By repeating the Stanley Milgram’s classic experiment from the 1960s on obedience to authority – that found people would administer apparently lethal electrical shocks to a stranger at the behest of an authority figure – in a virtual environment, the UCL (University College London) led study demonstrated for the first time that participants reacted as though the situation was real.
The finding, which is reported in the inaugural edition of the journal PLoS ONE, demonstrates that virtual environments can provide an alternative way of pursuing laboratory-based experimental research that examines extreme social situations.
Professor Mel Slater, of the UCL Department of Computer Science, who led the study, says: “The line of research opened up by Milgram was of tremendous importance in the understanding of human behaviour. It has been argued before that immersive virtual environment can provide a useful tool for social psychological studies in general and our results show that this applies even in the extreme social situation investigated by Stanley Milgram.”
Stanley Milgram originally carried out the series of experiments in an attempt to understand events in which people carry out horrific acts against their fellows. He showed that in a so cial structure with recognised lines of authority, ordinary people could be relatively easily persuaded to give what seemed to be even lethal electric shocks to another randomly chosen person. Today, his results are often quoted in helping to explain how people become embroiled in organised acts of violence against others, for example they have been recently cited to explain prisoner abuse and even suicide bombings.