Researcher Revives 'Shocking' Human Experiment

One researcher revives a famous (or possibly infamous) human experiment.

ByABC News
December 19, 2008, 1:20 PM

Dec. 19, 2008— -- In the early 1960s, Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram shocked America when he demonstrated that ordinary people will commit acts of violence that conflict with their personal conscience and moral convictions if instructed to do so by an authority figure.

Now, a replication of that famous experiment is uncovering some of the same findings and controversy.

In the original experiment, Milgram asked ordinary people to administer painful -- and in some cases, even fatal -- shocks to other people posing as research subjects. The maximum voltage they could administer was 450 volts -- enough to cause permanent damage or even death to the study subject.

In reality, the "research subjects" were not receiving any shock. But the act of inflicting harm on another individual was still very much real to the people administering the voltage.

Although many of the participants that were asked to administer shocks expressed hesitation or even gently refused to continue going on with the experiment, Milgram found that about two-thirds of all the participants completed the study and administered the full 450 volts of shock.

Jerry Burger, lead investigator of the new study and a professor of psychology at Santa Clara University, said that his modified version of the study came to a similar conclusion: About 70 percent of the participants continued administering shock until they reached the highest voltage point.

But because the participants administering the voltage were deceived into believing that they were really shocking the study subjects, some ethics experts say the research goes too far.

"I feel quite strongly that this research study does not meet ethical research standards," said Dr. Michael Grodin, professor of bioethics, human rights, philosophy and psychiatry at the Boston University School of Public Health. "This is still deception research where the subject is not told that deception will be used."