Will our next president take the United States out of the torture business? Human rights experts says that torture and political imprisonment are on the rise in many countries around the world and the United States is setting a bad example. A famous experiment?done in the past and replicated recently?may help explain why this is.

In its annual ratings of government respect for human rights, the Human Rights Data Project reveals that ever since 911, the United States government has been increasingly willing to torture ‘enemy combatants’ and imprison suspected terrorists. As a result, torture and political imprisonment are on the rise in many other countries around the world. Researcher David Cingranelli says the cooperation in the war on terror has replaced the Cold War as an excuse for overlooking bad human rights behavior by US allies.

Nearly 50 years after one of the most controversial behavioral experiments in history, a social psychologist has found that people are still just as willing to administer what they believe are painful electric shocks to others when urged on by an authority figure.

Researcher Jerry M. Burger replicated one of the famous obedience experiments of the late researcher Stanley Milgram and found that compliance rates in the replication were only slightly lower than those found by Milgram. And, like Milgram, he found no difference in the rates of obedience between men and women.

Burger says, “People learning about Milgram’s work often wonder whether results would be any different today. Many point to the lessons of the Holocaust and argue that there is greater societal awareness of the dangers of blind obedience. But what I found is the same situational factors that affected obedience in Milgram?s experiments still operate today.”

Stanley Milgram was an assistant professor at Yale University in 1961 when he conducted the first in a series of experiments in which subjects?thinking they were testing the effect of punishment on learning?administered what they believed were increasingly powerful electric shocks to another person in a separate room. An authority figure conducting the experiment prodded the first person, who was assigned the role of “teacher” to continue shocking the other person, who was playing the role of “learner.” In reality, both the authority figure and the learner were in on the real intent of the experiment, and the imposing-looking shock generator machine was a fake. This goes along with what we’ve learned about doing unto others.

David Cingranelli says, “The United States government should be more concerned with setting a better human rights example for the rest of the world.”

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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