all slid so far into their roles as to cause serious concern for their physical and emotional well-being.

The organizer of that experiment, Philip G. Zimbardo, has recently written a book called The Lucifer Effect.  Aside from offering the first comprehensive study of that experiment, he also discusses more modern, real world atrocities, arguing that none of us are immune to the temptations of violence and cruelty, given the right (or wrong) circumstances.   To use his anology, it isn't that every barrel has some bad apples in it; it's that certain barrels create bad apples.

It isn't an easy read by any means, but it's a fascinating look at the ideas of good and evil, and what it means to be human.  I also don't quite agree with all his conclusions, but he offers up some very powerful arguments.

Offline errihu

Re: The experiment requires that you continue.
« Reply #4 on: January 15, 2009, 06:25:04 PM »
As I am now, I would stop before I 'killed' the other person, but that's probably because I already knew about the study. I don't know what I would be like if I had never become a sociologist.

The Milgram experiments, the Stanford Prison Experiments, the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, and Laud Humphrey's Tea Room Trade are all studies that I have used during discussions on ethics in tutorial classes that I TA'd while completing my Masters in Sociology. They illustrate very well the need for ethics in any research involving human beings, whether it be social science research, medical research, or any other kind - if it involves a human, then it should go through a rigorous ethics screening.

For those who are curious, the Tuskegee syphilis study involved deliberately denying medical treatment to black patients with syphilis in order to better understand the effects of syphilis on the human body. They essentially discovered that syphilis is Bad For You, at a cost of great human suffering. It was a gross human rights violation, and violated the Hippocratic oath.

In the Tea Room Trade, Laud Humphreys volunteered to be the lookout at park washrooms where gay orgies were going on. While he was on the lookout for the cops, he took down the license plates of the men who came to participate. Later, he contacted a friend in the Department of Transportation who provided him with the names and addresses of the people who the vehicles were registered to. He went, in person, to these people's houses to confront them on their actions. He discovered (much to his amazement), that many were married and identifying as straight. The Tea Room Trade is an excellent illustration of how informed consent, the rights of participants, and privacy requirements are all necessary for ethical research.

Offline Pumpkin Seeds

Re: The experiment requires that you continue.
« Reply #5 on: January 15, 2009, 06:39:40 PM »
:: wants a Masters::

Offline TriesteTopic starter

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Re: The experiment requires that you continue.
« Reply #6 on: January 15, 2009, 09:58:43 PM »
*twitches at the mention of Tuskeegee*

As for whether a sociologist, or a nurse, or anyone else is more or less likely to complete the series of jolts, I have found no information (granted, I haven't looked overly hard) regarding the backgrounds, professions, or training of the people in the original experiments. So there is just no way to know if your background would save you from being a statistic. Most people feel that they are immune to such peer pressure, but research has shown that most people cave to it.

It did note in one source I found (can't recall if it was Moral Sense or my soc textbook) that people were less likely to obey if there were two official-looking people in the room but they disagreed. Findings seem to be that a clear and solid sense of authority must be established, so that, at least, is something.

Offline Pumpkin Seeds

Re: The experiment requires that you continue.
« Reply #7 on: January 15, 2009, 10:58:25 PM »
Familiarity with the experiment as people will see in social sciences would be a bias against the experiment.  This is not because anyone in social sciences is resistant, but only because they might recognize the test for what it is. 

Offline TriesteTopic starter

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Re: The experiment requires that you continue.
« Reply #8 on: January 15, 2009, 11:11:42 PM »
Ja, I was just commenting that there is no information (that I have found) indicating what sort of background these people are from. If you were doing an experiment on group dynamics and the phenomenon where people can hear someone's screams and not call 911 (named after a woman, don't recall her name) you might want to take into account who is an EMT, or a nurse, or some other profession that trains its people to act in such emergencies, since it would be a variable that should be taken into account.

But since that was not a variable in this study as far as I can tell, there is no information on whether there's an even spread of sympathetic vs. non-sympathetic (in the sociological definition of the word) background. See what I'm getting at?

Offline Pumpkin Seeds

Re: The experiment requires that you continue.
« Reply #9 on: January 15, 2009, 11:43:48 PM »
The variable was accounted for in the repeat of the test according to that article.

Offline Valerian

Re: The experiment requires that you continue.
« Reply #10 on: January 16, 2009, 08:26:01 AM »
If you were doing an experiment on group dynamics and the phenomenon where people can hear someone's screams and not call 911 (named after a woman, don't recall her name) you might want to take into account who is an EMT, or a nurse, or some other profession that trains its people to act in such emergencies, since it would be a variable that should be taken into account.
That was Kitty Genovese, the most famous example of the 'bystander effect', also called diffusion of responsibility.  It's just what it sounds like -- on average, if an individual thinks that he or she is the only one around to hear a cry for help, they almost invariably respond somehow.  The addition of more and more people to that situation dramatically drops the chance of a response from any particular individual.  In the 1960's, she was attacked and eventually murdered, over a period of at least half an hour, while 30 to 40 people watched and did nothing.  The general explanations as to why they all did nothing were about what you'd expect: "I didn't want to get involved," or "I thought someone else must have already called the police."

To use a much less deadly, real-life example: When I was a kid, my sister's car broke down at a city intersection.  Not a huge, Chicago sort of city, but one of about 100,000 people.  Cell phones weren't everywhere then like they are now, but they were around.  We waited for a good twenty minutes before the police showed up, and that wasn't because anyone had called them; the officer just happened to see us during his patrol.  No one had even bothered to lean out their window -- while waiting at the light with nothing else to do -- and offer to make such a call.

A few months later, my mother put her car into the ditch during an ice storm late at night.  This was out in the country, where I lived; mainly farms and woods, where you could go for miles without seeing a light.  Three people drove by while the car was stuck there, and all three stopped to ask if we needed help -- even though it was very difficult to stop there, thanks to the ice.

There are some interesting statistics from studies of bystander apathy here, for those who are interested.  This research was originally prompted by the Genovese case.

Offline Pumpkin Seeds

Re: The experiment requires that you continue.
« Reply #11 on: January 16, 2009, 02:56:43 PM »
Sort of the diffusion of responsibilty principle played in reverse.

Offline blakout

Re: The experiment requires that you continue.
« Reply #12 on: January 22, 2009, 08:23:29 PM »
I would like to think that I'm more moral then that, that I would stop but I have this sneaking suspicion that I wouldn't.

Offline Spookie Monster

Re: The experiment requires that you continue.
« Reply #13 on: January 24, 2009, 03:52:51 PM »
I don't have too much to add to this very interesting conversation, for better or for worse.  I will fully agree that people can be real jerks to one another at times.  Societal pressures are, of course, a blessing and a curse: Although being part of a society allows us to do things that we never could have done otherwise, it also leads us to do things -- cruel things, stupid things -- that we never would have done otherwise.  Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo* studied this quite extensively, as is mentioned above; errihu brought up the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment and Tearoom Trade, too, while Valerian brought up the bystander effect.  Some other experiments, studies, and concepts that make a good person want to scream include:

Asch's conformity experiments

Darley and Batson's study of Good Samaritans

Festinger's notion of cognitive dissonance

Janis's groupthink

Ross, Lepper, and Hubbard's studies on belief perseverance

Sherif's realistic conflict theory

And, naturally, similar studies are still going on today.

Oh, and please don't quote me on this -- I can't offer any specific sources -- but I'm under the impression that these flaws exist in the members of every cross-section of society.  Yeah, the average Joe can be a jerk, but jerkiness is not exclusive to him.  Doctors conducted the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment (over a forty-year period, I might add).  Law enforcement officers abuse prisoners.  Esteemed scientists fake their data.  Engineers design concentration camps; veteran soldiers work in them.  Religious leaders perform quite wicked acts.  We can all think of further examples; indeed, it's hard not to think of further examples.  I feel that all of this makes sense, actually: Why wouldn't society favor those individuals who can most tolerate its shadows?

And it would be easy to suggest that all we need to do is acquaint people with these experiments, make them aware of their weaknesses, and then they will all act morally.  Sadly, I don't know of any evidence that that's actually the case; indeed, I vaguely recall studies that demonstrated the very opposite.

Fortunately, we can take comfort in the fact that though people are capable of great foolishness and cruelty, people are also capable of great strength and kindness.  Yeah, there's Adolf Eichmann, but there's Arland Dean Williams, Jr., too.  Yeah, there's Roy Cohn, but there's Nelson Mandela, too.  Yeah, there's this guy



but there's also this guy



Anyhow, this subject is most certainly worth discussing.  Thanks for starting this thread, Trieste, and thanks to everybody who's participated!

Spel


* As a note, Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo were friends since they were students, if I'm correct.



I'm not quite right at all... am I?