Reality TV lures players into sadistic game
A French TV documentary to be aired Wednesday records people involved in what they thought was a game show in which they are asked to administer electric shocks to rival contestants.
The fake game show, called Le jeu de la mort (The Game of Death), features a glamorous hostess and a studio audience who eggs contestants on with cries of "punishment."
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The documentary showed that 82 per cent of participants were willing to pull the levers that inflicted a shock on their opponents.
The experiment was modelled on a famous study conducted at Yale University in the 1960s which used similar methods to examine how obedient citizens could be driven to take part in mass murder.
In that study by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram, 62 per cent of participants agreed to administer a shock when instructed by a person in position of authority.
Makers of the program that will air on France 2 TV on Wednesday evening say they wanted to show how reality television can push people to ever more outrageous limits.
The participants, who did not know the game show was fake, were shown their rivals writhing in pain. They are also told that the voltage of the shocks increased each time they pulled the lever.
Yet in the game-show setting, only 18 per cent of participants refused the request of a host to pull the lever, said filmmaker Christophe Nick.
"They are not equipped to disobey," he told AFP. "They don't want to do it, they try to convince the authority figure that they should stop, but they don't manage to."
Of the 80 participants recruited by psychologists to take part in what they thought was a game show, only 16 refused to administer the shocks.
Participants were made to sign a contract that they would obey the presenter's instructions.
"They are obedient, but it's more than mere obedience, because there is also the pressure of the audience and cameras everywhere," said Jacques Semelin, a psychologist who helped design the experiment.
After filming, one of the contestants said that taking part had helped her to understand why her own Jewish grandparents had been tortured by the Nazis.
"Since I was a little girl, I have always asked myself why the Nazis did it and how they could obey such orders? And then there I was, obeying them myself," she said.
"I was worried about the contestant, but at the same time, I was afraid to spoil the program."