Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Eli Roth’s Milgram/Obedience experiment much more extensive

The psychological research discussed here may be helpful when it comes to either encouraging or discouraging the Occupy Wall Street movement although if it is done to help encourage it in a manner to increase democratic participation it should be explained to the public, to some degree, as it is being used to motivate them so that it is above board. 
Sunday night, October 30, “Milgram Once More: How Evil Are You?” aired on the Discovery Channel; and as I expected they didn’t disclose nearly as much of this experiment as they could and should have. This actually fits a pattern that has been going on for the past fifty or so years; although those who haven’t looked in the right places almost certainly wouldn’t have the information they needed to recognize it. Those that are involved in Sociology or social psychology research are much more likely to be aware of it. There have been several books and additional research projects that are related to this project yet they weren’t mentioned in the show presented to the public last night so most them wouldn’t have the knowledge they may need to realize the full implications of the experiment and other related ones; in fact since there is so much information available on the subject in the right locations may people that are better informed also won’t understand the full implications of the subject. What I contribute today and in at least a couple of past blogs including Philip Zimbardo, Lucifer Effect, Stanford Prison Experiment and Corruption or Bias in the American Psychological Association may only begin to explain the research that is going on; however there are many people that will dispute my conclusions as is clearly indicated in some of the material written by those that I have reviewed; therefore it is advisable to use your own discretion. As Charles Darwin might say “I hope you don’t believe what I say just because I say it.”

For those of you that aren’t familiar with it, Eli Roth did an experiment that was patterned after the experiments done by Stanley Milgram fifty years ago. These were the “Obedience to authority experiments,” which involved testing people’s willingness to obey orders even when it might cause serious harm to an innocent subject. This was allegedly done to understand why so many people obeyed orders during the Holocaust. As indicated in the posts cited in the opening experiment I think they almost certainly were for reasons that were much more extensive than that and I cited at least a couple of sources whom I consider reputable including Alfred McCoy and Philip Greven who provided material that partially backed up my conclusions; however the strongest source for some of the conclusions that I came to may have been Philip Zimbardo himself although he doesn’t interpret things the way I do. Therefore when it comes to some of my assumptions it may be necessary to use discretion. The more recent experiments are almost certainly addressed at a much larger target than was disclosed in the show. In the show they provided a description that was almost identical to the original experiments only less extensive. This could be helpful in understanding if things have changed as indicated in the show but it almost certainly goes much farther than that. They are almost certainly studying how the audience responds to this and there may be another “obedience to authority” experiment hidden within the existing one.

One of the main reasons that I suspect that they may also be studying the audience reaction is because this appears to be another part of the release of this information that was done in the past when Philip Zimbardo released his book the Lucifer Effect and followed it up with a lecture tour and asked the audience what their conclusions were and if they had any questions. In the second edition of the book he wrote about how many people seem to have come to incorrectly conclusions about his work most of which he didn’t explain although one exception involves the speculation about the possibility that his work was used to develop the interrogation techniques that were used in Guantanamo Bay. He denied that he did this research for that purpose but could not rule out the possibility that others used it for that purpose anyway. In the previous post about Philip Zimbardo I explained why I was skeptical about his denial and why I believed that he should have at least suspected that something like this might happen or that it could be used for training recruits in boot camp especially since the research was funded by the Office of Naval Research. It clearly seems to me that they’re disclosing partial information about this experiment and others without doing it in a completely honest manner. They maybe doing this in a manner that enables them to study additional propaganda methods or they may be studying how people react to a partial disclosure of the truth based on the assumption that they can’t keep it secret forever and they would prefer to disclose it on their terms. 

When considering why they’re disclosing it in this manner it is worth considering the most effective way to release information if they wanted to do so in the most honest manner or if they wanted to withhold it in the most effective manner so they could use it to manipulate people more effectively. If they wanted to disclose it in the most effective manner they would do so honestly by citing the most credible experts and providing those that are willing and able to do more research with additional sources they can check on their own. Clearly they’re not doing this. If the objective is to withhold it in the most effective manner they can so they could manipulate the public more effectively they might not reveal it at all o0r they almost certainly could have come up with a better explanation than this. Therefore it is unlikely that they’re trying to do this and it is worth considering other possibilities including the possibility that they’re not competent or there is dissent within the group that is controlling the disclosure or, as indicated previously, they might not think they can keep it completely secret so they want to disclose it on their own terms. This is almost certainly continuing with the partial and distorted disclosure that is being done on the Discovery Channel show hosted by Eli Roth. This almost certainly doesn’t mean that Eli Roth is the one making the decisions just that he is the one being presented as the front man. He almost certainly doesn’t know the full extent of the true purpose for the research; which would help him maintain plausible deniability while discussing it in the near future and he may go so far as to deny things that are almost certainly at least partially true as Philip Zimbardo may have done.

One of the leading reasons I doubt if he is the one calling the shots is because he simply isn’t qualified. Despite the fact that his father was a psychiatrist/psychoanalyst and assistant clinical professor at Harvard Medical School Eli Roth has no experience in the field; instead his career seems to involve work in Hollywood according to the Wikipedia article about him. This is however typical of the way the Mass Media presents science to the public. Even if this isn’t part of a propaganda and misinformation show, which I doubt, this should raise some serious questions about how the Mass Media handles educational programs. Instead of consulting with the most qualified academic sources for any given subject they routinely use celebrities and often reject many of the best experts when they don’t suit the ideological purposes of the people running the Mass Media. The general public and the academic world have little or no direct say in how educational material is presented to them.

Another reason that leads me to think they may be using this as another research project into obedience to authority is the scientific evidence they presented to the public and what they omitted. They presented scientific evidence to the public that most of them almost certainly wouldn’t understand and therefore they would have no choice but to rely on the word of the expert or the authority figure for their conclusions unless they understood some of the science themselves. Further more many members of the public may not even be aware of the enormous amount of scientific information that was omitted even though it might be relevant and it may add additional information or contradict the conclusions being presented. In fact although I don’t understand the evidence they did present to the public I suspect it as almost certainly being misrepresented. They had a psychiatrist, Jerry Berger, who provided a minimal amount of information but did very little else and they had Eli Roth go to another expert who provided additional lab tests on Eli Roth’s brain and DNA. This was more extensive but they weren’t the type of explanation that could have been understood by any lay person; and I suspect even this was presented out of context and it omitted a lot of work on psychology which I, and many others, would have understood much better if it was presented and therefore we wouldn’t have had to rely solely on the word of the authority.

The main reason I suspect the lab work may have been out of contest was the omissions of things I could have understood; however they also may have confused brain scans and DNA testing. Eli Roth said they were testing his DNA; he didn’t say anything about a MRI, EEG or CAT scan which is more commonly associated with brain scans. Typically when they do a DNA test they take a swab from the inside of the cheek or use a hair sample or something. A brain scan is typically done with much more complex machinery which is what they showed in the lab. This means that although he said he was having his DNA tested to see if it had an impact, it appears that it was his brain scan that he was actually testing. That doesn’t mean that his DNA wasn’t involved; it almost certainly was; however some of the research that has been done by other academics has indicated that the brain scans may have been impacted by other factors as well including early childhood trauma and abuse. This wasn’t mentioned at all despite the fact that there are dozens of academic sources that have provided an enormous amount of work indicating that this was relevant. Hence my suspicion that they may be trying to study the willingness of the public to believe the science that is being presented to them based on the authority figures chosen for the show. This may not be the way many people involved in the show think about it though; instead they may actually believe what they’re presenting; however the fact that they have only selected certain academic sources that may exclude the best work on the subject should raise some doubts. They don’t typically even tell the majority of the public that there is an enormous amount of additional information that is available in the academic world about any given subject. This is the typical way that propaganda works. It enables them to avoid presenting work that they don’t want the public to know about; it is only those that do additional research that would know better.

Some of the work that was omitted includes additional material that both Alfred McCoy and Philip Greven cited about the Obedience to Authority Experiments recommended it be expanded on. One of the things that Philip Greven recommended they research further was whether or not the participants were raised in an authoritarian manner using Corporal punishment to dictate behavior without allowing much if any free thinking. Additional academics that have provided contributing material on this subject which could help address the issue, even though they didn’t mention the experiment that I know of, include Dorothy Otnow Lewis, Lonnie Athens, Murray Straus, Alice Miller, and many others I’m sure; yet none of these academics were consulted.

This wasn’t mentioned at all in during the show yet it could have done an enormous amount to enable the public to understand the subject and a lot of it would have been much easier for many lay people to understand that the lab work that would have required complete interpretation by the authority figure that worked in the lab just like the ones they admitted were misleading the participants that were involved first hand. The research done by these academics also covers a lot of the crimes that were committed by many Mass Murders that didn’t involve obedience to authority; this involves how children learn violence at a young age and are much more likely to act out violently and obey order that involve violence as an adult if they’re raised in an authoritarian manner. Also there was no mention of the fact that the research in the original experiment was financed by the Office of Naval Research or that Alfred McCoy presented a compelling argument why they might have been used to help develop the interrogation techniques used at Abu Ghraib.

Another aspect worth noting is the fact that they clearly must have done some screening of the participants in the new experiments since it would have affected the results if they were familiar with the original experiment. Anyone with any training in sociology or social psychology would certainly be familiar with the subject; however the vast majority of the public almost certainly know much less if they know anything at all. The majority of what has been presented to the wider public is incomplete at best and distorted in many cases. I vaguely recall brief discussion about the Milgram Experiment when I was in grade school but it wasn’t enough to suspect what it was part of based on the typical background of a high or junior high school student. There has also been rare discussion of the subject in the traditional Mass Media; the most notable that I can think of was an episode of Law and Order SVU guest starring Robin Williams that was inspired by a true story which was written about in the Lucifer Effect where a suspect called up several fast food places in the Kentucky area and surrounding states and told management he was a policeman and he was investigating a certain employee and he should detain them and search them until he got there. Surprisingly many of the managers who received these calls believed them and acted on them and in some cases were even charged with sexual harassment; when they found the person making the calls they prosecuted him to and the jury found him not guilty.

The SVU story took both the true story about the Kentucky incident and the Obedience to Authority out of context but they still told the viewers some material that may have impacted their responses to the new Milgram experiments. This screening could have been done either by screening out those that were familiar with the experiment before selecting their participants or by declining to present the results of any that knew about the original experiment on the show. If, as I suspect they’re conducting follow up studies to see what people know about the Obedience to Authority and Stanford Prison experiments they may have a different discussion group planned for potential participants that already know about them. Instead they may ask them what they know about them and what they’re impressions of them are and if they’re so inclined they might also provide additional information that suits their purposes although it is unlikely that they would provide these people with full disclosure if they had a choice.

Even if you don’t focus on these aspects there are also many aspects of the original Obedience to Authority Experiment that was omitted and the fact that there were many related experiments that could have an impact on the subject. These experiments would make it much clearer that this could be used to motivate people or to convince them to pursue activities chosen by the authority figure. Or to put it another way they are part of a series of experiments designed to help manipulate people and they could go so far as to indoctrinate them into ideological beliefs that may not hold up to scrutiny. One of the exceptions that they did mention in the show was that when they provided an additional subject that refused to go along with the shocks the people being researched were much less likely to obey and more likely to stand up to authority. This is just one of many other tests that were done in the original experiment.

Another one was that they found that when the teacher was farther away from the subject being shocked they were much more likely to shock him; or if they were farther away from the authority figure they were much more likely to refuse to obey; or if there were two authority figures who disagreed they were less likely to obey; or in one case when the authority figure was called away on a false pretense and he asked someone with less authority to take over the subject was much less likely to obey and many other examples. The large amount of variations are what would make it much easier for authority figures to understand how to control their followers; and it would also make it easier for the followers to understand how they’re being controlled and if it is for the right reasons. This psychological manipulation could help boot camp sergeants maintain control over their recruits; employers maintain control over their employees; the government to control the masses; the police to control criminals; political scientists to influence the electorate; advertisers to market products and many other things.
Since this clearly could have a major impact on the free will of the public the disclosure of it could and perhaps should be part of the demands for the Occupy Wall Street Movement.

Also, a good understanding of this research could be helpful in motivating the protestors and the public to participate more in democratic processes; however as indicated in my opening statements the disclosure of this when using it for motivational purposes should be a priority so that the participants won’t be manipulated against their wills as they often are when subjected to propaganda or indoctrination. For example the portion about people being much less likely to shock the student when they’re much closer is similar to the fact that they’re much less likely to support a system that supports sweat shop labor or slavery if it is front and center; which is why they have been moving the sweat shops farther away and using workers that are not part of the same culture as the majority of the public. Also if the public knew that these tactics were being used against them they would be much more likely to stand up to the corporations, politicians and ideologues that have been subverting the democratic process. Further more if these motivational techniques were used and disclosed then people would be much more likely to go along with the program when it is in their best interest but stand up to it when it isn’t.

In fact there are almost certainly some people within the movement that already know about these psychological aspects and are using them to help motivate the protestors already; although whether or not they disclose it or not may fluctuate from one group to another. The movement is supposedly leaderless; however that is rarely ever entirely true. They almost certainly have some small leaders throughout the movement and this is almost certainly part of the explanation for their success so far; although if it isn’t disclosed it could also be the reason why they could potentially wind up replacing one authoritarian authority masquerading as a democracy with another. At times it may be easier if the explaining of these methods wasn’t the top priority especially when there is an objective that they need to be unified on; however at some point they should be explained to avoid manipulation against the best interest of the majority and replacement of one group of tyrants with another. In fact the lack of disclosure of these tactics in the past may be a big reason why many past revolutions, including the Russian and French Revolutions, wound up replacing one tyrannical regime with another. Another reason is the fact that both these revolutions were very violent and they were conducted by angry mobs which are much easier for demagogues to manipulate. The most effective way to avoid this in the Occupy Wall Street movement would involve ensuring that adequate education of the masses is a priority, including education about the psychology of how leaders control the masses and education about how to raise children in a non-violent manner.

After posting this I checked a little closer on the internet to find out what else was available on this new obedience experiment and although I didn’t find that much about this one I did find that there have been many other newer obedience experiments. There has also been a growing consensus among many people in the academic community to indicate these experiments never should have been done at all. One of the ethics professors to indicate that there were too many problems to approve this experiment in modern times is Peter Singer who I mentioned in the previous post about Human Research Subjects, however they clearly took him out of context citing only the portion that makes the experiment seem worthwhile without mentioning the criticism of the experiments and why they shouldn’t and wouldn’t be done today.

In 2008 Martyn Shuttleworth also raised doubts about whether these experiments should have been done yet even while these academic sources indicated that it would no longer be acceptable to do these experiment they were apparently repeating them again. Jerry M. Burger, who also assisted with the experiments presented by Eli Roth also participated in previous experiments that were going on long after large segments of the academic community came to the conclusion that it was unethical. When presenting this on the Discovery Channel he made no mention of the fact that this was one of many experiments that they were continuing to do let alone the fact that there were an enormous amount of ethical objections in the academic community about doing these experiments at all. Part of the reason that there were fewer ethical concerns may be, as indicated in the blog about Corruption or Bias in the American Psychological Association, that the ethical regulations were changed in 2003. These changes were made in August of 2002 while Philip Zimbardo was president of the Association. As far as I know the transcripts for that meeting and how they came up with the new watered down ethical rules are not available to the public; however the transcripts of a town hall meeting held for members of the APA that objected to the use of psychologists in the interrogations at Abu Ghraib and other issues that should be addressed are available; this is discussed further in the previous post, just cited, about the APA.

Basically as Nicko Gibson says they’re doing the “Milgram experiment recreated again, and again...” without any justification or input from the vast majority of the public and they may be using the knowledge they obtain from these experiments anyway they want regardless of how it effects the public. This could even include learning how to indoctrinate them more effective and unless the public does more to avoid this they just might; or perhaps they already are as indicated in other sources including a post about Channel One and Roy Fox’s book studying the effect on children.
On another note, a potential field research project on Obedience to Authority could involve studying the way police officers are clamping down on the current Occupy Wall Street protests. This wouldn’t involve intentionally staging the protest for the sake of research but since it is happening they could research it anyway which is what good researchers do anyway; and unless they’re involved in suppressing the solutions to these problems this shouldn’t involve many if any ethical problems; instead it could involve learning more about when police or the military should stop obeying. This is supposed to be a democracy which means that the government is supposed to be accountable to the public. This means that the people they clamping down on are the people the police are supposed to be accountable to while the people they’re receiving orders from are those that have been corrupting the system.

The following are some related web pages that provide additional information or contributed to this update:

Decades Later, Still Asking: Would I Pull That Switch? by Benedict Carey NYT 7/1/2008
“Milgram experiment recreated again, and again...” by Nicko Gibson
Milgram experiment ethics by Martyn Shuttleworth 2008

For online copies of a few books on the subject including a couple mentioned here see the following:

Philip Zimbardo, “Lucifer Effect”
Stanley Milgram “Obedience to Authority”
Arthur Miller “Social Psychology of Good and Evil”

(For more information on Blog see Blog description and table of context for most older posts.)

The following are the original replies when this was first posted on Open Salon.

Very interesting subject choice, Zachery. I always found Zimbarbo to be very interesting. The idea that all men are good/evil and deeply influenced was amply demonstrated in the Stanford Prison Experiment.

Fay Paxton November 03, 2011 05:40 PM

Zimbardo only shows part of the story, not including some of the most important aspects to it, which is part of what I have been trying to point out. He declines to address some of the most important contributing causes including the criticism provided by Philip Greven twenty years ago which has been acknowledged by viewer feedback on his web page but they declined to respond to it.

zacherydtaylor November 04, 2011 11:01 AM

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