Milgram re-visited

A paper by Slater et al reports a version of the Milgram experiment in which the victim being given electric shocks was virtual (and known to the experimental subjects to be so.)

The authors say: “Our objective has not been the study of obedience in itself, but of the extent to which participants would respond to such an extreme social situation as if it were real in spite of their knowledge that no real events were taking place.”

They conclude: “in spite of the fact that all participants knew for sure that neither the stranger nor the shocks were real, the participants who saw and heard her tended to respond to the situation at the subjective, behavioural and physiological levels as if it were real.”

On this basis they says: “This result reopens the door to direct empirical studies of obedience and related extreme social situations, an area of research that is otherwise not open to experimental study for ethical reasons, through the employment of virtual environments.” Milgrams experiment was felt to have “ignited a far-reaching debate about the ethics of deception and of putting subjects in a highly distressing situation in the course of research, and as a result this line of research is no longer amenable to direct experimental studies.”

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