Psychology Experiment in Causing Pain

by waiting 5 Replies latest jw friends

  • waiting

    "Stanley Milgram was born on 1933 in New York city. He grew up during the second world war, right when the Nazi atrocities were still fresh in the memories of millions.

    Milgram's classic experiment pitted the subject's moral beliefs against the demands of authority. Of all the psychology experiments I am aware of, Milgram's produces the most startling and disturbing. Remember when this experiment was conducted - people were searching for explanations for how the atrocities of World War II had occured.

    Around this time (early 1960's) research was being conducted into the authoritarian traits of Germans in an attempt to explain how the atrocities of World War II could have taken place. Milgram's study demonstrated that these traits were not confined to Germans and were not confined to certain types of situations (eg war). This was a profound and extremely thought provoking discovery.

    Obedience to authority is a basic tenant of any human social organisation. Virtually every society has developed some sort of hierarchy in which some individuals exercise a degree of authority over others. For example, teachers have authority over their students; police officers have authority over members of the public.

    Basically, its hard to conceive of a society that could function without this type of arrangement. However, there are times when private belief and compliance with those in authority may come into conflict. The resolution of this type of conflict represents one of the oldest problems in philosophy and religion. Abraham, when commanded by God to kill his son, was torn between his love of his son and his obedience to God. Obediance to authority is a form of comliance and as such it has been studied in the laboratory's of social psychologists for 30 years.

    Milgram's experiment doesn't begin in a laboratory, but rather a lecture theatre where a group of psychiatrists, university students and middle-class adults of various occupations and ages have gathered to listen to a lecture on obedience to authoity. During the lecture, Milgram asks the audience to imagine the following situation:

    In response to a newspaper add offering $4.50 for one hour's work, you turn up at Yale University to take part in a Psychology experiment investigating memory and learning. You are introduced to a stern looking experimenter in a white coat and a rather pleasent and friendly co-subject. The experimenter explains that the experiment will look into the role of punishment in learning, and that one of you will be the teacher and one will be the learner. You draw lots to determine roles, and it is decided that you become the teacher. The three of you then proceed to an adjacent room, where the "learner" is strapped into a chair. The experimenter explains that this is to prevent excessive movement during the experiment, but its pretty obvious to you that the learner could not escape from the chair if he wished. Then, an electrode is attached to the learners arm, and conductive gel as applied to the electrode. The experimenter explains that this is to prevent burning and blisters. Both you and the learner are told that the electrode is attached to a electric shock generator in the other room, and that electric shocks will serve as punishment for incorrect responses. The learner asks the experimenter if "the shocks will hurt" to which the experimenter replies: "although the shocks will be painful, they cause no permanent tissue damage".

    You leave the learner in his room and return to the other room where the experimenter shows you the shock generator. The generator has 30 switches, each is labelled with a voltage ranging from 15 up to 450 volts. Each switch also has a rating, ranging from "slight shock" to "danger: severe shock". The final two switches are labelled "XXX". You are told that your role is to teach the learner a simple paired associate task, but that you must punish him for incorrect responses. You are told that for every incorrect response you must increase the voltage by 15 volts (ie one more switch). The experimented gives you a 15 volt shock (enough to make you arm tingle) to check that the generator is functioning correctly. Now the experiment begins. The learner finds the task difficult and makes numerous errors. Each error results in a higher voltage shock than the previous one. To begin with the shocks are weak, but soon they become more intense. At 75 volts you can hear the learner "grunt" through the wall. The same thing happens at90 and 105 volts. At 120 volts the learner says the shocks are getting painful. You know, because you can hear him through the wall. At 150 he cries "get me out of here! I refuse to go on!".

    His protests continue as the voltage gets higher and higher. If at this point, or any other point, of the experiment you question whether you should be continuing, the experimenter tells you to keep going, using such reasons as "you can't stop now", "he is getting paid to do this experiment" or that "the experiment depends on your continuing compliance". He may even say "you have no choice". As the shocks increase the learner screams out "I can't stand the pain!" At 300 volts he begins pounding on the wall and demands to be let out. After 330 volts there is no longer any noise from the learner. At this point the experimenter tells you that the learner's failure to respond should be interpreted as an incorrect response and to continue increasing the shock level. Soon either the highest shock level is reached or the learning task is completed and the experiment concludes.

    Following the lecture (described above), each audience member is asked to privately record how he or she would have acted. All of the audience groups responded similarly. They all saw themselves as disobeying the experimenter somewhere early on in the experiment. On average, the psychologists said they would have stopped when the voltage level reached 120. For the university students it was 135. Remember, this is about the level when the learner would have first protested about the pain. Nobody in any group said they would have continued beyond 300 volts.

    When asked to explain their disobediance, the audience members reponded that they "didn't want to hurt anyone". In other words, the audience saw their disobedience as stemming from their empathy for the subject and compassion for those in pain and a sense of fairness. The psychologists predicted that only 4% of the teachers would progress beyond 300 volts. The students said that 0.1% would reach the highest level on the generator. These latter cases (who would use the highest voltage setting) were described by the psychologists as "pathological sadists".

    The experiment described above could have been a hypothetical situation, but in fact the experiment described in the introduction page actually took place! Not only that, but the results were completely different to those predicted by the various audience members to whom the experiment was described.

    When Milgram conducted the study, he found that with a little bit of coaxing, the majority (60%) of subjects would administer shocks right through to 450 volts. The people administering the shocks were not "pathological sadists" as the psychologists had described them, but normal everyday people. At this point I think I should point out that nobody actually received electric shocks... the learner was a confederate of the experimenter and was pretending to be in pain. The only real subject in the experiment was the "teacher".

    In a post-experimental interview, Milgram asked the subjects to rate how painful they thought the electric shocks would have been (on a scale of 1 to 14 where 14 is the most painful). The typical response was 14 (extremely painful). Although most of the subjects obeyed the experimenter, there were obvious signs on an intense internal struggle. Many exhibited unusual reactions such as nervous laughter, uncontrollable seizures, trembling and groaningAlthough no-one actually received any electric shocks, Milgram's study came under fire for the adverse it had on the "teachers".

    Milgram's interviews with his subjects tended to confirm the view that ordinary everyday people can cause pain and suffering to another person under the right set of circumstances. Milgram recounts one interview in particular with a devout Catholic married to a plumber... According to Milgram she gave the impression of complete humility. At 225 volts she turned to the experimenter and in a tentative voice said "I hesitate to press these". But when the experimented told her to continue, she did. Later she hesitated again, but once again, when the experimenter insisted that she continue, she did... right up to the maximum 450 volt shock.

    Milgram also conducted several follow-up experiments to determine what would mediate the liklihood of maximum shock delivery. He repeated the experiment described above, except that this time he had four conditions. One condition (the verbal condition) was exactly the same as before, ie the "learner" was in another room but could be heard by the "teacher". In the second condition, the remote-feedback condition, the only feedback on the learner's condition was a pounding on the wall at 300 volts. In the third condition, the proximity condition, the learner was seated right next to the teacher. In the fourth and final condition, the touch-proximity condition, the teacher was required to hold the hand of the learner on a "shock plate" in order to give him shocks above 150 volts.

    The most amazing thing to note from this follow-up experiment is that 32% of the subjects in the proximity-touch condition held the hand of the learner on the shock plate while administering shocks in excess of 400 volts! I don't know about you, but this result both shocks and intrigues me! Further experiments showed that teachers were less obedient when the experimenter communicated wih them via the telephone versus in person, and males were just as likely to be obedient as females, although females tended to be more nervous.

    Milgram's experiment has been repeated in Australia, South Africa and in several European countries. In one study, over 85% of the subjects administered a lethal electric shock to the learner!

    Milgram felt that his experiments helped provide iight into how behavious such as the Nazi war crimes and Vietnam massacres (occurred). He notes that Nazis frequently described themselves as helpless parts in a big machine. He also notes their tendency to "devalue" their victims... the European Jews were the subject of a massive propaganda campaign designed to make them appear as sub-human. Milgram found a tendency to devalue the "learner" in his experiment... utterances such as "why doesn't the dumb guy get it right" were not uncommon. One "teacher" even claimed the the "learner" was "so dumb he deserved to get shocked!".

    The experiments carried out by Milgram have given insight into human obedience While not giving us the complete picture, they are certainly sobering and give us a glimpse of one of the darker sides of human nature - a side that we would probably want to pretend didn't exist!"

    [url=]Experiment in Causing Pain[/url]

    The comment has come up as to how JWs could be so inhuman to another human's suffering - i.e. the disassociated woman and her husband's JW funeral.

    On the bright side, those who walked and those who shunned will likely one day realize what they've done. What is done is done under the influence of those who have committed the greater sin - it is not of their own doing. They will be forgiven even as we have been.

    I don't believe we, as JWs, Christians, apostates, Jews, Whatever, can get off the hook that easy. We are all humans, and as such, are responsible for our own actions. If we behave badly, it is our responsiblity to understand that, ultimately, it is primarily of our own doing.

    If we want our freedoms - we must accept the responsiblity of our freedoms. If we act like a*sholes, then we should wear that mark. It's childlike to say, "he made me act that way." It is our responsibility to grow up. If we have acted that way in the past - it is still our fault to some degree - we allowed it to happen.

    The German people as a whole, IMO, cannot just say about the 8 million Jews killed, "he (Hitler) made me act that way." They were adults with freedoms - they tucked their consciences under their tails and quietly, or actively, participated.

    In the above experiment - "quietly" was not shown. Humans were shown that they can easily be brought forth to cause extreme pain to their fellow man - particularily if the pain causer thinks that somehow the person in pain deserves it.

    Perhaps that's why JWs can demonstrate such inhuman attitudes towards disfellowshipped/disassociated persons. These persons deserve pain, even death, in their opinion.


    Edited by - waiting on 7 July 2000 22:16:5

  • Pathofthorns

    Thanks for putting that up Waiting. As the one who made that remark, I didn't want to offend. I just feel that I myself thought, said, and did things that with my perspective today I do regret. And had I had that perpective in the past, I would have done things differently.

    Today many of us on this board are, have, or will be subject to indignities (likely to a lesser degree) to what you mentioned in your funeral post. I do know many of the ones who do this will one day feel bad as I did, and I pray that I will forgive them as I hope those I hurt will forgive me.

    I don't want to excuse mine or others actions for I believe we all must be responsible for them. But I do believe in the power of mind control and how we all make decisions based on the limited information we have, or environments and upbringing. I believe to forgive, even when its difficult and perhaps at times seems undeserved is a form of the highest display of love and compassion.

    A major message Christ taught was forgiveness and mercy. The term "undeserved kindness" is frequently used regarding God's dealings with us. Stephen's words "Father forgive them for they know not what they do" indicate that he grasped such things.

    I don't want to minimize in any way what you say Waiting. I guess as much as I disliked what happened at that funeral, I would love to have seen that widow carry on with her words with great courage and without bitterness and malice. That to me is a great and strong person.


  • RedhorseWoman

    I think that all of us here are here precisely because we could no longer go along with what we were told was the correct thing to do.

    It's true that we all need to accept responsibility for acting in ways that were unkind. However, I believe that we all at the time felt we were doing things for someone's "own good". I know that I bought into the spiel about shunning a person so that they could see the error of their ways and come back to the congregation. In this way, we were actually contributing toward the saving of their lives.

    It's an insidious thing. I know that I could no longer continue with this type of thinking. I did my share of self-righteousness, but fortunately I finally woke up.

    Hopefully, I've learned enough so that I will not do such things again.

  • waiting

    Hey y'all,

    Good thoughts. If you remember, there were hundreds, if not thousands, of Germans brought up for trial. But the Courts were not really after the rank and file - but the officials. The officials had the power to use, as Path brought out - the leaders controlled the minds of the people.

    The sin of the rank and file was following without thinking too deeply to cause enough discomfort to stop the offending actions.

    Which is what Red said - we, and thousands, perhaps millions - have stopped to think about what we've been taught.

    The shame is, we hurt others, and ourselves. I used to hate to come into contact with DFd persons. They used to be my friends - I liked them - like Red said, I was trying to help them, kinda. I also didn't want to get into trouble with Jehovah because I had been taught to obey.

    It was terribly hard for me to go against the perceived teachings of the Society and not shun my daughter. I was so angry because I felt I had been given no way out for my conscience - I had to offend Jehovah for I would not take the chance of my daughter committing suicide. I did what I felt I had to - not what I thought was right.

    The pitiful reality was that all that pain of conscience was only perceived in my mind - I caused myself that pain, and was lead to that decision by the WTBTS.

    So I guess you guys are right.

  • Zep

    Yeah Waiting, i remember seeing those experiments on TV...the guy was screaming but the other guy while looking uncomfortable about it all just kept zapping the poor sucker!

    Heres another weird experiment i heard about!
    To test the idea as to whether there is life after death you could say?!
    Apparently a few centuries back an experiment was done in France or somewhere to see if when you had your head cut off by the guillotine you were still conscious of things for a time.How it worked was that the person to be executed was told that his family would be given great wealth, and all he/she had to do to ensure this was to wink at executioner when he picked up their head!.So i hear, about half winked!.....Spooky eh!

  • waiting

    Hey Strange Zep,

    I remember hearing about that experiment with the winking head. Isn't it remarkable how people in authority think it's cool to experiment with those they torture? The Nazis were famous for all the experiments they did on Jews & others.

    Like Cats when they catch a Mouse?

    But the above quoted experiment does show that ordinary people can be extraordinarily inhuman in causing pain and punishment to their fellow man - and for no good reason. The average housewife will push the button to cause extreme pain, even death, to another person, because it's her choice.

    She might be uncomfortable - but she'll do it.
    I think that in part explains the average person's response to a lot of situations in life, including responding to disfellowshipped and disassociated persons.

    We might be uncomfortable - but we'll cause pain because we've been told to - even if it goes against our thinking and understanding.


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