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.”