Work by Kathryn Millard
A compelling new feature documentary, Shock Room breaks open Stanley Milgram's dramatic 'Obedience to Authority' experiment and forces us to re-evaluate its conclusions. Are we really so compliant?
In the wake of the Holocaust, Milgram wanted to understand why people inflict harm on others. In 1961-2, he asked randomly selected citizens of New Haven in the United States to participate in a series of experiments. Claiming to be studying memory and learning, these subjects were prompted to give electric shocks to another person.
Fifteen to four hundred and fifty volts. At the top end of the scale, subjects believed they were inflicting a lethal shock. As a result of his experiments Milgram concluded that most of us will blindly obey orders.
My Lai, Rwanda, Enron, Abu Graib, the Deep Horizon Oil Spill, the News of the World phone hacking-'I was only following orders' is a defence threaded through history.
But there is more to this story. Milgram conducted more than 25 versions of his groundbreaking experiment over several years, discovering that in fact the majority of people will refuse to inflict harm.
Shock Room combines never-before-filmed versions of Milgram's experiments (using award-winning filmmaker Kathryn Millard's unique Immersive Digital Realism performance methodology) with animation and interviews with renowned psychologists Alex Haslam and Steve Reicher. It provides graphic new insights about how and why people comply with harmful orders. And, just as importantly, how and why people refuse to inflict harm.
Stanley Milgram distilled his experiment to this: If X asks Y to harm Z, under what conditions will they obey? And under which conditions will they refuse?
Shock Room forces us to ask ourselves: what would I do?