The following text is non-fictional, deals with psychology and social behaviour. It can be used in
forms 11 or 12, independent of what your course topic is. It is meant to enhance discussion habits.
You think you know what you will and won't do under certain circumstances? You would defend yourself, but
not hurt anyone? Could you be really cruel? Or could you be a victim, ready to follow a leader like a sheep?
'Who me? Never!', you say. But you must remember that noone is immune from being put in a position
of power or powerlessness. And not many of us can be quite sure how he might act.
Philosophers have thought about such questions for centuries. But only in our lifetime have these questions
been subjected to experimental methods of psychology. Ansd some recent experiments are, if nothing else
spectacular and disturbing.
At Stanford Universtity (A Simulation Study of the Psychology of Imprisonment conducted at Stanford University California), ten students were pulled into siren-screaming police cars.
They were searched and handcuffed. Then they were put in a prison constructed in the basement of a
university building. There they were stripped naked and then given prison uniforms with inmate numbers.
Then they were fingerprinted aned locked up in cells.
The guards, also students, wore uniforms and carried whistles, handcuffs and keys to the cells and the main gate.
Prisoners were not allowed to smoke. They weren't allowed to write letters. They had to ask the guards permission
to use the toilets.
After only one day the prisoners tried to rebel. The guards called for reinforcement. They entered the cells, sent ringleaders
into solitary cells and intimidated the others.
From then on the prisoners became more submissive. On command thy sang, cursed each other, fell out for endless
standup formations for inmate counts. soon their conversation became totally preoccupied with prison matters
rather than with their lives outside. But then something happened in the experiment. Emotional disturbances
began to appear among all the participants of this test. Among prisoners they were especially pronounced.
But they also appeared among the guards and-unexpectedly-among the administrators. In fact,
they became so serious that the experiment , which was to last two weeks, was ended only after
two six days.
As strange as it sounds, the event was indeed a voluntary test. none of the prisoners or guards were obliged
to play their roles through. Yet they fell into behaviour patterns of prisoners and guard in frightening, real
Look here, too
At Yale University (The Milgram experiment-Obedience to Authority Study) another experiment took place. An electric shock generator was set up. The teacher
was seated before a panel with many switches. The learner was placed on what looked like a small electric
chair with his arms strapped down and electrodes attached to his wrists. The teacher was
to recite pairs of words. The learner was to try to say the second of the pair
whenever the teacher repeated the first word. Each time the learner made a mistake,
the teacher was to give him an electric shock. The force of the shock was to be decided by the
experimenter who sat at the teacher's side.
It was the teacherswho were the subjects of the experiment. The learners were
actors who actually got no shock at all. They were trained to react appropriately with, say, a grunt at 75 volts,
a loud complaint at 120 volts, and rising signs of pain leading to screams. Clearly the
teacher would be seeing what looked to them like the learner's pain.
The question was what the teacher would do if given instructions by the experimenter.
Before the test began, Dr. Stanley Milgram asked all kinds of people what they thought the taechers
would do. Nearly everybody said that the teachers would refuse to obey the experimenter's
orders to give shocks to the learners.
They were wrong. Sixty percent of the students who acted as teachers were fully obedient
and gave the learners shocks of up to 450 volts. Many people then said that these experiments
should not have been carried out with students but with ordinary people. So the test was repeated
with people of all kinds: employed, unemployed, office workers, industrial workers. The result was the same.
Asight be expected, many of the teachers were distressed and frightened at what they were
doing in the course of this experiment. But most of them gave the shocks simply because that was
what they were told to do.
These were only experiments. But there are many real-life situations that are comparable.
Perhaps the question forming within you as you read these lines is: How would I have reacted? Looking at
how others handled these challenges, either as persecutor or victim, is one thing. How would you yourself act?
How strong are your moral resources? How far are you willing to identify and comply with the demands
of a cause or an experiment?
Possible assignments concerning the second experiment:
1. Describe in your own words what exactly the teacher, the learner and the
experimenter were supposed to do and where they were seated during the experiment.
2. Think of any real-life situations that are comparable! Describe one of them.
3. Sixty percent of the students were fully obedient to the instructions given by the
experimenter. Do you think you would have belonged to the other forty percent? Say why /