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Headline: "Shocking revelation: Santa Clara University professor mirrors famous torture study"

Editor's Forward:

Many think Stanley Milgram was denied tenure at Yale because of his controversial studies into human nature. He found most ordinary people will inflict severe electric shocks to another person in response to an authority figure having no more "real authority" than a white coat in a formal setting. Jerry M. Burger of Santa Clara University has replicated the essential features of Milgram's classic work with essentially identical results.

Excerpts from Mercury News - 12/21/2008

By Lisa M. Krieger

    "Replicating" [reproducing] "one of the most controversial behavioral experiments in history, a Santa Clara University psychologist has found that people will follow orders from an authority figure to administer what they believe are painful electric shocks.

    "More than two-thirds of volunteers in the research study had to be stopped from administering 150-volt shocks of electricity, despite hearing a person's cries of pain, concluded Professor Jerry M. Burger in a study published in the January issue of the journal American Psychologist.

    "...The study, using paid volunteers from the South Bay, is similar to the famous 1974 'obedience study' by the late Yale University psychologist" [Stanley Milgram]... "Burger's findings are published in a special section of the journal reflecting on Milgram's work 24 years after his death on Dec. 20, 1984. The haunting images of average people administering shocks have kept memories of Milgram's research alive for decades, even as recently as the Abu Ghraib scandal.

    "The subjects recruited in ads in the Mercury News, Craigslist and fliers distributed in libraries and community centers in Santa Clara, Cupertino and Sunnyvale thought they were testing the effect of punishment on learning. 'They were average citizens, a typical cross-section of people that you'd see around every day,' Burger said.

    "In the study, conducted two years ago, volunteers administered what they believed were increasingly powerful electric shocks to another person in a separate room. An 'authority figure' prodded the volunteer to shock another person, who was playing the role of 'learner.' Each time the learner gave an incorrect answer, the volunteer was urged to press a switch, seemingly increasing the electricity over time. They were told that the shocks were painful but not dangerous.

    "Burger designed his study to avoid several of the most controversial elements of Milgram's experiment. For instance, the 'shocks' were lower voltage. And participants were told at least three times" "that they could withdraw from the study at any time and still receive the $50 payment. In addition, a clinical psychologist interviewed volunteers to eliminate anyone who might be upset by the study procedure." [Burger thus avoided two possibly valid criticisms of Milgram's work.]

    "Like Milgram's study, Burger's shock generator machine was a fake. The cries of pain weren't real, either. Both the authority figure and the learner were actors..." [The volunteer subjects were the teachers.]

    "Burger found that 70 percent of the participants had to be stopped from escalating shocks over 150 volts, despite hearing cries of protest and pain. Decades earlier, Milgram found that 82.5 percent of participants continued administering shocks. Of those, 79 percent continued to the shock generator's end, at 450 volts. ..." [Milgram's actual range across all cohorts was more like 65-85%. Many subjects in Milgram's study were distressed by what they had done. But a very few were not, not at all. They were what we now identify on this site as Sociopaths, Psychopaths, or Narcissistic personalities. The extreme voltage Milgram used stirred ethical complaints, but in no way invalidated Milgram's scientific protocol. Burger was nevertheless wise to side-step these issues. This replication is far too important to leave any holes in the conclusions.]

    "The conclusion is not: 'Gosh isn't this a horrible commentary on human nature,' or 'these people were so sadistic,' Burger said. 'It shows the opposite that there are situational forces that have a much greater impact on our behavior than most people recognize,' he said." [Milgram termed this trait overly obedient.]

    "The experiment shows that people are more likely to comply with instructions if the task starts small, then escalates, according to Burger." [Burger confirms Milgram's protocol though he did not make a point of this finding.]

    "'For instance, the suicides at Jonestown were just the last step of many,' he said. 'Jim Jones started small, asking people to donate time and money, then looked for more and more commitment.'" [Burger is right on here.]

    "'Additionally, the volunteers confronted a novel situation having never before been in such a setting, they had no idea of how they were supposed to act,' he said."

    "Finally, they had been told that they should not feel responsible for inflicting pain; rather, the "instructor" was accountable. 'Lack of feeling responsible can lead people to act in ways that they might otherwise not,' Burger said." [Zimbardo, from his famous Stanford Prison experiment, also makes this very point as one of the causes behind the behavior of guards at Abu Ghraib.]

REUTERS Picked up on the same story on Jerry M. Burger's experiment.

Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor.

      "What we found is validation of the same argument -- if you put people into certain situations, they will act in surprising, and maybe often even disturbing, ways," Burger said in a telephone interview. "This research is still relevant..."

      Milgram found that, after hearing an actor cry out in pain at 150 volts, 82.5 percent of participants continued administering shocks, most to the maximum 450 volts.

      The experiment surprised psychologists and no one has tried to replicate it because of the distress suffered by many of the volunteers who believed they were shocking another person.

      "When you hear the man scream and say, 'let me out, I can't stand it,' that is the point when the real stress that people criticized Milgram for kicked in," Burger said....

      At one point, researchers brought in a volunteer who knew what was going on and refused to administer shocks beyond 150 volts. Despite the example, 63 percent of the participants continued administering shocks past 150 volts.

      "That was surprising and disappointing," Burger said.

      Burger found no differences among his volunteers, aged 20 to 81, and carefully screened them to be average representatives of the U.S. public.

      Burger said the experiment, published in the American Psychologist, can only partly explain the widely reported prisoner abuse at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq or events during World War Two.

      "Although one must be cautious when making the leap from laboratory studies to complex social behaviors such as genocide, understanding the social psychological factors that contribute to people acting in unexpected and unsettling ways is important," he wrote.

      "It is not that there is something wrong with the people," Burger said. "The idea has been somehow there was this characteristic that people had back in the early 1960s that they were somehow more prone to obedience."

Milgram's finding of our being overly obedient is affirmed. The interpretation that obedience is one primary element behind mass violence, genocide, and war is now confirmed. Burger's results were essentially identical to those of Milgram, whose range in percentages over several trials using various cohorts overlapped Burger's.

The other primary element leading to violence is dominance arising from aggression. Aggression and obedience are offset in human behavior by parenting and altruism in the race for survival. Parental, herding, and cooperative instincts, along with cold intelligence, aid the survival of both the light and dark sides of humanity. Our basic problem arises from our genetic impulses--great for survival, but not so hot for peaceful and civilized living.

Burger avoided some of the more controversial aspects of Milgram's work. He screened his subjects and limited the fake voltage applied to 150V. In view of Milgram's large series of cohorts, there can be no real doubt about his scientific findings. In fact, Migram's samples are more representative of average Americans than are Burger's. But like Zimbardo, Burger found that even the best of us can be influenced to behave in distinctly anti-social ways by a minimal assertion of authority. This was a key point in the Abu Ghraib behavior.

See Adorno, Milgram, Zimbardo, Altemeyer, Stout, Frank and Hare for a more complete rendition on what ails humanity.

See Jerry M. Burger for a professional review.

The serious researcher is directed to Browser's Hub and a Condensation of same for our findings.

Will these mountains of valid and consistent research be picked up on by the educational communities to the point where the essence is taught in K12 schools?

Given the fear so many people have of things psychological, it will be some time before our nurturing selves mature to the point that they offset our dark side on the world-society level.


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