A disturbing French TV documentary has tried to demonstrate how well-meaning people can be manipulated into becoming torturers or even executioners. The hugely controversial Game of Death was broadcast in prime-time on a major terrestrial channel, France 2.
Before the show, 80 people signed contracts agreeing to inflict electric shocks on other contestants. They were then asked to zap a man they believed was another contestant whenever he failed to answer a question correctly – with increasingly powerful shocks of up to 460 volts. Only 16 of the 80 participants stopped before the ultimate, potentially lethal shock.
The show was billed as a warning against blindly obeying authority – and a critique of reality TV shows in which participants are humiliated or hurt. The documentary asserted that most people are conditioned from childhood to obey.
The show was inspired by an experiment at Yale University in the 1960s by social psychologist Stanley Milgram. He used similar methods to investigate how people could come to take part in mass murder.