Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Power of Television

Back in September I wrote a post called, "Testing Torture." In it I suggested that waterboarding could be used to study the efficacy of torture as an interrogation technique -- given that people are willing to volunteer to be waterboarded. At the end, I jokingly suggested that it could even be done as a reality television show. Today I noticed an AFP story called, "Contestants turn torturers in French TV experiment." It doesn't study torture per se, but rather the power of television to influence behavior.
Game show contestants turn torturers in a new psychological experiment for French television, zapping a man with electricity until he cries for mercy -- then zapping him again until he seems to drop dead.

"The Game of Death" has all the trappings of a traditional television quiz show, with a roaring crowd and a glamorous and well-known hostess urging the players on under gaudy studio lights.

But the contestants did not know they were taking part in an experiment to find out whether television could push them to outrageous lengths, and which has prompted comparisons with the atrocities of Nazi Germany.
Eighty percent of participants obeyed instructions to shock the victim repeatedly until he appeared to die -- despite his screams and protests. Although some experts question the methodology, the study concludes that
"The questioners are ... in the grip of the authority of television," said Jean-Leon Beauvois, a psychologist who took part in the documentary. ... "When it decides to abuse its power, television can do anything to anybody," said Nick. "It has an absolutely terrifying power."
Cynical individual that I am, I am not particularly surprised by the results. When you look at the things people do to get on tv, or on reality shows, it's not hard to believe that contestants would be willing to torture and kill someone as part of a television program -- although it would be nice to think that the number of such people wouldn't be as high as eighty percent. 

1 comment:

  1. Not a result of television (solely). Look up the Milgram Experiment.