Monday, 22 December 2008

Torture Study

I tried to comment directly on this post about this article at Dirty Wars and Democracy, but my comment seemed to vanish without a trace... maybe it's waiting for moderation but I don't think so.

Replicating 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, professor Jerry M. Burger concluded in a study published in the January issue of the journal American Psychologist.
“In a dramatic way, it illustrates that under certain circumstances people will act in very surprising and disturbing ways,” said Burger.
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. In the wake of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann’s trial, Milgram was troubled by the willingness of people to obey authorities — even if it conflicted with their own conscience.

I'm not sure why we should be so surprised to see the famous experiment repeated. There have been so many instances of (mass) torture since the end of the Second World War. I wonder if we are sometimes distracted the by the use of hyperbolic language like "monsters", "fiends", and "animals" in the context of Argentine state terrorism and other such periods, and forget that we are talking about people. People who commit crimes at the far end of the scale of brutality, yes - but then, don't we put kids in more danger by assuming that child molesters are all creepy, skulking people as well? When are we going to face up to the fact that real people, and the institutions that they are part of, do these things?

No comments: