Optimistic beings as we are, we cling on small events that restore our faith in humanity and carry forth our delusion.
Psychologists have long been searching for the answer to the question: How evil can man actually be? A set of experiments gave us a dark ad terrifying glimpse at the answer.
We like to think ourselves as kind and gentle people. But most of us don’t realize how capable of inflicting pain we can be if we’re being ordered around by a white coat.
The infamous Milgram experiment took place in the 1961 and drew in participants with a small cash reward. The experiment was simple – “teachers” (the volunteers) had to ask questions from “learners” and on every wrong answer, shock them with increasing voltages. The learners were in on the experiment, merely acting as volunteers. The experiment was supposed to answer the question:
Could it be that Adolf Eichmann and his legion of accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders?
The results were shocking. No matter how the leaner pleaded, screamed and begged for mercy, with simple statements like “you must continue” and “please continue,” the researchers could make the “teacher” continue to give high voltage shocks, up to the point where the learner pretended to have passed out or died.
Milgram and his associates estimated a maximum of 3% of people would deliver the maximum shock, but the results showed that 65% of the subjects, despite showing distress, would deliver fatal shocks if they were told to do it. Further experiments of the same nature, regardless of time and location, showed this percentage to consistently oscillate between 61-66%.
It is difficult to not get angry over the mistreatment of prisoners in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and other outstation prisons, like the famous jail in Abu Ghraib in Iraq. However, research shows that power can corrupt even the most civilized persons.
The Stanford prison experiment was conducted in 1971, led by Philip Zimbardo. Twenty-four male students participated in the experiment and were randomly given roles of prisoners and guards in a mock prison simulated in Stanford psychology’s basement.
In a mere span of six days, guards started showing extreme sadistic tendencies, subjecting prisoners to psychological torture. Even more shocking was that the prisoners accepted the abuse passively and even Zimbardo, the superintendent, permitted the abuse to continue.
This is a classical psychology experiment that showed how power goes to one’s head and how people will exploit it.
The results to both these experiments revolutionized the way psychology saw humans. Most of us have the capability to do harm to people who have not wronged us in any way. Participants of both the Milgram and Stanford experiments were haunted for decades by the evil within themselves.
So the next time you get scared of ghosts, be more scared of the potential evil that lurks in the people we see as harmless. Even the Nazis, after all, once were common Jacks and Jills.