Milgram’s Experiment as Gameshow

Actually, it is a documentary on reality television entitled "How far can television go?" (shouldn’t it be "how low"?) as a critique of reality television. The documentary creates a fake gameshow based on Milgram’s experiment to determine how far contestants are willing to go.

I would love to see a similar documentary done in the United States. After eight years of 24 and government-sanctioned torture, it would be interesting to determine the impact on the people’s attitudes and behaviors. And with the added incentive of money (the only goal of any gameshow), I shudder to see a lot of people turn into torturer without a second thought.

Milgram 2008

Plus ça change…

The results are even more disturbing now than they were in the 1960s but after years of "War on Terror", 24, justification of massive torture, dehumanization of entire categories of people, and recent and ongoing genocides, it is not hard to see how ordinary people find it relatively easy to engage in that kind of behavior.

I would argue that any task provided with rationalization would work, not just "in aid of science". There is now a strong corpous of journalistic accounts of torture in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay that reveals the dynamics at work which allow people to become torturers and butchers.

It would be interesting to be able to examine whether the rationalization change as one goes up the chain of command (and not incidentally, the social stratification ladder… the grunts do the dirty work and have to find justification akin to "I was following orders" or "they were shooting at us" where "they" can become pretty much anyone in the country whereas the justifications up the ladder are promulgated differently thanks to distance).

In any event, it is still disturbing and it is a Pandora’s Box, once open, there is no putting all that !@#$ back in it.

Basic Sociology – Group Behavior

Groups

Social groups have specific characteristics: (a) they consist of two or more people who (b) interact in an ordered fashion, (c) share specific values and norms, and (d) have at least some sense of unity and common goals.

Group conformity / obedience

One of the main influences that groups exercise over their members lies in their capacity to induce conformity – the process through which members modify their behavior to comply with the group’s norms or decisions. Research shows that group pressure does not have to be intense to produce conformity.

One such experiment was conducted by Solomon Asch (1956) to show the power of groups to influence behavior. Asch assembled 6 to 8 students, all accomplices except one, the subject of the experiment. The students were shown a line on card 1 and asked to pick the corresponding line on card 2 (see diagram).

Asch

It is obvious that the correct answer is A. Asch’s accomplices initially answered correctly but in further rounds of the experiment they started answering incorrectly. Asch wanted to see what the subject would do: would he provide the correct answer despite the group’s incorrect consensus or would he go along with the group?

One third of the subjects went along and provided the wrong answer and later admitted they knew it but did not want to be singled out. In other words, they were willing to compromise their judgment for the sake of going along with the group’s (wrong) answer.

Here is a video to illustrate this dynamic further:

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