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Famous (and Ominous) Mind Study

In 1961, Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram discovered that ordinary people would give deadly electric shocks to people they didn't know, despite the fact that they could hear their screams, if they were directed to do so by "authority figures." The people telling them to do this were fake, and so were their victims? screams, but the participants didn't know this when they pushed the buttons that supposedly delivered the lethal shocks. This was done at a time when people were trying to understand how a whole nation could be persuaded to follow an evil leader like Hitler.

UK psychologist Mel Slater has repeated these experiments?this time using "virtual" participants. Volunteers gave a list of questions to a virtual woman (a computer image). When she gave the wrong answer, they were instructed to give her a virtual electric shock, which made a buzzing noise. They increased the voltage for each incorrect answer.

In LiveScience.com, Charles Q. Choi describes the experiment this way: "Of the 34 volunteers in the experiment, 11 communicated with the virtual woman who never protested only through a text interface. The other 23 saw and heard a life-sized, computer-generated woman via a virtual reality system. Over time, she responded with increasing discomfort and protests, eventually demanding the experiment stop. Near the end, her head would slump forward and she became unresponsive." The heart rates of the participants were measured and they indicated that they "felt" that the woman's situation was a real one. Choi quotes Slater as saying, "The results demonstrate that even though all experimental participants knew that the situation was unreal, they nevertheless tended to respond as if it were."

Participants were allowed to shock the woman up to 20 times. Seventeen of them gave her all 20 shocks and three people gave her 19 shocks. Only eleven people (about one-third of the group) did not shock her at all.

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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