On his blog, Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowan links to an article about game show, The Game Of Death, that was recently broadcast on French television. According to the article (“Torture ‘Game Show’ Draws Nazi Comparison“) the program, “had all the trappings of a traditional television quiz show, with a roaring crowd and a glamorous and well-known hostess.”
For all that it appeared to be a typical game show, what “contestants . . . did not realise [was that] they were taking part in an experiment to find out whether television could push them to outrageous lengths.” As describe by SkyNews:
The game involved contestants posing questions to another “player”, who was actually an actor, and punishing him with 460 volts of electricity when he answered incorrectly.
Eventually the man’s cries of “Let me go” fell silent, and he appeared to have died.
Not knowing that their screaming victim was an actor, the apparently reluctant contestants followed the orders of the presenter, as well as chants of “Punishment” from a studio audience who also believed the game was real.
According to the article, some “80% of contestants went all the way, shocking the victim with the maximum 460 volts until he appeared to die” with “just 16 refus[ing] to shock the victim and walk[ing] out.”
Putting aside the morality of the project, the program parallels the study done in the 1960′s by Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram. Milgram’s “experiment measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience.” As with the television program, Milgram found that the majority of participants in his study (A Peer Administers Shocks), 25 out of 40, were willing to follow orders and administer a fatal electric shock (and again, as with the TV program, in Milgram’s experiment, the “victim” was a confederate of the researcher and did not actually suffer any harm much less die).