Wednesday, July 31, 2013

This one is hard to write about

I’m attending training this week in Seattle – it’s offered by a company I greatly respect and the training itself is quite good. However, yesterday, we covered the Milgram experiment in detail (it’s applicable to the class). If you are not familiar with this experiment, you should read the linked page.

I struggled a lot with this part of the training. Years ago, while an undergraduate at KU, I took an honors Intro to Psychology class (the benefits of it being an honors course meant our class size was only about 35 instead of 200, and we had an excellent full professor teaching the class). The class requirements included participating in three psychology research programs or experiments. I guess the grad students were chronically short of willing test subjects. So I signed up for my three studies.

One of them was a rerunning of Milgram’s experiment. I showed up, signed in and the briefing started. As soon as the researcher told me the details, I said I wouldn’t participate. Now that sounds quite easy to do, right? But in fact the pressure brought to bear was fairly intense, plus I am by nature a rules follower and needed to participate in these three projects. My children were in elementary school so my participation needed to fit around my family requirements. This project was one of very few that fit my schedule.

But I didn’t do the experiment. As I recall, I got pretty heated with them in my refusal. Then they told me no shocks would be administered and begged me not to tell anyone else about the project. And I haven’t, not for 20 years, not until yesterday when it was all brought back up.

I’m not sure why this is still so disturbing for me. I didn’t participate, I didn’t (fake) shock anyone yet I’m sitting in my hotel room feeling utterly compelled to write this all down and get it out of my head, and still feeling the horror and absolute certainty that I could not and would not participate no matter what. And I don’t remember at all what the other two projects were.


Magpie said...

just thinking about that makes me squirm.

kittiesx3 said...

I have to be honest. I checked out of the class, totally went away inside.

Jeanne said...

Whoa. "This really happened."