11 June 2009

Refusal to torture in Milgram experiments

Oh well. From Brain Blogger, a new experiment which deflates some of the hope for humanity I had held out in the face of the Milgram experiments on torture and obedience to authority:

For the first time in over 30 years, a scientist named Dr. Jerry Burger managed to obtain approval for a study partially reproducing the Milgram experiment, and in 2009 he published his findings in the journal American Psychologist....Dr. Burger also had some subjects witness a planted tester who refused to administer the test. He hypothesized that seeing a prior refusal might embolden test subjects to also refuse. Nevertheless, Dr. Burger’s results were comparable to Dr. Milgram’s results, and having a witnessed refusal did not significantly change [the willingness of subjects to continue increasing the voltage of the shocks].


Burger, J. (2009). Replicating Milgram: Would people still obey today? American Psychologist, 64 (1), 1-11 DOI: 10.1037/a0010932

Though I think Dr. Surve is reaching quite a bit in concluding that
Whatever moral compass human beings claim to possess, this research suggests that when presented with a perceived authority figure, the majority will override that compass in favor of obedience. The only possible conclusion, then, is that most human beings are in fact hard-wired to torture.

The first sentence gets some support from the experiment. I don't see why the second would.

Not that that's much consolation.

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