#2. The Stanford Prison Experiment (1971)
Psychologist Philip Zimbardo wanted to find out how captivity affects authorities and inmates in prison. Sounds innocent enough. Seriously, what could go wrong?
Zimbardo transformed the Stanford Psychology Department's basement into a mock prison. Subjects volunteered by simply responding to a newspaper ad ...
Not the actual ad
... and then passing a test proving good health and high-quality mental stability, which are very important factors in deciding who goes to prison. These volunteers were all male college students who were then divided arbitrarily into 12 guards and 12 prisoners. Zimbardo himself decided that he wanted to play too, and elected himself Prison Superintendent. The simulation was planned to run for two weeks.
Yep, nothing at all can go wrong with this.
It took about one day for every subject to suddenly go as insane as a shit-house rat. On only the second day, prisoners staged a riot in the faux detention center, with prisoners barricading their cells with their beds and taunting the guards. The guards saw this as a pretty good excuse to start squirting fire extinguishers at the insurgents because, hey, why the hell not?
From that point on, the Stanford Prison that had already gone to hell, just continued to ricochet around in hell for day after day. Some guards began forcing inmates to sleep naked on the concrete, restricting the bathroom as a privilege (one that was often denied). They forced prisoners to do humiliating exercises and had them clean toilets with their bare hands.
Incredibly, when "prisoners" were told they had a chance at parole, and then the parole was denied, it didn't occur to them to simply ask out of the damned experiment. Remember they had absolutely no legal reason to be imprisoned, it was just a damned role-playing exercise. This fact continued to escape them as they sat naked in their own filth, with bags on their heads.
Over 50 outsiders had stopped to observe the prison, but the morality of the trial was never questioned until Zimbardo's girlfriend, Christina Maslach, strongly objected. After only six days, Zimbardo put a halt to the experiment (several of the "guards" expressed disappointment at this). If you were about to applaud Maslach as the only sane person involved in this clusterfuck, you should know that she went on to marry Zimbardo, the guy who orchestrated the whole thing.
What This Says About You:
Ever been harassed by a cop who acted like a major douchebag, pushing you around for no reason? Science says that if the roles were reversed, you'd likely act the same way.
As it turns out, it's usually fear of repercussion that keeps us from torturing our fellow human beings. Give us absolute power over somebody and a blank check from our superiors, and Abu Ghraib-esque naked pyramids are sure to follow. Hey, if it can happen to a bunch of Vietnam-era hippie college students, it sure as hell could happen to you.
#1. The Milgram Experiment (1961)
When the prosecution of the Nazis got underway at the Nuremberg Trials, many of the defendants' excuse seemed to revolve around the ideas of, "I'm not really a prick" and, "Hey man, I was just following orders." Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram wanted to test willingness of subjects to obey an authority figure. Maybe he could just, you know, ask people? Oh, hell no. That would not be nearly horrifying enough.
Instead he ran an experiment where the subject was told he was a "teacher" and that his job was to give a memory test to another subject, located in another room. The whole thing was fake and the other subject was an actor.
The subject was told that whenever the other guy gave an incorrect answer, he was to press a button that would give him an electric shock. A guy in a lab coat was there to make sure he did it (again no real shock was being delivered, but the subject of course did not know this).
The subject was told that the shocks started at 45 volts and would increase with every wrong answer. Each time they pushed the button, the actor on the other end would scream and beg for the subject to stop.
So, can you guess how this went?
Many subjects began to feel uncomfortable after a certain point, and questioned continuing the experiment. However, each time the guy in the lab coat encouraged them to continue. Most of them did, upping the voltage, delivering shock after shock while the victim screamed. Many subjects would laugh nervously, because laughter is the best medicine when pumping electrical currents through another person's body.
Eventually the actor would start banging on the wall that separated him from the subject, pleading about his heart condition. After further shocks, all sounds from victim's room would cease, indicating he was dead or unconscious. If you had to guess, what percentage of the subjects kept delivering shocks after that point?
Five percent? Ten?
Between 61 and 66 percent of subjects would continue the experiment until it reached the maximum voltage of 450, continuing to deliver shocks after the victim had been zapped into unconsciousness or the afterlife. Repeated studies have shown the same result: Subjects will mindlessly deliver pain to an innocent stranger as long as a dude in a lab coat says it's OK.
Most subjects wouldn't begin to object until after 300-volt shocks. Zero of them asked to stop the experiment before that point (keep in mind 100 volts is enough to kill a man, in some cases).
What This Says About You:
You might like to think of yourself as a free-thinking marauder, but when it comes down to it, odds are you won't stick it to The Man because of the fear The Man will stick it right back up your ass. And this was just a guy in a lab coat--imagine if he'd had a uniform, or a badge.
Charles Sheridan and Richard King took this experiment one step further, but asked subjects to shock a puppy for every incorrect action it made. Unlike Milgram's experiment, this shock was real. Exactly 20 out of 26 subjects went to the highest voltage.
Almost 80 percent. Think about that when you're walking around the mall: Eight out of ten of those people you see would torture the shit out of a puppy if a dude in a lab coat asked them to.
For more, go buy You Might Be a Zombie anywhere books are sold online or in person.
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