December 25, 2008

People willing to give ‘shocks’ if told to

Replicating a controversial experiment from some 50 years ago, a U.S. psychologist found people are just as willing to administer painful electric shocks.

Jerry M. Burger of Santa Clara University replicated one of the famous obedience experiments of the late Stanley Milgram and found compliance rates in the replication only slightly lower than those found by Milgram. Like Milgram, Burger found no difference in the rates of obedience between men and women.

People learning about Milgram's work often wonder whether results would be any different today, Burger said in a statement.

In 1961, at Yale University Milgram conducted a series of experiments in which subjects -- thinking they were testing the effect of punishment on learning -- administered what they believed were increasingly powerful electric shocks to another person in a separate room. An authority figure conducting the experiment prodded the first person, who was assigned the role of teacher to continue shocking the other person, who was playing the role of learner.

Burger's study, published in the January issue of American Psychologist, found 70 percent of the participants had to be stopped as they continued past 150 volts -- a difference that was not statistically significant from Milgram's results.

In Burger's study, participants were told at least three times that they could withdraw from the study at any time and still receive their $50 payment.