Stanley Milgram’s experiments on obedience to authority rank among the most controversial social science research projects. Despite (or because of) this, people are always concocting new ways to push his experiments further. (Milgram himself seems to have started this trend – his 1974 book documents 19 variations on his initial study.) The latest in this line of ethically-questionable research is a French documentary that repurposes Milgram’s work as a game show in order to see how far contestants will go at the behest of a host and audience. The answer? Most of them went all the way to the maximum voltage, at which point the actor “receiving” the shocks slumped over, apparently dead, with the host exclaiming, “And you’ve won!” Here is a fair and balanced clip:
Obviously, there are ethical implications of this but the larger implication is the potential reward for doing ethically questionable research. In this case, the producer has received incredible amounts of publicity. Milgram, Zimbardo, and Humphreys, of course, are rewarded every time we introduce their work to a new generation of students.