The Milgram Experiment & our treatment of nonhuman animals.

Posted in General news by ALib on the March 26th, 2010

A Shock of Reality.

The idea is simple but the results disturbing…

On French TV channel France 2, 80 people who believed they were contestants in a reality TV show are directed to give electric shocks to a man strapped into a chair because he gives wrong answers. The voltage continues to rise till it gets to 460V. The man in the electric chair’s reactions also rises in intensity from a whimper, to screams of agony until finally total silence. Only 16 of the 80 people refuse. The results help to understand why humans do what we do to other humans and also why we do what we do to non humans.

Filmed like any game show, with a host, an audience, stage, film crew, lights and of course the contestants, the one difference is that it is more experiment than show. The person who is believed to be receiving shocks is in fact an actor. The purpose is to see how far the people who believe they are giving shocks will go.

The show was inspired by the Stanley Milgram experiments in

Yale University in the 1960’s where people were tested to see what they would do under the direction of a person dressed in a white coat.

Just like the French show “Le jeu de la mort” (The Game of Death), the people involved in the Milgram Experiment were directed to give electric shocks to another person, progressively increasing the shock level until they reached 450V.
In Milgram’s experiment the result was that 65% of the people would continue giving shocks. On the French TV show, this figure rises to 81%.

The Milgram experiments examined why people do what they do even if it contradicts their own beliefs and looked at the “forms of obedience we so deplored in the Nazi epoch”. Milgram looked at what influences our behaviour when it so starkly contrasts with our morals.

Most people would have stated morals that it is wrong to inflict “unnecessary suffering” upon an animal. Yet this is what we do every time we eat flesh, drink cow’s breastmilk, visit the circus, hunt, wear their skin, or exploit them in the many different ways we do.

There is no necessity that we enslave or murder them. We can live without their body parts or their labour. And yet when we choose to look we can see that suffering is exactly what we do when we choose to indulge ourselves with their lives.

For flesh alone Ireland kills 10’s of millions of land based animals each year.

In Milgram’s experiments, the controlling figure was a person dressed in a white coat; in the TV show it was the TV set. When it comes to how we exploit non human animals, the controlling figure is our own society. We don’t want to cause unnecessary suffering but yet our peers, friends, family and society all do so and encourage us to do the same usually because of a “this is how things have always been” mentality. We are told to support our local Butcher at the expense of our local Cow.

In variations of Milgram’s experiments where the physical distance between the participant

and the authority figure is widened (telephone is used) only 21% of people continue. Or where the distance between the participant and the actor pretending to receive electric shocks is narrowed (where the participant has to physically hold the arm of the participant onto a “shock plate”) only 30% complete the experiment.

Most of what we inflict upon animals is at a considerable distance to them. Some people are not aware where so called meat or milk actually come from. We pay for pre-packed lamb chops in a clean supermarket with music piped through a sound system and a number of appealing offers to choose from. It is easy to disassociate from what a lamb chop means.

But the moment we hand over money for that lamb chop we have played as much a part as the people who believed they were sending 460V of electrical shock into a man strapped to a chair. The differences are that the lamb is killed and there is no acting.

One contestant from the French TV show said “Since I was a little girl, I have always asked myself why the Nazis did it and how they could obey such orders? And then there I was, obeying them myself. “I was worried about the contestant, but at the same time, I was afraid to spoil the programme.”

If our belief is to stop “unnecessary suffering” then we need to become serious about other animals crucial interests and serious about their rights. We must not and can not be afraid to spoil the programme.

More info:

  • The Telegraph:
    French contestants torture each other on TV Game of Death: Article.
  • France 24:
    Fake torture TV ‘game show’ reveals willingness to obey : Article.
  • LaCombe Globe:
    Game of death draws controversy but proves important point : Article.
  • Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority: an experimental view : Article.
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