Monday/January/11 2010 Filed in: Science / Technology
Smile! You're on Candid Camera!
Reality TV was born at the dawn of the medium
Candid Camera, created by Alan Funt, first hit the television airwaves in 1948 and by the 1960's was one of TV's most popular shows.
Observing human behavior in unusual situations
Real people, filmed by a hidden camera, were maneuvered into awkward situations staged by the Candid Camera crew.
The program concept is often credited as the inspiration for programs like Ashton Kuchter's Punk'd, The Jamie Kennedy Experiment and Shannon Doherty's Scare Tactics.
But this program had far greater influence on modern culture than that.
Candid Camera helped bring an end to one of the most interesting and, literally, most shocking aspects of the field of experimental behavioral psychology.
The Stanley Milgram Obedience Study
Among the millions of Candid Camera viewers was Yale University psychology professor, Stanley Milgram, who used this program as a template for one of the most controversial and most revealing psychological experiments of all time.
You've heard about this experiment.
People were told to administer a quiz, via a telephone hookup, to a person located in another room.
The people asking the questions were told to pull a switch that would give the people answering the questions an electric shock if the response was incorrect.
A white-smocked professional running the experiment demanded that each wrong answer would require a step-up in the voltage.
Two out of three would have killed for a wrong answer
65% of participants pushed the voltage to the lethal level when told to by the white-smock guy, despite the blood-curdling screams -- or worse the post-screaming silence! -- of the people with the wrong answers.
Of course, in reality, there was no juice connected to the switch and the person providing the wrong answer was an experiment-insider screaming on cue.
But the person asking the questions and throwing the switch didn't know that.
The Prison Experiment
Illusion becomes reality
The Philip Zimbardo Prison Experiment was supposed to run for two weeks but was pulled after 6 days. Things got out of hand.
Students were divided into two groups: prisoners and guards. A realistic prison environment was created and in a very short time, the artificial became the real.
Each group began to not only act out its role but began to embrace it.
Some of the guards exhibited cruel and sadistic behavior while prisoners became docile and obedient -- even though any of the participants could have exited the experiment at any time.
The Bottom Line
Experiments of this type are no longer permitted in psychological study for reasons of professional ethics.
We find it keenly interesting, however, that these tactics abound in advertising, entertainment and government, not to mention in so-called enhanced interrogation of the so-called intelligence community.
In the words of Alan Funt, Candid Camera creator:
"The worst thing, and I see it over and over, is how easily people can be led by any kind of authority figure, or even the most minimal signs of authority."
Ethical or not, these experiments reveal more about the human psyche than those who profit from such manipulation want us to know.