The Discovery Channel has new show. I know, you’re excited.
It’s called How Evil Are You?, a question I typically only ask the car that merged into my lane on the 110 without a blinker, or when questioning the mental abilities of the artist formally known as Spencer Pratt, but Eli Roth delves into this question in a way that only we as students of psychology can truly appreciate. On the series premiere, Roth replicates the Milgram Experiment and examines his own brain patterns, both produce fascinating results.
Originally, The Milgram experiment studied obedience towards authority figures. The study began in July of 1961 as a series of notable experiments in social psychology conducted by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram, “which measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience” (Milgram).
At the heart of the Milgram experiment is the study of human reaction to obedience. Without hesitation, seventy percent of individuals comply with orders given by authority. There are varying degrees of obedience that commonly exemplify this point. If you are pulled over by an officer for texting, the right to privacy prevents you from handing over your phone to the authority. They can not search your car or house without a warrant or probable cause. Celebrities make millions of dollars each year because of the authority they have over us; buy this, do this, eat this. Millions of Americans were up in arms with the TSA when they believed they were abusing their rights during the searching process at airports, but Justin Bieber told his fans to follow an entertainment reporter, Billy Bush. Within 24 hours Bush had more than 14,000 new followers (not to mention the potentially hundreds of thousands of impressions/click-throughs he received). In this case, Bieber was the authority, in more extreme situations the authority has been Hitler, his influence conceived genocide. Clearly, both of these examples are at varying extremes of the spectrum, and in no way does Justin Bieber equate to Hitler, but both are infamous for their mass appeal and overwhelming effect upon their audience. As an authority, It is not about being effective. After all, Hitler was effective, but look at the devastation he caused. It is not about being the loudest or the most charismatic. It is about how we act as a result of someone else. I argue that the impact upon our own behavior is what dictates the true measure of authority.
During the latter part of the episode, Roth lets doctors scan his own brain, looking to locate signs of “evil”. “There are scientists that believe you can isolate for evil genetics. I went in this MRI where they flashed images of a rocking chair and a dead body and random stuff like that to see how my brain processes everything. The results from my brain were insane. I could not believe it” (The insider). Not surprisingly, Roth wants us to watch the show to find out the details of his inner means; however, while promoting the show (interview with Dr. Drew) Roth did say something incredibly remarkable. According to Roth, Dr. Fallon who conducted Roth’s brain scan recognizes, “The same qualities that are in a psychopath or serial killer are the qualities we look for in a CEO. You want them to kill the competition and make tough decisions, to be a strong leader, a dictator, a president. They have similar brain functions to a psychopath or someone that can turn off and kill another person.”
The replication of the “new age” Milgram experiment on How Evil Are You premiers tonight. Do you think we will fall for the same traps? In the last 50 years we have assuaged racial prejudices, birthed some of the most insane technological advances, found cures for previously untreatable illnesses, started and stopped wars, elected a black president, etc., but have we evolved enough to change the results of Milgram’s social experiment, or is the root of who we are beyond our consciousness? Have we really learned nothing?
The results just may shock you.