Sunday, 2 December 2012

How Far Will Humans Go?

by Bea Wilkinson

Stanford Prison Experiment, 1971

In my AS level psychology, there were two specific experiments which we looked at which I found particularly engaging. These were Stanley Milgram’s experiment in the early 1960s and Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment in the early 1970s. Both focused on our reactions to authority figures in different situations, how we conform and obey. The Milgram Experiment found out just how far an individual may go as a result of feeling obliged to obey an authority figure, and, in contrast, Zimbardo's Experiment looked at the effects that power had on individuals and how they react to others under their control. Both studies had shocking results. Zimbardo’s experiment had to be terminated early when Christina Maslach, a graduate student, protested against the conditions of the prison after she visited the prison to carry out interviews. It is interesting that, out of more than fifty people who were involved in the runnings of the experiment, Maslach was the only one who questioned its morality.
Milgram Experiment, 1961
Milgram’s experiment looked at how far a normal participant (selected from a newspaper advert) would go to cause harm on another participant. The participants were told to administer electric shocks for every incorrect answer to a simple memory task. For every wrong answer, the participant was instructed by an experimenter wearing a white labcoat to give an increasing shock in 15v increments, the voltmeter reached a maximum of 450v (fatal shock). The other participant, an actor, pretended to receive the shocks and it was ensured that the participant could hear screams of pain from the other room, where the actor was based. The ‘real’ participant was unaware that the 'participant' was actually an actor and was led to believe it was another participant of the experiment, just like themselves. 65% of participants gave the other participant the full 450v shock. If this had been a genuine shock, it would have killed the recipient.
Recent research into the causes of these results has found that, despite the unexpected results of the above experiments, we are not actually programmed for conformity. Acts of cruelty require enthusiasm as well as straightforward obedience. Member of the British Psychological Society, Professor Stephen Reicher of the University of St Andrews) has looked specifically at Milgram and Zimbardo’s experiments, which suggested that people who seem morally normal and functioning might commit inhumane and shocking acts when others instruct them to do so.
Despite this, Reicher's research suggests that obedience results from identification with authorities that encourage malicious behaviour and make it seem as if these acts are acceptable and moral. Ordinary individuals commit terrible acts "not because they become passive, mindless functionaries who do not know what they are doing, but rather because they come to believe ... that what they are doing is right".

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments with names are more likely to be published.