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Posted by tbkoontz on 23 Jan 2007 at 14:28 GMT

might it still be unethical to conduct this type of experiment due to the emotional trauma inflicted on the participants? If i recall correctly, many of the stanford prison experiment participants had serious long term problems dealing with their role in the experiment. the expected problems participants may have in your virtual experiments should be directly proportional to their ability to mimic reality, as is intended.

RE: Unethical?

melslater replied to tbkoontz on 24 Jan 2007 at 07:52 GMT

Thank you for the comment.
Please see the responses by some of the participants to a follow up letter sent six months after the completion of the experiment. This is available on and

Also, it was clear from post experimental interviews that there were no such problems.

Also it should be remembered that in the original Milgram experiment, some people were concerned about their own behaviour - how could they have inflicted pain on someone else? In our experiment this worry is impossible, since there could be no doubt that no one was being hurt.

Finally, remember that what we are after here are people's automatic responses, and the types of thoughts, feelings and automatic behaviours that arise when they are placed in this situation. We believe that immersion in a virtual environment provides a much better way of assessing how people would respond in such a situation compared to them simply imagining this or watching a video. So it is not necessary to mimic reality to achieve this, very simple, minimal cues seem to be sufficient. Also this issue was discussed in the final section of the paper.

Mel Slater.

RE: RE: Unethical?

abeldi replied to melslater on 18 Mar 2010 at 12:55 GMT

Hi there,

My comment comes only 3 years later after you published this article, and the reason I have discovered it only now, is because of a reference to it in an article published in the French magazine of scientific popularization called the "Cercle Psy". Here is the url, in case you can read French: http://www.le-cercle-psy..... I came to this article and others because, as you might be aware of it, a team of journalists and scientists have decided to reiterate Milgram's experience, but this time, on the stage of a fake TV game show, and to make a documentary out of it, called "The Game of Death". The main issue I have with the Milgram protocol and all the experiments that use it, is that it is based on a fundamental deception: the subject of observations doesn't know he is a guinea pig, meaning that he is unsuspecting of the actual experiment going on. Personally, I find this to be both seriously unethical and a major flaw of this kind of research. Moreover, I also think that the arguments offered by the main academic supervisor of this 2010 TV version of Milgram to justify the use of that sort of manipulations to be both morally unacceptable and completely unsound from a scientific point of view. Basically, he is saying that because some professionals manipulate people for money, he doesn't see why scientists shouldn't be allowed to do so for the benefit of the advancement of knowledge. He also considers that other similar types of protocols, with lower degrees of investments on the part of the participants are actually just half-heart and hypocritical approaches to the topic.

I was wondering what you feel about this issue of using unsuspecting people in an experiment, without telling them that they are the actual subjects of observation. Because, from what I read in your paper and from the links you gave above (by the way, the first one is dead), it sounds like you didn't explain the full thing to the participants to your experience, although you did hand them several tools to withdraw honorably if they were feeling too uncomfortable with what they are being asked to do (like the pretext of feeling nauseous from wearing special glasses).

Thank you in advance for your answer (if you still linger around this article from times to times...)!

No competing interests declared.