Respect My Authoritah!

ABC's newshow, Primtime, had an interesting story a couple of weeks ago. They were exploring the tendency of people to follow orders. The story even came with a handy dandy expirement.

They found 60 people who thought they were volunteering for a memory expirement. They were supposed to help someone else learn word pairs. So they sat these people up in different rooms and had the volunteer recite words into the microphone so the other person could give the matching word. The catch? When the second person didn't get the word right, he got zapped. Being an expirement and all, the second person was actually an actor, and wasn't really getting zapped.

The point of the expirement was to see if people would keep zapping the poor guy, even when he started shouting in pain and protesting. They set it up so every volunteer zapper heard a speech from the zapee about his heart condition. The zaps kept getting worse, and after a few wrong answers, the zapee started shouting in pain. After a few more, he started complaining about his heart problem.

The results were fascinating. Or at least the part they showed on TV were fascinating. The zappers would keep checking with the guy in charge of the expirement. And he kept saying "You have to zap him." So they did. Even after the poor guy getting zapped started complaining about his heart. They all looked worried, but they kept doing it.

Nearly every one of them later said they were just doing as they were told. I sincerely think this is the root of most grander evils committed by humanity. It only takes one person to come up with the idea and every one else can go along with it. Puts truth in that old overly dramatic chestnut, "Evil triumphs when good men do nothing."

The same principle works on a much smaller scale. If you act like you know what you are doing and are where you're supposed to be, you can get away with a lot of things. Even acting like you have authority gives you authority.

The study also presented an interesting gender gap. Only 65% of the men kept zapping the guy with the bum heart. But 73% of women kept going. The Primetime story felt the need to explain this by presenting the idea that women were more intimidated by the authority figure into continuing against their wishes. Personally, I don't think thats a big enough difference to be significant considering that they only tested 18 men and 22 women, but it's very interesting that they felt like they should explain it.


Blogger Exador said...

That's a replay of an older experiment. I read about it in a book called "The History of Torture" (I read wierd stuff).
The conclusion was the same: People will do all sorts of horrible things if they are working under some sort of 'authority'.

Interesting stuff. I'll have to check it out to see the sicko video.

7:13 AM, January 16, 2007  

Post a Comment

<< Home