People 'still willing to torture'
Key Excerpts from Article on Website of BBC News
Posted: March 7th, 2009
Decades after a notorious experiment, scientists have found test subjects are still willing to inflict pain on others - if told to by an authority figure. US researchers repeated the famous "Milgram test", with volunteers told to deliver electrical shocks to another volunteer - played by an actor. Even after faked screams of pain, 70% were prepared to increase the voltage, the American Psychologist study found. Both may help explain why apparently ordinary people can commit atrocities. Dr Jerry Burger, of Santa Clara University, used a [format similar to Milgram's], although he did not allow the volunteers to carry on beyond 150 volts after they had shown their willingness to do so, suggesting that the distress caused to the original volunteers had been too great. Again, however, the vast majority of the 29 men and 41 women taking part were willing to push the button knowing it would cause pain to another human. Even when another actor entered the room and questioned what was happening, most were still prepared to continue. He told Reuters: "What we found is validation of the same argument - if you put people in certain situations, they will act in surprising and maybe often even disturbing ways." He said that it was not that there was "something wrong" with the volunteers, but that when placed under pressure, people will often do "unsettling" things. Even though it was difficult to translate laboratory work to the real world, he said, it might partly explain why, in times of conflict, people could take part in genocide.