French ‘Game of Death’ Torture a Disturbing Social Critique
“French TV contestants made to inflict ‘torture’”
A recent French TV documentary that replicates an experiment from the 1960s provides us with some disturbing insight into society and human nature. The documentary makers created a fake game show in which people who believed they were contestants were tested on their willingness to cause others pain. The ‘Game of Death’ was like a normal TV quiz show, except that contestants were connected to an electrical generator and given increasingly powerful electrical shocks when they got questions wrong. Unknown to the experiment’s guinea pigs, everyone involved in the game and the studio audience were actors except for them, and no one was really being electrocuted. The guinea pigs were encouraged by the studio audience and the show’s hostess to pull a lever to inflict increasingly severe punishment on their supposed rival contestants. This was sometimes taken to the point at which the victim of the electrocution would pretend to die.
The frightening results of the game show experiment were that out of 80 people tested, only 16 refused to pull the lever. 82% of participants agreed to inflict the punishment even though they were aware of the pain it was causing the other contestant. The documentary-maker Christophe Nick says he was amazed by the people’s willingness to obey sadistic orders. “They are not equipped to disobey … They don’t want to do it, they try to convince the authority figure that they should stop, but they don’t manage to”. These results are similar (though worse) than the original experiment on which the documentary was based. See some news coverage on the ‘Game of Death’ on Youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYHRq7oMnZQ
The original Yale University research was conducted by the psychologist Stanley Milgram, and is now known as the Milgram Experiment. Milgram’s 1961 experiment aimed to test people’s obedience to authority figures, and was later publicised through his contributions the ‘Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology’, and in the book ‘Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View’. They were inspired by recent prosecutions of former Nazis, and sought to understand how seemingly normal people could act immorally and sadistically. In the Milgram Experiment there are three participants, the ‘scientist’, the ‘teacher’ and the ‘learner’. The teacher is the person the experiment is testing, while the scientist and the learner are actors. The teacher is instructed to ask the learner memory-testing questions and punish them with increasingly-high-voltage shocks each time they get the questions wrong. The learner pretends they are being electrocuted, and later in the experiment may even start to call for help, before eventually pretending to fall unconscious. The experiment continues until the teacher refuses to obey the scientist’s orders to continue delivering the shocks, or goes all the way.
While many people indicated their desire to stop the experiment, most would continue when they were assured that they would not be held responsible. Even people who exhibited extreme opposition to the experiment often continued when told: “Please continue”; “The experiment requires that you continue”; “It is absolutely essential that you continue”; “You have no other choice, you must go on”. The frightening results were that a massive 65% of experiment participants went all the way to the end, and almost all the participants administered shocks at levels way beyond an acceptable limit. See how a British documentary replicates the Milgram Experiment on Youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcvSNg0HZwk
Milgram wrote that, “The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation. Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority”.
In the French ‘Game of Death’ the results were even worse, with 82% willing to obey. Mr Nick says that his experiment is a commentary on people’s increased willingness to obey when they are on TV, and thus on the fad of Reality TV shows. The documentary is certainly a sign that the need for social education and resistance to ideas of conformism is as urgent as it has ever been, and a great remaining challenge for those who want to steer humanity along a better path.