Those charities concerned with the victims of violence will be interested in a recent experiment which proved, once again, that a majority of people will inflict pain on others if encouraged to do so by an authority figure.

The experiment at Santa Clara University, California, which replicated generally another 1961 experiment at Yale University, had volunteers administering what they thought were increasingly painful electric shocks to people who failed memory tests.  In fact the “victims” were all actors who cried out in pain at the “shocks”.

Disturbingly the experiment found that 70% of the volunteers, 29 male and 41 female, were willing to go on inflicting what they believed was real pain.  Actors first cried out in pain at 150 volts and the volunteers were then given the choice of stopping or increasing the voltage with 70% choosing to go on.  Even when another actor was introduced as another volunteer who then proceeded to refuse to increase the voltage above 150 volts, 63% ignored this ethical example and chose to carry on, an aspect the researchers found disappointing.

It is possible that some volunteers were pre-disposed to enjoy inflicting pain.  Other researchers have found that the reward area of the brains of aggressive youths and bullies with a history of violence were stimulated when they were shown pictures of people inflicting pain.

A few years ago the sick editorial team at EMAP’s Zoo magazine, aimed at male youths, published pictures of chickens being burnt alive, with jokey captions, an invidious act that the directors defended as simply “targeting the market”, which didn’t say much for youths reading Zoo.

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