Monday, October 26, 2009

New Torture Research

A new study at Harvard University examines the impact of torture on on the perceptions of those listening to it as it occurred, or listening to recordings after the event. Normally I'm highly skeptical of such studies, and I always ask: how many people did they torture? But in this case they actually did something that simulated mild torture, having the subject's hand immersed in ice water. The study produced some interesting mixed results.
Participants in the study met a woman suspected of cheating to win money. The woman was then "tortured" by having her hand immersed in ice water while study participants listened to the session over an intercom. She never confessed to anything, but the more she suffered during the torture, the guiltier she was perceived to be.
But conversely,
When participants in the study only listened to a recording of a previous torture session—rather than taking part as witnesses of ongoing torture—they saw the victim who expressed more pain as less guilty.
You could draw various conclusions from this research. The article concludes by stating,
the mere fact that someone was tortured leads observers to think that the truth was found.
But that's only one part of the picture. You could also conclude that more distant observers, reviewing the results of a torture session, are more inclined to see the victim as innocent, or possibly be more objective in assessing the results.


  1. You mean torture-torture or listen to Roseanne Barr sing torture?

  2. That's hard to say, since sticking someone's hand in ice water isn't quite the same as pulling off his/her fingernails one by one -- which is why I'm skeptical of these sorts of studies. But I still find it interesting.