The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘obedience’

Assistance and Obedience

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 10, 2011

From CNN Blog by Alan Elms:

During my first several weeks as Stanley Milgram’s research assistant, I did the sorts of things that research assistants often do.

I transcribed Milgram’s dictations and drafts of research procedures into neatly typed pages. I began to keep files of research volunteers: Their age, educational background, occupation, address and phone number. I helped Milgram audition amateur actors for the important role of “experimenter” and the nearly-as-important role of “learner,” the research confederate whom we started to call the “victim.”

The real volunteers would be playing the role of “teacher” in what appeared to be an experiment where electric shocks were used to speed the learning of simple word pairs. As you probably know by now, 50 years later, the victim only pretended to be shocked and the experiment really measured obedience to authority.

When everything was ready for the first volunteers to assume the role of teacher and for the pretend-learner to become the victim, Milgram celebrated by inviting me to join him behind the large two-way mirrors in the Social Interaction Lab.

Observing the unfolding drama as I sat beside Stanley was not part of my official job description. But for the rest of that 1961 summer, I would work all day at scheduling subjects and doing other necessary support tasks, walk to my nearby apartment for a quick dinner, then return to the lab to watch what would happen next.

Neither Stanley nor I had any clear idea what moral dramas the next several hours would display. But in contrast to the artificial circumstances of most psychological experiments I had studied in graduate school until then, this felt like real life – this situation where every subject had to decide over and over again whether to administer the next higher shock on the shock board to another human being who was screaming in apparent pain.

What sorts of decisions did we see the teachers make? Over and over again they chose to obey the experimenter’s commands to shock the victim whenever he failed to remember the correct word pair. And on command they administered higher and higher voltage levels – or so the labels on the shock machine’s switches said, and the victim’s increasing screams appeared to confirm those levels.

Stanley and I had both expected modest levels of obedience at most. These were, after all, ordinary middle-class Americans, not chosen for either sadistic or rebellious tendencies.

But all teachers in the basic experimental situation went at least to 300 volts on the shock board, approaching the level labeled “Extreme Intensity Shock.” A stunning two-thirds of teachers obeyed all the way to the end of the shock board – 450 volts, “Danger Severe Shock X X X,” the red-lettered labels said.

Some subjects wept as they administered the higher-level shocks. Others smirked or giggled or laughed hysterically; still others sweated profusely or clenched their teeth or pulled their hair. But for the most part they obeyed.

Stanley and I were both appalled at such levels of obedience, but we could not ignore or deny what we saw. The subjects were sitting there right in front of us, very visible through the two-way mirrors in the bright laboratory illumination as their fingers depressed one shock switch after another.

Stanley Milgram remained a valued friend and mentor to me and to many others until his death at age 51, from a heart attack much like the one that had killed his father at a similar age. Stanley wrote clearly and thoughtfully about his research, especially in his book “Obedience to Authority” and his collection of essays, “The Individual in a Social World.”

I have been granted two decades longer to continue my own research and writing, some of it related to obedience, much of it struggling to understand the pioneering geniuses in a variety of fields. Most of my writing about the genius of Stanley Milgram can be found on my website, http://starcraving.com, especially in the section titled “Social Psychology.”


More.

For more on Alan Elms’ experience, watch “Sanjay Gupta, M.D.” at 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday and Sunday.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Classic Experiments, Social Psychology | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

The obedience experiments at 50

Posted by Thomas Blass on November 9, 2011

This essay was published originally in the online version of the APS Observer:

This year is the 50th anniversary of the start of Stanley Milgram’s groundbreaking experiments on obedience to destructive orders — the most famous, controversial and, arguably, most important psychological research of our times. To commemorate this milestone, in this article I present the key elements comprising the legacy of those experiments.

Milgram was a 28-year-old junior faculty member at Yale University when he began his program of research on obedience, supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF), which lasted from August 7, 1961 through May 27, 1962.

As we know, in his obedience experiments Milgram made the startling discovery that a majority of his subjects — average and, presumably, normal community residents — were willing to give a series of what they believed were increasingly painful and, perhaps, harmful electric shocks to a vehemently protesting victim simply because they were commanded to do so by an authority (although no shock was actually given). They did this despite the fact that the experimenter had no coercive powers to enforce his commands and the person they were shocking was an innocent victim who did nothing to merit such punishment. Although Milgram conducted over 20 variations of his basic procedure, his central finding obtained in several standard, or baseline, conditions was that about two-thirds of the subjects fully obeyed the experimenter, progressing step-by-step up to the maximum shock of 450 volts.

First and foremost, the obedience experiments taught us that we have a powerful propensity to obey authority. Did we need Milgram to tell us this? Of course, not. What he did teach us is just how strong this tendency is — so strong, in fact, that it can make us act in ways contrary to our moral principles.

Milgram’s findings provided a powerful affirmation of one of the main guiding principles of contemporary social psychology: That often it is not the kind of person we are that determines how we act, but rather the kind of situation we find ourselves in. To perceive behavior as flowing from within — from our character or personality — is to paint an incomplete picture of the determinants of our behavior. Milgram showed that external pressures coming from a legitimate authority can make us behave in ways we would not even consider when acting on our own.

Foreshadowing the widespread attention the obedience experiments were to receive  was an early article appearing in the New York Times, titled “Sixty-five Percent in Test Blindly Obey to Inflict Pain,” right after the publication of Milgram’s first journal report. Although Milgram had just begun his academic career and he would go on to do other innovative research studies — such as “The small-world problem” and “The lost letter technique” — they would always be overshadowed by the obedience work. Of the 140 or so talks he gave during his lifetime, more than a third dealt with obedience. His book Obedience to authority: An experimental view has been translated into 11 languages.

I believe that one of the most important aspects of Milgram’s legacy is that, in demonstrating our extreme readiness to obey authorities, he has identified one of the universals, or constants, of human behavior, straddling time and place. I have done two analyses to support this contention. In one, I correlated the results of Milgram’s standard obedience experiments and the replications conducted by others with their date of publication. The results: There was absolutely no relationship between when a study was conducted and the amount of obedience it yielded. In a second analysis, I compared the outcomes of obedience experiments conducted in the United States with those conducted in other countries. Remarkably, the average obedience rates were very similar: In the U.S. studies, some 61 percent of the subjects were fully obedient, while elsewhere the obedience rate was 66 percent.

A more recent, modified replication of one of Milgram’s conditions (Exp.#5, “A new base-line condition”) conducted by Jerry Burger, a social psychologist at the Santa Clara University supports the universality argument. Burger’s replication added safeguards not contained in Milgram’s original experiment. Although carried out 45 years after Milgram conducted the original Exp. #5, Burger’s findings did not differ significantly from Milgram’s.

From the beginning, the obedience studies have been embroiled in controversy about its ethics. They were vilified by some and praised by others. A well-known ethicist commented rhetorically: “Is this perhaps going too far in what one asks a subject to do and how one deceives him?” A Welsh playwright expressed his disdain by arguing that many people “may feel that in order to demonstrate that subjects may behave like so many Eichmanns, the experimenter had to act the part, to some extent, of a Himmler.” On the other hand, Milgram received supportive letters from fellow social psychologists such as Elliot Aronson and Philip Zimbardo. And in 1964, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) awarded him its annual social psychology award for his most complete report on the experiments up to that time, “Some Conditions of Obedience and Disobedience to Authority.”

The furor stirred up by the obedience experiments, together with a few other ethically problematic studies, has resulted in a greater sensitivity to the well-being of the human research participant today. More concretely, the obedience experiments are generally considered one of the handful of controversial studies that led Congress to enact the National Research Act in 1974, which mandated the creation of Institutional Review Boards (IRBs). Harold Takooshian, one of Milgram’s outstanding students at CUNY, recalls him saying that “IRBs are an impressive solution to a non-problem.”

A distinctive aspect of the legacy of the obedience experiments is that they can be applied to real life in a number of ways. They provide a reference point for certain phenomena that, on the face of it, strain our understanding — thereby, making them more plausible. For example, Milgram’s findings can help us fathom how it was possible for managers of fast-food restaurants throughout the United States to fall for a bizarre hoax over a nine-year period between 1995 and 2004. In a typical case, the manager of an eatery received a phone call from a man claiming to be a police officer, who ordered him to strip-search a female employee who supposedly stole a pocketbook. In over 70 instances, the manager obeyed the unknown caller.

The implications of Milgram’s research have been greatest for understanding the Holocaust. In his book “Ordinary Men,” Christopher Browning, a historian, describing the behavior of a Nazi mobile unit roaming the Polish countryside that killed 38,000 Jews in cold blood at the bidding of their commander, concluded that “many of Milgram’s insights find graphic confirmation in the behavior and testimony of the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101.”

Legal scholarship and practice has made wide use of the obedience studies. Several Supreme Court briefs, as well as over 350 law reviews have referenced them. The U.S. Army also has taken the lessons of Milgram’s research to heart. In response to a letter-writer’s question in December 1985, the head of the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at West Point wrote: “All cadets…are required to take two psychology courses…. Both of these courses discuss Milgram’s work and the implications of his findings.”

There is typically a gray cloud of gloom hovering over any discussions of Milgram’s research. This is not surprising since Milgram himself repeatedly and almost exclusively drew troubling implications. So let me end on a more positive note.

Milgram recognized that obedience is a necessary element of civilized society. As he once wrote: “We cannot have society without some structure of authority, and every society must inculcate a habit of obedience in its citizens.” So, once he felt that he had probed the destructive side of obedience in sufficient detail, he was ready to turn his attention to its positive aspects.

Milgram submitted a continuation grant proposal to NSF in early 1962, after he had completed almost all of the experimental conditions dealing with destructive obedience. One of the proposed experiments he listed in that grant proposal was titled “Constructive Obedience.” The grant proposal was only approved in modified form with reduced funding, so Milgram never did carry out such an experiment. But, nonetheless, the fact that he planned such an experiment is informative, because it implied that Milgram apparently thought that the unexpected strength of the obedient tendencies he had discovered so far was just one part of a more general, full-spectrum predisposition.

You can read much more about Stanley Milgram and his experiments at my website:  www.stanleymilgram.com.

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Related Situationist Posts:

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Would You Obey?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 14, 2011

Here is another segment from John Quinones’s excellent ABC 20/20 series titled “What Would You Do?” — a series that, in essence, conducts situationist experiments through hidden-camera scenarios. This episode asks, “Would You Obey a Total Stranger”

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To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see

Posted in Entertainment, Life, Morality, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Group Influence

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 2, 2011

From the instructional video series Psychology: The Human Experience:

Influence explains individuality, group behavior, and deindividuation.

Related Situationist posts:

 

 

 

Posted in Classic Experiments, Conflict, History, Ideology, Morality, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Milgram-Inspired Movie

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 15, 2011

For those of you who missed this 1975 CBS movie, inspired by Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments, here’s your chance to watch “The Tenth Level.”

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Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Classic Experiments, Entertainment, Morality, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Video on the Original Milgram Experiment

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 26, 2010

From Wikipedia:

The Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures was a series of social psychologyexperiments conducted by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram, which measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience. Milgram first described his research in 1963 in an article published in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, and later discussed his findings in greater depth in his 1974 book, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View.

The experiments began in July 1961, three months after the start of the trial of German Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. Milgram devised his psychological study to answer the question: “Was it that Eichmann and his accomplices in the Holocaust had mutual intent, in at least with regard to the goals of the Holocaust?” In other words, “Was there a mutual sense of morality among those involved?” Milgram’s testing suggested that it could have been that the millions of accomplices were merely following orders, despite violating their deepest moral beliefs.

After the jump, you can watch an outstanding video, including some original footage, about the experiment.  (We’ve placed it after the jump, because it plays automatically.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Choice Myth, Classic Experiments, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »

The Situation of Stanley Milgram’s Obedience Experiments

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 3, 2010

Nestar John Charles Russell is publishing an article, titled “Milgram’s obedience to authority experiments: Origins and early evolution.”  Here’s the abstract.

Stanley Milgram’s Obedience to Authority experiments remain one of the most inspired contributions in the field of social psychology. Although Milgram undertook more than 20 experimental variations, his most (in)famous result was the first official trial run–the remote condition and its 65% completion rate. Drawing on many unpublished documents from Milgram’s personal archive at Yale University, this article traces the historical origins and early evolution of the obedience experiments. Part 1 presents the previous experiences that led to Milgram’s conception of his rudimentary research idea and then details the role of his intuition in its refinement. Part 2 traces the conversion of Milgram’s evolving idea into a reality, paying particular attention to his application of the exploratory method of discovery during several pilot studies. Both parts illuminate Milgram’s ad hoc introduction of various manipulative techniques and subtle tension-resolving refinements. The procedural adjustments continued until Milgram was confident that the first official experiment would produce a high completion rate, a result contrary to expectations of people’s behaviour. Showing how Milgram conceived of, then arrived at, this first official result is important because the insights gained may help others to determine theoretically why so many participants completed this experiment.

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You can download the article for free here. (Thanks to Situationist friend, Brandon Weiss, for sending us this link.)

For a sample of related Situationist posts, “Milgram Replicated on French TV – ‘The Game of Death’,” A Shocking Situation,” “Zimbardo on Milgram and Obedience – Part I,”  “The Case for Obedience,” Replicating Milgram’s Obedience Experiment – Yet Again,” “Jonestown (The Situation of Evil) Revisited,” Milgram Remake,” and The Milgram Experiment Today?.”

Posted in Abstracts, Classic Experiments, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Milgram Replicated on French TV – “The Game of Death”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 24, 2010

From NPR:

France is reeling from a documentary about a psychological experiment disguised as a game show. Researchers staged a fictitious reality show to see how far people would go in obeying authority, especially if television reinforces that authority.

The disturbing results have alarmed the French.

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From the BBC, “Row over ‘torture’ on French TV“:

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The hugely controversial Game of Death was broadcast in prime-time on a major terrestrial channel, France 2, on Wednesday.

It showed 80 people taking part in what they thought was a game show pilot.

As it was only a trial, they were told they wouldn’t win anything, but they were given a nominal 40 euro fee.

Before the show, they signed contracts agreeing to inflict electric shocks on other contestants.

One by one, they were put in a studio resembling the sets of popular game shows.

They were then asked to zap a man they believed was another contestant whenever he failed to answer a question correctly – with increasingly powerful shocks of up to 460 volts.

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Egged on by a glamorous presenter, cries of “punishment” from a studio audience and dramatic music, the overwhelming majority of the participants obeyed orders to continue delivering the shocks – despite the man’s screams of agony and pleas for them to stop.

Eventually he fell silent, presumably because he had died or lost consciousness.

The contestants didn’t know that the man, strapped in a chair inside a cubicle so they couldn’t see him, was really an actor. There were no shocks and it was all an experiment to see how far they would go.

Only 16 of the 80 participants stopped before the ultimate, potentially lethal shock.

“No one expected this result,” intoned a commentary. “Eighty per cent of the candidates went to the very end.”

The show was billed as a warning against blindly obeying authority – and a critique of reality TV shows in which participants are humiliated or hurt.

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The claim that “no one expected this result” must be incorrect.  Those who designed this experiment were simply remaking the classic Milgram experiment in which compliance levels were substantial; in this version, however, the pressures to comply may well have been far more significant  than in the original rendition, as this involved group (audience) pressure to continue shocking in a context (game shows) where extreme behavior is now part of the script.

To see why we say that, see the following Situationist posts: “Solomon Asch’s Famous Compliance Experiment,” “Journalists as Social Psychologists & Social Psychologists as Entertainers,” “The Situation of Violence,” Replicating Milgram’s Obedience Experiment – Yet Again,” “Jonestown (The Situation of Evil) Revisited,” Milgram Remake,” The Milgram Experiment Today?.” Gender Conformity,”The Case for Obedience,” A Shocking Situation,” “Zimbardo on Milgram and Obedience – Part I,”  “The Case for Obedience,” Solomon Asch’s Conformity Experiment . . . Today,” “Gender Conformity,” “The Situational Effect of Groups,” and Virtual Worlds, Learning, and Virtual Milgram.”

Posted in Classic Experiments, Entertainment, Morality, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Replicating Milgram’s Obedience Experiment – Yet Again

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 10, 2009

Milgram’s experiment was again repeated — this time as part of the BBC documentary “How violent are you?” first shown in May 2009.  It’s another remarkable rendition.  Of the 12 participants, only 3 refused to continue to the end of the experiment.   The relevant portions of that documentary are below.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Milgram Remake,” The Milgram Experiment Today?.” Gender Conformity,”The Case for Obedience,” A Shocking Situation,” “Zimbardo on Milgram and Obedience – Part I,”  “The Case for Obedience,” Virtual Worlds, Learning, and Virtual Milgram,” Solomon Asch’s Conformity Experiment . . . Today,” and “Solomon Asch’s Classic Group-Influence Experiment.”

For a list of previous Situationist posts discussing Milgram’s research click here.

Posted in Classic Experiments, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

Zimbardo Interview at The Believer

Posted by Thomas Nadelhoffer on September 6, 2009

Zimbardo montagePhilosopher Tamler Sommers was kind enough to post a link over at the Garden of Forking Paths to an interview he did with Situationist contributor Philip Zimbardo that appears in the latest edition of The Believer.  Here is the first question and answer from the interview:

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THE BELIEVER: I take it that one of the goals of the Stanford Prison Experiment was to build on Milgram’s results that demonstrated the power of situational elements. Is that right?

PHILIP ZIMBARDO: It was really to broaden his message and put it to a higher-level test. In Milgram’s study, we don’t know about those thousand people who answered the ad. His subjects were not Yale students, although he did it at Yale. They were a thousand ordinary citizens from New Haven and Bridgeport, Connecticut, ages twenty to fifty, and in his advertisement in the newspaper he said: college students and high-school students cannot be used. It could have been a selection of people who were more psychopathic. For our study, we picked only two dozen of seventy-five who applied, who on seven different personality tests were normal or average. So we knew there were no psychopaths, no deviants. Nobody had been in therapy, and even though it was a drug era, nobody (at least in the reports) had taken anything more than marijuana, and they were physically healthy at the time. So the question was: Suppose you had only kids who were normally healthy, psychologically and physically, and they knew they would be going into a prison-like environment and that some of their civil rights would be sacrificed. Would those good people, put in that bad, evil place—would their goodness triumph?

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That sitautionist snippet should convince you to check out the rest of the interview!  Also, it is worth pointing out the Sommers has a forthcoming collection entitled A Very Bad Wizard: Morality Behind the Curtain, which includes past interviews with philosophers and psychologists such as Galen Strawson, Michael Ruse, Jon Haidt, Frans de Waal, Steve Stich, Josh Greene, Liane Young, Joe Henrich, William Ian Miller, and Zimbardo.  So, make sure to check it out as well once it comes out.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see, “Milgram Remake,” “Zimbardo on Milgram and Obedience Part I,” “Zimbardo on Migram and Obedience Part II,” and “Zimbardo Lecture on How Good People Turn Evil.”

Posted in Classic Experiments, Philosophy, Public Policy, Social Psychology, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Milgram Remake

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 28, 2009

From ABC via Veoh:

“The video below describes a remake of Milgram’s famous study originally done in the ’60′s. Until recently, no one was authorized to replicate it due to ethical considerations. However, in 2007, ABC News was granted such permission and did so with many of the original researchers and some of the actual partipants. New data was also added.”

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see The Milgram Experiment Today?.” Gender Conformity,”The Case for Obedience,” A Shocking Situation,” “Zimbardo on Milgram and Obedience – Part I,”  “The Case for Obedience,” Virtual Worlds, Learning, and Virtual Milgram,” Solomon Asch’s Conformity Experiment . . . Today,” and “Solomon Asch’s Classic Group-Influence Experiment.” For a list of previous Situationist posts discussing Milgram’s research click here.

Posted in Classic Experiments, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

Virtual Milgram

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 14, 2009

virtual reality - FlickrFrom ICT Results:

Despite advances in computer graphics, few people would think virtual characters or objects are real. Yet placed in a virtual reality environment most people will interact with them as if they are really there. European researchers are finding out why.

In trying to understand presence – the propensity of humans to respond to fake stimuli as if they are real – the researchers are not just gaining insights into how the human brain functions. They are also learning how to create more intense and realistic virtual experiences, opening the door to myriad applications for healthcare, training, social research and entertainment.

“Virtual environments could be used by psychiatrists to help people overcome anxiety disorders and phobias . . . by researchers to study social behaviour not practically or ethically reproduced in the real world, or to create more immersive virtual reality for entertainment,” explains Mel Slater, a computer scientist at ICREA in Barcelona and University College, London, who led the team behind the research.

Working in the EU-funded Presenccia project, Slater and his team, drawn from fields as diverse as neuroscience, psychology, psychophysics, mechanical engineering and philosophy, conducted a variety of experiments to understand why humans interpret and respond to virtual stimuli the way they do and how those experiences can be made more intense.

For one experiment they developed a virtual bar, which test subjects enter by donning a virtual reality (VR) headset or immersing themselves in a VR CAVE in which stereo images are projected onto the walls. As the virtual patrons socialise, drink and dance, a fire breaks out. Sometimes the virtual characters ignore it, sometimes they flee in panic. That in turn dictates how the real test subjects, immersed in the virtual environment, respond.

Panic and pain . . . virtually

“We have had people literally run out of the VR room, even though they know that what they are witnessing is not real,” says Slater. “They take their cues from the other characters.”

In another instance, the researchers re-enacted controversial experiments conducted by American social psychologist Stanley Milgram in the 1960s that showed people’s propensity to follow orders even if they know what they are doing is wrong. Instead of using a real actor, as Milgram did, the Presenccia team used a virtual character to which the test subject was instructed to give progressively more intense electric shocks whenever it answered questions incorrectly. The howls of pain and protest from the character, a virtual woman, increased as the experiment went on.

“Some of the test subjects felt so uncomfortable that they actually stopped participating and left the VR environment. Around half said they wanted to leave, but said they did not because they kept telling themselves it wasn’t real,” Slater says.

All had physical reactions, measured by their skin conductivity, perspiration and heart rate, showing that, at a subconscious level, people’s responses are similar regardless of whether what they are experiencing is real or virtual. The plausibility of the events enhances the sense that what is happening is real. Plausibility, Slater says, is therefore more important to presence than the quality of the graphics in a VR environment.

For example, when a test subject was made to stand on the edge of a virtual pit, staring down at an 18-metre drop, their level of anxiety increased if they could see dynamically changing shadows and reflections of their virtual body even if the graphics were poor. In other experiments, the researchers made people believe that a virtual hand was their own – replicating in VR the so-called “rubber hand illusion” – or that they were looking at themselves from another angle, creating a kind of out-of-body experience. In one trial, they even gave male test subjects a woman’s body.

Help with phobias and paranoia

By understanding what makes people perceive virtual objects and experiences to be real, the researchers hope to create applications that could revolutionise certain psychiatric treatments. Patients with a fear of spiders or heights, for example, could be exposed to and helped to overcome their fears in virtual reality. Similarly people who are shy or paranoid about public speaking could be helped by having to face virtual people and crowds.

“One application we are working on is designed to help shy men overcome their fear of meeting women by making them interact with a virtual woman,” Slater says.

The technology is also being used for social research which, much like the Milgram experiments, would not be practical or ethical to conduct in the real world. One experiment due to be run at University College, London, will use a virtual environment to study how people respond to violence in public places, such as a bar fight between football hooligans.

Besides healthcare and research, more immersive VR would also help in training, potentially greatly improving the results of flight or driving simulators. Slater also envisions VR environments being used to train people to use prosthetic limbs and wheelchairs through mind control before trying them out in the real world. A brain-computer interface (BCI) developed for just such a purpose was tested in the Presenccia project and in a similarly named predecessor called Presencia, which received funding under the EU’s Sixth and Fifth Framework Programmes for research, respectively.

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Though immersive VR is likely to have many applications in healthcare, research and training, the biggest market is probably entertainment. With the cost of VR technology coming down, people could eventually be exploring virtual worlds and interacting with virtual characters and other people through VR rooms in their homes akin to the “holodecks” seen in Star Trek, Slater says.

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You can read the story and watch a related video at ICT Results, here.  To read some related Situationist posts, see “Virtual Worlds, Learning, and Virtual Milgram,” “The Positive Situation of Crowds,”Virtual Bias,” “Are Video Games Addictive?,” and “Resident Evil 5 and Racism in Video Games.”

Posted in Classic Experiments, Illusions, Video | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Zimbardo on Milgram and Obedience – Part I

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 14, 2009

Milgram Obedience ExperimentSituationist contributer Philip Zimbardo has authored the preface to a new edition of social psychologist Stanley Milgram’s pathbreaking and now-classic book Obedience to Authority.  This is the first of a two-part series derived from that preface.  In this post, Zimbardo describes the inculcation of obedience and Milgram’s role as a research pioneer.  In Part II, Zimbardo answers challenges to Milgram’s work and locates its legacy.

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What is common about two of the most profound narratives in Western culture—Lucifer’s descent into Hell and Adam and Eve’s loss of Paradise—is the lesson of the dreadful consequences of one’s failure to obey authority. . . [T]hey are designed, as all parables are, to send a powerful message to all those who hear and read them: Obey authority at all costs! The consequences of disobedience to authority are formidable and damnable. Once created, these myths and parables get passed along by subsequent authorities, now parents, teachers, bosses, politicians, and dictators, among others, who want their word to be followed without dissent or challenge.

Thus, as school children, in virtually all traditional educational settings, the rules of law that we learned and lived were: Stay in your seat until permission is granted by the teacher to stand and leave it; do not talk unless given permission by the teacher to do so after having raised your hand to seek that recognition, and do not challenge the word of the teacher or complain. So deeply ingrained are these rules of conduct that even as we age and mature they generalize across many settings as permanent placards of our respect for authority. However, not all authority is just, fair, moral, and legal, and we are never given any explicit training in recognizing that critical difference between just and unjust authority.  The just one deserves respect and some obedience, maybe even without much questioning, while the unjust variety should arouse suspicion and distress, ultimately triggering acts of challenge, defiance, and revolution.

Stanley Milgram’s series of experiments on obedience to authority, so clearly and fully presented in this new edition of his work, represents some of the most significant investigations in all the social sciences of the central dynamics of this aspect of human nature. His work was the first to bring into the controlled setting of an experimental laboratory an investigation into the nature of obedience to authority. In a sense, he is following in the tradition of Kurt Lewin, although he is not generally considered to be in the Lewinian tradition, as Leon Festinger, Stanley Schachter, Lee Ross, and Richard Nisbett are, for example. Yet to study phenomena that have significance in their real world existence within the constraints and controls of a laboratory setting is at the essence of one of Lewin’s dictums of the way social psychology should proceed.

This exploration of obedience was initially motivated by Milgram’s reflections on the ease with which the German people obeyed Nazi authority in discriminating against Jews and, eventually, in allowing Hitler’s Final Solution to be enacted during the Holocaust. As a young Jewish man, he wondered if the Holocaust could be recreated in his own country, despite the many differences in those cultures and historical epochs. Though many said it could never happen in the United States, Milgram doubted whether we should be so sure. Believing in the goodness of people does not diminish the fact that ordinary, even once good people, just following orders, have committed much evil in the world.

British author C. P. Snow reminds us that more crimes against humanity have been committed in the name of obedience than disobedience. Milgram’s mentor, Solomon Asch, had earlier demonstrated the power of groups to sway the judgments of intelligent college students regarding false conceptions of visual reality. But that influence was indirect, creating a discrepancy between the group norm and the individual’s perception of the same stimulus event.

Conformity to the group’s false norm was the resolution to that discrepancy, with participants behaving in ways that would lead to group acceptance rather than rejection. Milgram wanted to discover the direct and immediate impact of one powerful individual’s commands to another person to behave in ways that challenged his or her conscience and morality. He designed his research paradigm to pit our general beliefs about what people would do in such a situation against what they actually did when immersed in that crucible of human nature.

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We’ll post Part II of this series later this week.  You can review a sizeable collection of Situationist posts discussing the work of Stanley Milgram here.

Posted in Book, Classic Experiments, Conflict, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Disobedience at 150 volts

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 26, 2008

For our many readers interested in the Milgram obedience experiments, Dominic J. Packer published a valuable paper, “Identifying Systematic Disobedience in Milgram’s Obedience Experiments: A Meta-Analytic Review” (3 Perspectives on Psychol. Sci. 3-1 (2008)).  Here’s the abstract.

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A meta-analysis of data from eight of Milgram’s obedience experiments reveals previously undocumented systematicity in the behavior of disobedient participants. In all studies, disobedience was most likely at 150 v, the point at which the shocked “learner” first requested to be released. Further illustrating the importance of the 150-v point, obedience rates across studies covaried with rates of disobedience at 150 v, but not at any other point; as obedience decreased, disobedience at 150 v increased. In contrast, disobedience was not associated with the learner’s escalating expressions of pain. This analysis identifies a critical decision point in the obedience paradigm and suggests that disobedient participants perceived the learner’s right to terminate the experiment as overriding the experimenter’s orders, a finding with potential implications for the treatment of prisoners.

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To download a pdf draft version of the article, click here. For a collection of Situationist posts discussing Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments, click here.

Posted in Classic Experiments, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

A Shocking Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 22, 2008

milgram-burger-shock-boxLisa M. Krieger recently published a nice summary of Jerry Burger’s replications of Milgram’s obedience experiment.  Her article in the San Jose Mercury News is titled “Shocking Revelation: Santa Clara University Professor Mirrors Famous Torture Studay.”  Here are some excerpts.

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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.

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The subjects — recruited in ads in the Mercury News, Craigslist and fliers distributed in libraries and communities centers in Santa Clara, Cupertino and Sunnyvale — thought they were testing the effect of punishment on learning.”They were average citizens, a typical cross-section of people that you’d see around every day,” said Burger.

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Burger found that 70 percent of the participants had to be stopped from escalating shocks over 150 volts, despite hearing cries of protest and pain. Decades earlier, Milgram found that 82.5 percent of participants continued administering shocks. Of those, 79 percent continued to the shock generator’s end, at 450 volts.

Burger’s experiment did not go that far.

“The conclusion is not: ‘Gosh isn’t this a horrible commentary on human nature,’ or ‘these people were so sadistic,” said Burger.

“It shows the opposite — that there are situational forces that have a much greater impact on our behavior than most people recognize,” he said.

The experiment shows that people are more likely to comply with instructions if the task starts small, then escalates, according to Burger.

“For instance, the suicides at Jonestown were just the last step of many,” he said. “Jim Jones started small, asking people to donate time and money, then looked for more and more commitment.”

Additionally, the volunteers confronted a novel situation — having never before been in such a setting, they had no idea of how they were supposed to act, he said.

Finally, they had been told that they should not feel responsible for inflicting pain; rather, the “instructor” was accountable. “Lack of feeling responsible can lead people to act in ways that they might otherwise not,” said Burger.

“When we see people acting out of character, the first thing we should ask is: ‘What’s going on in this situation?”’

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To read the entire article, click here.  To watch an ABC news video about Professor Burger’s research, click on the video below.

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To read a previos Situationist post about Professor Burger’s research, see “The Milgram Experiment Today?.”  For Situationist posts about the Jonestown massacre, see “Jonestown (The Situation of Evil) Revisited.”  For a collection of Situationist posts discussing Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments, click here.

Posted in Classic Experiments, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Soldiers

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 18, 2008

Photo by Yuri Kozyrev for Time Magazine - 2005NPR’s All Things Considered has a 3-minute audio report on an event (sponsored by Iraq Veterans Against the War) in which veterans told of their experiences in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

One 19-year-old soldier is quoted in the report, explaining, much as Phil Zimbardo or Stanley Milgram might, the mechanisms of obedience:

“I watched a prisoner, and we denied him water and food, and to my understanding he did not have sleep for three days. . . . [Y]ou don’t really think about it because it’s being allowed. You know, cause you’re just thinking this is what I’m doing. This man came down from the airfield command center there. Taking it as another directive order from our coalition forces, I just did what I was told.”

To listen to the entire report, click here. For a sample of related Situationist posts, go to “Our Soldiers, Their Children: The Lasting Impact of the War in Iraq,” “The Situation of a “Volunteer” Army,” “From Heavens to Hells to Heroes – Part I,” and “Looking for the Evil Actor.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Conflict | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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