What famous experiments say about violence

Started by Volunto, Feb 07, 2023, 06:42 PM

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The full article with all sources can be found on the main page: https://antiviolence.io/en/#experiments_on_violence

"Universe 25"

"Universe 25" was a famous experiment in which ethologist John Calhoun created a pen for mice with an abundance of resources. Initially, the population of mice grew rapidly up to 2200 individuals, but after that, mice began to refuse to reproduce, their number began to decline, and in less than 5 years, the population completely died out.

Many reasons were given for this result. The conditions of Calhoun's pen for mice were, in fact, far from heavenly. There is also an opinion that the problem lies in the very abundance of resources, and humanity, with its current high well-being, will face the same fate. But few people are aware of the fact that the main mistake was the structure of the pen, which allowed 65 of the largest males to forcefully block everyone else's access to females and food. This caused a chain of events that led to the extinction of a population, artificially limited in space and extremely violent in its order. In more well-organized pens, where it is impossible to establish such a violent dominance hierarchy, a population of mice can live for decades. This experiment demonstrates well why, under certain conditions, violence is a threat to the survival of the population and is not an evolutionarily optimal strategy.

Milgram experiment

In 1963, psychologist Stanley Milgram decided to conduct a series of experiments to clarify the question: how much suffering are ordinary people willing to inflict on other, completely innocent people, if such infliction of pain is part of their work duties? The subjects, being in the role of "teacher", had to punish the "student" with an electric shock in case of incorrect performance of tasks. Starting at 15 volts, with each new error, they had to increase the shock by 15 volts up to a maximum of 450 volts, after which they had to continue to use the maximum shock. Of course, the student, being an actor, did not receive a shock and only pretended to be in pain. In different versions of the experiment, the student and the teacher were separated either by a soundproof wall (i.e., the teacher could only hear the student knocking on the wall) or by an ordinary one (i.e., the teacher could hear screams, requests to stop, or complaints about alleged problems with heart).

According to published data, one of the series of experiments showed that 26 subjects out of 40 (65%) increased the voltage to 450 volts and did not stop giving an electric shock until the researcher gave the order to end the experiment. And only 5 subjects (12.5%) stopped at a voltage of 300 volts when their victims showed the first signs of discontent. Reproduction of the experiment in different conditions and with different people, as stated, showed approximately the same results.

However, we will see a very different result if we take into account the data from the Milgram experiment that has not been published. After analyzing 656 post-experimental questionnaires, the researchers found that 56% of the participants actually stopped the experiment at one point or another because they believed the person behind the wall was actually in pain. Another study, looking at 91 interviews conducted immediately after the experiments, found that among 46 participants who continued the experiment after the victim was displeased, 33 participants (72%) did so because they simply did not believe that the victim was really hurt (which was actually the case – the actor only imitated it). Based on this, we can roughly say that more than 85% of the participants in the Milgram experiment were unable to intentionally hurt another person.

This experiment also has serious methodological problems. As you know, the researchers put strong pressure on the "teachers", often going beyond the protocol of the experiment. There is also no evidence that all people perceive authority in the same way. And finally, the person who played the student was not a professional actor, and the experiment was based on the deception of the subject, and there is reason to believe that unconsciously most people would recognize real pain or its absence. These problems make any attempt to repeat the experiment leading to the same result that Milgram originally published questionable.

Stanford Prison Experiment

Another well-known experiment about violence is the Stanford Prison Experiment. The participants of this experiment were divided into two groups – the guards and the prisoners, who lived in a simulated prison. Soon after the start of the experiment, the guards began to brutally abuse the prisoners, a third of them showing sadistic tendencies. Two prisoners were even removed from the experiment due to the psychological trauma they received, and the experiment itself was stopped ahead of time for ethical reasons.

For almost 50 years, many believed in the truthfulness of these results. However, the experiment turned out to be completely untenable. The experiment basis denied external interference, yet the guards were aware of the results that were expected from them and received clear instructions. Potential participants knew in advance what awaited them in the experiment and what roles they would play. And after a while, some of them said that they just had "played" their role. One of the expelled participants later admitted that he was only faking psychosis because he did not like the experiment and wanted to leave as soon as possible. Finally, the data researchers published were far from complete – out of the 150 hours of the experiment, only 10% have been recorded (6 hours of video and 15 hours of audio). Also, very little personal data of the participants were collected, which could affect the course of the experiment.

Conclusions about the experiments on violence

Such experiments very often create myths around themselves that do not correspond to reality. In the case of "Universe 25", the method of conducting the experiment and the interpretation of the results were incorrect. Much of the data from the Milgram experiment was simply hidden in the archive. And the Stanford prison experiment turned out to be a staging with a predetermined result. Therefore, it is always worth questioning each such experiment. It is likely that the most popular interpretation will be fundamentally wrong.

It is worth remembering another experiment – the performance of the artist Marina Abramovic called "Rhythm 0", in which she completely surrendered to the will of the audience, allowing them to freely use 72 objects and her body. As a result, for 6 hours of the performance, she was brutally tortured and even almost shot. It was concluded that all people are cruel, and under suitable conditions, this cruelty will surely break out.

So far, there are no refutations of this experiment. But it can be assumed that it was either staged, like the Stanford prison experiment, with which, by the way, it is sometimes compared, or the point is the unrepresentative sample of viewers, or cruel people were specially selected for the role of viewers (in many of her performances Abramovich deliberately put herself in danger and almost died several times). At least Abramovich's past performances could determine the audience and their expectations, and the environment created by her and the selected objects set the context of what was happening, quite probably also reflecting the hidden desires of Abramovich, about whom this performance speaks as a manipulative personality. Note that such assumptions can be put forward for any experiment that allegedly proves the violent nature and cruelty of a human.