How do people get cruel

psychology : Experiment: People are cruel on command

Santa Clara / Washington A US psychologist carried out an experiment to reveal the brutal acts that ordinary citizens are still driven to today out of obedience. He asked 70 test persons between the ages of 20 and 81 to give other people electric shocks if they were unable to perform a task. The suspected tension increased from question to question. Jerry Burger from Santa Clara University (US state California) repeated parts of the famous experiment by Stanley Milgram from 1974. Result: In both cases more than two thirds of the test subjects turned the voltage beyond 150 volts, although the students protested vehemently and wanted to stop the experiment.

Burger describes his result in the journal "American Psychologist" (Vol. 64, No. 1): The participants were searched through newspaper advertisements, leaflets or online. They were promised a total of $ 50 for two 45-minute experiments. The leader of the experiment explained to them that the effect of a punishment on learning should be investigated. The subject was always assigned the role of teacher. The "pupil" was supposed to memorize 25 word pairs (for example: strong - poor) and was later supposedly punished with an electric shock if he could not assign a word. However, the "student" was privy to it and did not really feel the power surges.

Painful but harmless

Before starting the experiment, the leader said the electric shocks were painful but not dangerous. He gave the test subjects precise instructions to operate the shock generator and continue turning after each wrong answer. The test subjects were even told at least three times before the experiment that they can stop in between and still receive the 50 dollars (35 euros) expense allowance. However, whenever the test subject wanted to stop during the experiment, the leader asked him to continue.

At 75 volts, the "students" groaned. At 150 volts, they asked to stop, "Please let me out of here. My heart is starting to torment me." Nevertheless, 70 percent of the test subjects wanted to continue the experiment. Unlike Milgram, however, Burger stopped the experiment after the 150 volt limit.

The vast majority show no mercy

In 1974, Milgram asked his test subjects to increase the voltage to 450 volts. At 150 volts, the "students" screamed for the first time. However, 82.5 percent of his subjects turned the electricity up further. Of these test subjects, 79 percent finally increased the current to the stop at 450 volts, although the learners continued to scream and fell silent at 330 volts. In the Milgram experiment, one of the lead experimenters asked the subjects to keep asking questions. Another leader expressed doubts and asked the subject to stop.

With Burger, 70 percent of the test subjects wanted to go further than 150 volts, with Milgram 82.5 - a difference that, according to the specialist journal, does not differ statistically significantly from the Milgram experiment. However, some psychologists do not consider the two studies to be comparable. "There are just too many differences," writes Arthur Miller of Miami University in Oxford. (bai / dpa)

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