A VIRTUAL REPRISE OF THE STANLEY MILGRAM OBEDIENCE EXPERIMENTS PDF

PLoS One. A virtual reprise of the Stanley Milgram obedience experiments. Yet, due to the ethical controversy that his experiments ignited, it is nowadays impossible to carry out direct experimental studies in this area. In the study reported in this paper, we have used a similar paradigm to the one used by Milgram within an immersive virtual environment.

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Yet, due to the ethical controversy that his experiments ignited, it is nowadays impossible to carry out direct experimental studies in this area. In the study reported in this paper, we have used a similar paradigm to the one used by Milgram within an immersive virtual environment.

Our objective has not been the study of obedience in itself, but of the extent to which participants would respond to such an extreme social situation as if it were real in spite of their knowledge that no real events were taking place. Methodology Following the style of the original experiments, the participants were invited to administer a series of word association memory tests to the female virtual human representing the stranger.

She responded with increasing discomfort and protests, eventually demanding termination of the experiment. Of the 34 participants, 23 saw and heard the virtual human, and 11 communicated with her only through a text interface.

Conclusions Our results show that in spite of the fact that all participants knew for sure that neither the stranger nor the shocks were real, the participants who saw and heard her tended to respond to the situation at the subjective, behavioural and physiological levels as if it were real. This result reopens the door to direct empirical studies of obedience and related extreme social situations, an area of research that is otherwise not open to experimental study for ethical reasons, through the employment of virtual environments.

Introduction In an attempt to understand events in which people carry out horrific acts against their fellows Stanley Milgram carried out a series of experiments in the s at Yale University that directly attempted to investigate whether ordinary people might obey the orders of an authority figure to cause pain to a stranger. He showed that in a social structure with recognised lines of authority, ordinary people could be relatively easily persuaded to give what seemed to be even lethal electric shocks to another randomly chosen person [1] , [2].

His results are often cited today, for example, recently in helping to explain how people become embroiled in organised prisoner abuse [3] and even suicide bombings [4].

However, his study also ignited a far-reaching debate about the ethics of deception and of putting subjects in a highly distressing situation in the course of research [5] , [6] , and as a result this line of research is no longer amenable to direct experimental studies. The subjects, referred to as Teachers, were asked to administer electric shocks of increasing voltages to another subject the Learner whenever he gave a wrong answer in a word-memory experiment. In fact, the whole situation was contrived: there were no actual shocks, the lottery was fixed, and the Learner was a confederate of the experimenter.

Almost all subjects exhibited signs of distress and many expressed their fears regarding the well-being of the Learner, nevertheless continuing to give shocks to the end. This delivers a life-sized virtual reality within which a person can experience events and interact with representations of objects and virtual humans.

This system and how stereo projection and head-tracking is achieved was described in an earlier paper [9] and see Materials and Methods. Previous work has shown that people tend to respond realistically to events within such environments and even to virtual humans in spite of their relatively low fidelity compared to reality [10].

For example, virtual environments have been used in studies of social anxiety and behavioural problems [11] , [12] , and individuals with paranoid tendencies have been shown to experience paranoid thoughts in the company of virtual characters [13] — [15].

However, such previous studies involving virtual humans have been limited to situations where participants only react to rather than initiate significant interaction with them for example, see the review in [19]. In this situation the behaviour of the participants had consequences for the condition of the virtual human that would be dangerous were it a real person. The study of presence forms the wider background to our work and in this experiment we specifically wished to investigate whether participants would reach such a high level of presence that they would withdraw from the experiment, or exhibit signs of stress or behaviours that indicated that the virtual person was being treated as if real, in spite of their certain knowledge that no one real was protesting or being hurt by electric shocks.

Another way to consider the situation is that the experiment established a dilemma for the participants: they had agreed to take part in it, and would be paid for their trouble, yet there was a virtual person the Learner who eventually strongly objected to its continuation. Of course, participants had been told in advance as part of the normal ethical procedures that they could withdraw at any time without giving reasons.

However, the objections to continuation were not from anyone real, so why stop? The aim of the study was therefore to investigate how people would respond to such a dilemma within a virtual environment, the broader aim being to assess whether such powerful social-psychological studies could be usefully carried out within virtual environments.

From our previous experience with virtual environments that depict social settings we expected that participants would exhibit stress in response to the behaviour of the virtual Learner. A specific hypothesis was that the stress would be greater in a situation where the Learner could be seen and heard in comparison to one where she would only communicate with the participant through text.

The results suggest that the participants were stressed by the situation, and certainly more so when they interacted directly with a visible Learner rather than only through a text interface with a hidden Learner.

This is demonstrated with an analysis of their subjective, behavioural and physiological responses. On the whole the results at least for some of the participants were stronger than we expected prior to the experiment.

Our study was subject to full ethical scrutiny with no deception, informed consent, and ensured that any distress to participants was transitory. Results Procedures Participants interacted with a female virtual character, referred to as the Learner, seen seated behind a transparent partition Figure1a. Their task was to read out five words addressed to the Learner, the first of which was a cue word and the others one of four possible words associated with the cue word that the Learner was supposed to have memorised beforehand.

There were 32 sets of these 5 words including some repetitions. On 20 out of the 32 trials the Learner gave the wrong answer, the later trials more likely to result in a wrong answer than the earlier ones Table S1, Supporting Information. The participant was instructed that each time the Learner gave an incorrect answer he or she should turn up the voltage by one unit and press the shock button which would give a shock to the Learner.

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A Virtual Reprise of the Stanley Milgram Obedience Experiments

Yet, due to the ethical controversy that his experiments ignited, it is nowadays impossible to carry out direct experimental studies in this area. In the study reported in this paper, we have used a similar paradigm to the one used by Milgram within an immersive virtual environment. Our objective has not been the study of obedience in itself, but of the 1extent to which participants would respond to such an extreme social situation as if it were real in spite of their knowledge that no real events were taking place. Methodology: Following the style of the original experiments, the participants were invited to administer a series of word association memory tests to the female virtual human representing the stranger. She responded with increasing discomfort and protests, eventually demanding termination of the experiment. Of the 34 participants, 23 saw and heard the virtual human, and 11 communicated with her only through a text interface.

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File:A-Virtual-Reprise-of-the-Stanley-Milgram-Obedience-Experiments-pone.0000039.s011.ogv

Times between asking the question and indicating the intention to shock. The horizontal axis labels refer to the question number and the condition VC or HC. The plots are standard box plots, where the box shows the median and interquartile range, and the whiskers extend to 1. Values outside the whiskers are outliers, the single outlier shown as a cross.

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