"Most will torture if ordered
Shocking study finds most will torture if ordered. - Sun, Dec 21, 2008 Reuters
WASHINGTON - 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 per cent of volunteers continued to administer electrical shocks - or at least they believed they were doing so - even after an actor claimed they were painful, Professor 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,' Prof Burger said in a telephone interview. 'This research is still relevant.'
Prof 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.
Dr Milgram found that, after hearing an actor cry out in pain at 150 volts, 82.5 per cent of participants continued administering shocks, most to the maximum 450 volts.
The experiment surprised psychologists and no one has 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 criticised Prof Milgram for kicked in,' Prof 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.'
At one point, researchers brought in a volunteer who knew what was going on and refused to administer shocks beyond 150 volts. Despite the example, 63 per cent of the participants continued administering shocks past 150 volts.
'That was surprising and disappointing,' Prof Burger said.
Prof Burger found no differences among his volunteers, aged 20 to 81, and carefully screened them to be average representatives of the US public.
Prof Burger said the experiment, published in the American Psychologist, can only partly explain the widely reported prisoner abuse at the US-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq or events during World War Two.
'It is not that there is something wrong with the people,' Prof Burger said. 'The idea has been somehow there was this characteristic that people had back in the early 1960s that they were somehow more prone to obedience.' "
This is a very revealing experiment, repeated after it was 1st done almost 37 years ago in 1961! The fact that this experiment was not repeated earlier due to the ethical implication of the participants being subjected to psychological stress made this one that more precious as I do not think it will be repeated again shortly by many other researchers! At least in the West!!
Lessons for me are:
1. if you are the authoritative figure, which most leaders are looked upon as one!, your have a huge influence over the people who work with and for you! It is more than peer pressure as the experiment did not mentioned that but just an authority ordering you to administer the shock despite obvious pains and discomforts sufferred by the subject! So, if the leaders are evil, the followers will just do as ordered!;
</DIV> <DIV>2. when a fellower or person who worked with and for you decided to act against order, as a good leader, you need to recognize how much efforts and courage the person has mustered to defy the order. It is a red flag for you to reconsider your order by at least listening to the reasons why he or she is defying you! It will be ONE of the biggest challenges for good leaders to be able to execute this action. It takes courage to think that: maybe I am wrong. Maybe I need to listen and re-evaluate and make new decision!;
3. I was informed that this situation is especially true when the administers of the shock are facing the authority in person vs. when the order is issued over a phone line! i.e. the administers actually DID NOT administer the shocks when order through phone as they believed the 'authority figure' does not see it! This reveald another truth about leadership: compliance = do the things when SOMEONE is watching! You only get COMPLIANCE if your order is ethically unsound!!
A good experiment to remind leaders wannbe to appreciate self-weaknesses and cherish the courage of those who defied our orders!