Human beings have killed each other by the millions on this planet because they were ordered to do so.
A U.S. soldeir walks between cells at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad in a 2004 photo. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Some things never change. Scientists said on Friday they had replicated an experiment in which people obediently delivered painful shocks to others if encouraged to do so by authority figures.
Seventy percent of volunteers continued to administer electrical shocks — or at least they believed they were doing so — even after an actor claimed they were painful, Jerry Burger of Santa Clara University in California found.
“What we found is validation of the same argument — if you put people into certain situations, they will act in surprising, and maybe often even disturbing, ways,” Burger said in a telephone interview. “This research is still relevant.”
Burger was replicating an experiment published in 1961 by Yale University professor Stanley Milgram, in which volunteers were asked to deliver electric “shocks” to other people if they answered certain questions incorrectly.
Milgram found that, after hearing an actor cry out in pain at 150 volts, 82.5 percent of participants continued administering shocks, most to the maximum 450 volts.
The experiment surprised psychologists and no one has tried to replicate it because of the distress suffered by many of the volunteers who believed they were shocking another person.
“When you hear the man scream and say, ‘let me out, I can’t stand it,’ that is the point when the real stress that people criticized Milgram for kicked in,” Burger said.
“It was a very, very, very stressful experience for many of the participants. That is the reason no one can ethically replicate the experiment today.”
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