Nazis in Our Hearts

Most of us, anyway. And we’re likely to torture and kill another person even if it’s not our lives but our social standing that’s threatened.

This study (Torture Game Show, in France) is the latest to find most of humanity ready to punish someone to death because they feel social pressure to do so.  Stanley Milgram’s famous 1961 authority experiments were some of the first to show a similar propensity (see below) and those results have been replicated in many studies since.

In this new case, 80 participants thought they were “shooting a French pilot for a new reality TV series called Zone Xtreme. … [F]ake ‘contestants’ played by actors were forced to answer questions. If they answered incorrectly, one of the participants would be asked to give the contestant an electric shock. No shocks were actually administered; the actor contestants pretended to get electrocuted.”

80% of contestants went all the way, shocking the victim with the maximum 460 volts until he appeared to die.

“Out of 80 players, just 16 refused to shock the victim and walked out.”

That’s to say nothing of the studio audience, who thought the torture was real and who shouted “Punishment!”

Why did the participants agree to torture someone when asked?

“‘I was worried about the contestant’ …. At the same time, I was afraid to spoil the programme,'” said one contestant.

“‘The questioners are in the grip of the authority of television,’ said Jean-Leon Beauvois, a psychologist who took part in the documentary.”

In Milgram’s original experiment, 65 percent of participants “administered the experiment’s final massive 450-volt shock, though many were very uncomfortable doing so; at some point, every participant paused and questioned the experiment. … Only one participant steadfastly refused to administer shocks below the 300-volt level.


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