November 09, 2010
The Experiment Requires
In the course of On Being's program* featuring an interview with torture expert Darius Rejali, Krista Tippett plays an extract from recordings of Stanley Milgram's famous experiment on obedience, of one of those who refused:
Man Two: Look, I don't know anything about electricity. I don't profess any knowledge, nor will I go any further until I found out if the guy's OK.Fossicking through the show's related webpages and weblog, I discovered this episode of the ABC's Radio Eye program which interviewed various people associated with the experiment including four of the "teachers" who were asked to administer the electrical shocks in the interests of science. Fascinating stuff.
Man: It's absolutely essential that you continue.
Man Two: Well, essential or not, this program isn't quite that important to me that I should go along doing something that I know nothing about, particularly if it's going to injure someone. I don't know what this is all about.
Man: Well, whether the learner likes it or not, we must go on until he's learned all the word pairs correctly.
Man Two: Well, you can sure have your $4.50 back. I didn't want it anyhow. I intended to give it some charitable organization. But I wouldn't go on with it.
Man: The $4.50 is not the issue here. That check is yours …
Man Two: Yeah, I realize that.
Man: … simply for coming to the lab. It is essential that you continue the experiment.
Man Two: No, it isn't essential. Not one bit.
Man: You've got no other choice, teacher.
Man Two: Oh, I have a lot of choices. My number one choice is that I wouldn't go on if I thought he was being harmed.
HERB WINER : The learner may have gotten the first one or two correct but it became quite obvious that he was a very dim witted learner and so each failure I imposed a shock and the level started to rise very rapidly. And I could hear him, his cries of pain and requests, “stop this, cut it out, this hurts” and similar expressions and at the same time the experimenter standing above me was instructing me very seriously that I had to go on. I became increasingly uncomfortable as we went up to about a hundred volts and I became increasingly agitated and concerned and of course the experimenter dealt with all objections with one or more of several phrases, like “you must continue”, or “the experiment requires that you continue,” or “you have no choice.”Naturally, you quickly find yourself musing on the recursive nature of the whole thing. Although Milgram and his staff expected the vast majority of participants to refuse to continue with the shocks, they must have realised the potential for significant emotional stress to the subjects, and, indeed, reported on the distress that did occur, in their results. And yet the experiment continued, in the interests of science, and I wonder if the experimenters saw the element of introspection in what they were doing, the fact they were learning about themselves. I suspect they did. One can only hope. Should you continue causing this distress, Stanley? It is essential that you continue.
BILL MENOLD: I didn’t know what I was doing, and you know, I thought one of three things is happening either this guy’s unconscious, he’s dead or this thing is a complete sham. I mean I had thought, while my thought process was still working, there was a concern that I had that I was being set up because you don’t do this - this isn’t the way the world operates but the conflict within me to know which one of those was right was unbelievably stressful, as I said I couldn’t, I was not functional. I really had lost it intellectually, or emotionally or whatever… And I didn’t know what I was gonna do and I stopped at one point and I said I’m not going to continue with this because I don’t know what’s going on and I’m not taking responsibility for this and that’s when this facilitator said don’t worry about it Yale University is taking full responsibility. You just conduct your part of the - he was just an authority figure and he was just, “this is your job just go ahead and do it we know what we’re doing don’t get excited here, just continue with the experiment.” And I did. I was totally out of any world that I’d ever known. I was tormented internally. I was a basket case.
* Via Mondoweiss. Mr Weiss and Ms Tippett say half the subjects refused to continue the shocks, which given the small sample size is probably fair enough, although the actual figure is 14 out of 40.