And the Experiment Must Continue
In the early 1960s, after the trial began in Jerusalem of Nazi Adolf Eichmann, Yale social scientist Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment in pathological obedience. The setting was a fake (but convincing) language learning lab. On the basis of his scientific authority, the experimenter convinced test subjects to administer what they thought were brutal, even life-threatening corrective shocks to "learners" trying to memorize word pairs. Eighty percent of the test subjects obeyed, and they did so despite having voiced strong moral qualms about what was being asked of them.
Milgram wanted to learn whether it was possible that the millions of guards, police, and informers complicit in the Holocaust had merely been following orders, as many had claimed. He concluded from the ease with which he convinced people to be ruthless that it was, indeed, possible. "Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process."
Fast forward about 50 years. A team from both Aix-Marseille University and Paris West University (Nanterre) recreated Milgram's famous experiment—only this time the experimenter had no scientific authority. The experiment's setting was a reality TV show shot before a live studio audience, and the experimenter was a fashionably attired game show host. Did the unwitting "contestants" follow orders? Was the host's authority significant enough to turn contestants into monsters? And what might the new experiment's results mean for reality TV, with the shows continually besting each other to be the most barbarous?
Find out at Psychology Today.