Virtual Milgram Experiment
Researcher Mel Slater, who works at the Catalan Polytechnic University in Barcelona, Spain, and at University College London, UK, has set up a virtual reality version of the famous Stanley Milgram experiment of the 1960's.
In Milgram's earlier version, volunteers were told by an authority figure to deliver electric shocks to another person as punishment during a "test." No actual shocks were given; the "punished" person faked increasingly emotional reactions. Sixty-five percent of the volunteers administered shocks that could be fatal, astounding a generation of psychologists.
(Shocks given to virtual woman)
In Slater's virtual version, volunteers in an immersive virtual environment administered "shocks" to a virtual woman character. Half of the volunteers could see the woman character; the others interacted only with text. The context of the experiment was that the virtual woman was answering questions in a test. When she gave an incorrect answer, volunteers were told to give her shocks of increasing voltage as time went on. The virtual woman responded with cries of pain and protest.
Despite the fact that all volunteers knew that the subject of the experiment was not a real human being, they typically became more anxious as the experiment proceeded. Measures of stress, like heart rate and palm sweatiness, increased for many volunteers. About fifty percent of those who could see the woman character confided after the experiment that they thought about quitting, and several of them actually did. Volunteers who could not see the woman character were more likely to administer shocks of maximum voltage than those who could see her.
Why would people care about a virtual character in a clearly contrived experiment? It appears that the emotional brain of the human volunteers didn't quite get the message that this was only virtual reality.
Milgram's classic experiment was about obedience to authority - how volunteers tended to obey an authority figure despite the warnings of conscience. He wrote:
Stark authority was pitted against the [participants'] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the [participants'] ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.
In Slater's study, the remarkable thing is that the virtual reality setup appears to provide an accurate assessment of the body's anxious reaction to a morally conflicted situation. According to Slater, it does this without violating the ethics of experimenters; Milgram's experiment resulted in a year-long delay in his application for membership to the American Psychological Association due to ethics questions. Other psychologists have contested this, saying that even when this experiment is performed in a virtual environment, it still has an ethically troubling effect on participants.
I'm curious about what this experiment says about the different uses of virtual violence in science fiction. In Star Trek: The Next Generation, there are long sequences that take place in the holodeck - a virtual reality environment. In at least one episode, Captain Picard "guns down" virtual figures without appearing anxious. However, all of the human characters are very solicitous of the "feelings" of Commander Data, an android robot, and are concerned when he is harmed.
I also wonder about games like Grand Theft Auto, in which violence toward virtual characters is expected and rewarded. Do people self-select when they choose to buy or play the game? Are there friends of these self-selected players who become to anxious to continue playing when they see what happens to the virtual characters?
From Virtual reality shocker.
Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 12/26/2006)
Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.
| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit |
you like to contribute a story tip?
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add
Comment/Join discussion ( 2 )
Related News Stories -
OK2TALK Like Hearing Aid From Shockwave Rider
'Demanding no fees, it's affordable where psychotherapy is not.'- John Brunner, 1976.
Chinese Test UAV-based Parcel Courier Service
'...an aerial diaper service that flew diapers to rural homes...'- EB White, 1950.
75 Percent Of Americans Prefer Paper Books!
'The books were crystals with recorded contents.'- Stanislaw Lem, 1961.
New Global Century Center: China's Truman Show Venue
We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented.- The Truman Show.
Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!)
is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for
the Invention Category that interests
you, the Glossary, the Invention
Timeline, or see what's New.
Army's New Bird-Like Surveillance UAV
'The prototype blue-bellied, gray-backed tracer-bird with the wide-angle eye...'
Honda's Tumblebug - The UNI-CUB beta
'A tumblebug does not give a man dignity...'
NASA's LADEE Enters Lunar Orbit
'... dust normally on the surface picks up and keeps a charge.'
3D Printing An Entire Car
"... Almost as good as the original it was printed from."
Aldebaran Robot Talks Like C3PO - Almost
'See Vee Threepio - Vee for versatility - at your service...'
Google's Skin Tattoo Lie Detector
'Three and a half centimetres in diameter, permanently fixed in the centre of his forehead.'
inFORM Dynamic Shape Output Device
Like that pushpin device you remember, but supercharged.
Owlet Vitals, The Future Of Baby Monitoring
'In every diaper there is a fine copper wire...'
Robert Heinlein, Your Personal Electric Helicopter Will Be Ready In 2016
"They were half way home when a single flyer, hopping free in a copter harness, approached the little parade."
WildCat Runs Faster Than You, Untethered
'...moving with such drifting ease that it was like a single solid cloud of black-grey smoke blown at him in silence.' Almost.
HiBot's ACM-R5H Robot Video Shows Graceful Terminator-Style Swimming
'No! No! Aaaaaaarrrrrrgh!'
tDCS Jumpstarts Your Future
'We invented a scanner that can change the labyrinthine neural connections of the brain by tiny electronic impulses...'.
RealView Interactive Live Medical Holography
Surgeons can see an organ in its entirety in a live image.
Britney Spears And Lynn Minmay - Weapons Of Choice
An attack can take many forms.
Aireal Haptics Inching Towards Holodeck Experience
How to feel something that isn't there?
Starchase Pursuit Management ala Star Wars
Yes, but does it follow evil doers through hyperspace?
More SF in the News Stories
More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories