Over the past few months I’ve seen two excellent movies at Stanford about famous 1960s psychology experiments.
The first was about an infamous study performed right here—the Stanford Prison Experiment—and the second (last week) featured the story of Stanley Milgram’s spellbinding obedience study.
Experimenters asked participants to administer electric shocks to individuals in another room if they failed to give the correct answers to a memory test.
Most of the participants followed the order to shock the other person with increasingly high voltages, despite hearing what they believed were genuine sounds of distress coming through the thin dividing wall.
What they didn’t know, of course, was that the “victim” was in fact a confederate who was in cahoots with the experimenters, and actually receiving no shocks, just pretending to be in pain.
The movie (it’s called “Experimenter”) is a great reminder of the experiment’s conclusion that sometimes people can be persuaded to behave cruelly when they believe they’re simply following orders from someone they perceive to be an authority figure.
Talking about seeing the movie, though, gives me an opportunity to touch on the idea of stepping outside your comfort zone, which I actually did simply by going to the screening.
The event was put on by the Stanford psychology undergraduates’ association, and when they also showed The Stanford Prison Experiment movie, it was in a large auditorium with an audience of hundreds.
Although I didn’t know before I went to see it, the Milgram movie night was a very different kind of evening, held in a small lounge with an ordinary flatscreen TV and an audience of about 15.
Of course, it’s easy to get lost in a crowd, but you can’t do this when the number’s much smaller. I felt a bit conspicuous, especially because almost everyone else there was an undergrad.
However, people got talking before the movie began and I ended up chatting to the one other more senior person there (still decades younger than me, though) with whom I then caught up again last weekend.
So I’m glad I went, even though it felt a bit odd at the outset.
Perhaps a similar sort of thing happens to you sometimes?
You go to an event of some kind, but then get cold feet because it doesn’t look quite what you expected.
I know I’ve done so in the past.
However on the strength of my experience last week, I’m going to take more chances, even when the circumstances feel a bit different at the outset.
Often, different can be good.