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Basic Institncts 5: The Milgram Experiment Re-Visited

Do people listen to those in positions of authority, even if what they are telling them is wrong? That question was at the heart of the famous Stanley Milgram psychology experiments and still remains today. From the events at Abu Ghraib to Nazi Germany, people have always struggled to understand why seemingly ordinary people can sometimes do bad, or even terrible, things. Primetime working with a major university, conducts the experiment again to see whether people’s responses have changed since the original Milgram experiment in 1961. Chris Cuomo reports on Primetime: Basic Instincts; Pondering the atrocities of Nazi Germany, psychologist Stanley Milgram stunned the world with a study that showed the average person would go along with orders from an authority figure to administer painful, even dangerous electric shocks to a fellow human being. Two-thirds of Milgram’s participants delivered shocks as they heard cries of pain, warnings of heart trouble, and then finally silence. The public response to the experiment was enormous, providing insight into human nature that no one had understood before. But not long after, strict guidelines about human experimentation in psychological experiments shelved any further studies. ; But Primetime wanted to know: Would ordinary people today still follow orders blindly? After approaching psychologist Dr. Jerry Burger from Santa Clara University in California, Primetime was able to find a way to replicate Milgram’s study in a modified way. With approval from the American Psychological Association, the collaboration between Primetime and Santa Clara University is the first time in over 40 years the landmark study has been re-created.; The report takes audiences through today’s version of the Milgram experiment. Participants are told they are taking part in a learning and memory study. They are paid $50 dollars to partake and told the money is theirs to keep even if they quit the experiment early. Participants are told to test word pairs on ‘Ken’, who is supposedly wired up in another room but is actually a control subject not being shocked. If ‘Ken’ gets a word pair wrong, participants are to punish him with an electric shock. The more words ‘Ken’ gets wrong, the higher the shocks go. And at 150 volts, ‘Ken’ shouts ‘I don’t want to go on, my heart is bothering me!’ but participants are then told by the authority figure that they must go on. Though many are clearly uncomfortable, the majority of people do continue and then the experiment is stopped. But there are people who refuse to continue to shock the subject. Primetime looks at what makes some continue and other stand up to authority.; One participant tells Cuomo, ‘I was doing what I was supposed to do, and I’m there to help conduct an experiment so I’m just doing my part. Dr. Jerry Burger tells Cuomo that ‘the typical response is to turn toward the experimenter and, if not say something, at least give a look that says, ‘what should I do?’ And of course, when an expert tells them, ‘not a problem, this is nothing to worry about, continue,’ the rational thing to do in that situation is to continue.’ ABC Primetime. 34 minutes. DVD only.


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