Thursday, February 16, 2006

(Oscar nominated...) Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room & The Milgram Experiment

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)


(FRESH = 60% or Greater) Reviews counted: 113
Fresh: 110 Rotten: 3
Average Rating: 8.1/10


The Milgram Experiment

In the early 1960s, Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted experiments wherein a subject assured of no personal repercussions was urged to electrically shock an unseen victim to varying degrees—including death. “Fifty percent of the people shocked their subjects to death,” Gibney says.
“The Milgram experiment shows that—and this is juxtaposed with Enron traders taking down the grid in California—given the right circumstances, the right culture, people can do horrible things. And so long as we believe that the market is a force of nature that will result in the best possible outcome, then we’re going to have problems like this.”


The Milgram Experiment

Controversy surrounded Stanley Milgram for much of his professional life as a result of a series of experiments on obedience to authority which he conducted at Yale University in 1961-1962.
He found, surprisingly, that 65% of his subjects, ordinary residents of New Haven, were willing to give apparently harmful electric shocks-up to 450 volts-to a pitifully protesting victim, simply because a scientific authority commanded them to, and in spite of the fact that the victim did not do anything to deserve such punishment.
The victim was, in reality, a good actor who did not actually receive shocks, and this fact was revealed to the subjects at the end of the experiment. But, during the experiment itself, the experience was a powerfully real and gripping one for most participants.

Milgram's career also produced other creative, though less controversial, research; such as, the small-world method (the source of "Six Degrees of Separation"), the lost-letter technique, mental maps of cities, cyranoids, the familiar stranger, and an experiment testing the effects of televised antisocial behavior which, though conducted 30 years ago, remains unique to the present day.



Office of Communications
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Telephone 609-258-3601; Fax 609-258-1301

Embargoed for release: 2 p.m., Nov. 25, 2004
Media contact: Steven Schultz, (609) 258-5729,

Could Abu Ghraib happen again?

Psychologists call for greater attention to role of peers and superiors in prison scandal

PRINCETON, N.J. -- When news broke about the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, many people questioned: Who could do such a thing? According to Princeton psychologists who reviewed decades worth of studies, the answer is: Anyone.

Writing in the Nov. 26 issue of Science, professor Susan Fiske and graduate students Lasana Harris and Amy Cuddy contend that many forms of behavior, including acts of great evil, are influenced as much by authority figures, peer pressure and other social interactions as by the psychology of the individual.

"Could any average 18-year-old have tortured these prisoners?" said Fiske. "I would have to answer, 'Yes, just about anyone could have -- unfortunately.'"

Fiske and colleagues drew their conclusions from 25,000 studies involving 8 million participants, which explain how factors, ranging from the stress of war to the expectations of superiors, can combine to cause ordinary people to commit seemingly inexplicable acts.

"Ordinary people can engage in incredibly destructive behavior if so ordered by legitimate authority," the researchers wrote, referring particularly to landmark studies conducted by Stanley Milgram in the early 1970s. Milgram showed that normal volunteers would deliver what they understood to be lethal electric shocks to other people when they were told that it was a necessary part of carrying out an experiment. "Subordinates not only do what they are ordered to do, but what they think their superiors would order them to do, given their understanding of the authority's overall goals," the researchers wrote.

When discussing the Milgram experiment in classes, Fiske said, students swear they would never behave the way the study subjects did. "But when they are put in similar experiments, they do," said Fiske.



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Halle Berry, The Hasty Pudding Theatricals Woman of the Year, performs during the annual Harvard Univeristy's Hasty Pudding event in Cambridge, Mass., Thursday, Feb. 16, 2006. (AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki)



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