Saturday, 17 November 2012

The Man in the White Coat

People seem to have a disturbing predisposition to believe anything that comes out of the mouth of someone with perceived authority or expertise. I understand that it's important to listen to authority figures, but people will believe anything that anyone says if they're wearing a white coat, or in a suit, on even just on TV.

There have been more than enough cases around the world of scientists falsifying evidence and making bold claims, only to be found to be fraudulent many years later. And everyone bought these lies simply because a scientist said they were true.

This sort of thing still goes on today, anything that a scientist, or a teacher, or a parent says is the truth, no matter how wrong, disturbing, or unethical it seems. Perhaps because we as a human race are so good at being sheep.

There's a very well known experiment by a psychologist named Stanley Milgram, in which he wanted to see how people reacted to authority when confronted with unethical or moral dilemmas. Milgram brought randomly selected participants in for the experiment. The participant took the role of the "teacher" and an actor in on the experiment took the role of the "learner".

The teacher and learner were separated into different rooms where they could communicate but not see each other. Milgram told the subject that they were experimenting with discipline, and how it affected learning. The participant believed they were helping the learner to remember correct answers by punishing mistakes with electric shocks.

The participant was given an electric shock from an electro-shock generator as a sample of the shock that the learner would supposedly receive during the experiment. The participant was then given a list of word pairs which he was to teach the learner.

The participant began by reading the list of word pairs to the learner. The teacher would then read the first word of each pair and read four possible answers. The learner would press a button to indicate his response.

If the answer was incorrect, the participant would administer a shock to the learner, with the voltage increasing in 15-volt increments for each wrong answer. If correct, the teacher would read the next word pair.

Of course; there were no electric shocks given to the learner, and whether or not the learner got the question right or wrong was also rigged. It was scripted in fact. Every time the participant "shocked" the learner, a soundtrack was played, so that the participant could hear the learner screaming in pain, protesting, and asking to be let go.

After 150 volts, the learner could be heard demanding to be set free. Not long after, the learner would begin banging on the wall whilst complaining, and then by 300 volts; the learner would cease to make any noise.

If the participant questioned Milgram, he would simply ask them to continue, until they outright refused to go on.

Milgram asked psychologists and psychiatrists for their predictions on how the test would go, they believed most would stop at 150 volts, and that less than 5% of participants would go past 300 volts. They predicted that less than 1% of all participants would be prepared to administer the maximum shock of 450 volts.

The actual results were disturbing. 65% of the subjects delivered the lethal 450 volt shock. Those that didn't go that far still didn't ask that the entire experiment be abandoned. They didn't even leave without asking for Milgram's permission.

The subjects were sweating, trembling, stuttering, biting their lips, groaning, digging their fingernails into their skin, and some were even having nervous laughing fits or seizures, but they still continued electrocuting the learners.

It's obvious those people didn't want to deliver lethal shocks to another human being. They were clearly stressed, uncomfortable, and nervous, but they kept going because a man in a white coat told them to.

These people abandoned their morals for an authority figure. One can't help but compare that situation to World War II. Hitler convinced a nation that he was doing the right thing during the holocaust.

In fact; the original purpose of Milgram's experiment was to see if people agreed with Hitler, or if they just listened to everything he said because he was their leader.

As I said earlier, people seem to have a disturbing predisposition to believe anything that comes out of the mouth of someone with perceived authority or expertise.

Not everything you read on the internet, see on TV, or hear on the news is always going to be accurate.

Stop and think before you accept anything you hear. Be sceptical, ask questions, don't let people in suits, white coats, and jackets influence you without asking for all the facts.

Make up your own mind.

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