The Milgram experiment demonstrates unsettling truths about human nature. Volunteers are told that they are participating in a psychological experiment to test the effects of negative feedback on learning. They're given a dial and a button, and told that the dial increases the voltage of an electric shock administered by pressing the button. An "inside man," posing as another volunteer, answers a series of questions. For every wrong answer, he receives an imaginary "shock," but behaves as though it's real. Another "inside man," posing as an authoritative doctor in a white coat, orders the subject to keep increasing the imaginary voltage, to a level marked, in red letters, "DANGER!" Many people will, given authoritative orders, do so despite cries of pain from the person posing as the second subject.
Of course the Milgram experiment doesn't teach us anything about negative feedback and learning. It teaches us about our own deference to authority.
A variant on the Milgram experiment took place in Conway Arkansas yesterday. It was a spectacular success.
A telephone prankster posing as a sprinkler company employee caused havoc Saturday morning at an Arkansas Holiday Inn when he convinced an employee to set off the hotel's fire alarm, smash windows, shut down electricity, and break a sprinkler head that flooded the building lobby.
The victimized employee even recruited a confederate from the hotel's guests, to aid her in destroying the property.
Christina Bergmann was at the front desk early Saturday when a male caller "identified himself as an employee of Grennel Fire Sprinkler service." The man told Bergmann that there was a problem with the hotel's fire sprinklers and that she "needed to pull the fire alarm to reset them," cops reported. "Bergmann proceeded to pull the fire alarm at this point, causing the audible alarm." Bergmann, aided by a hotel guest, would subsequently follow a series of directions from the caller that would result in about $50,000 in damages to the hotel's windows, carpets and electrical system. …
Rusty Brown, the Holiday Inn guest who helped Bergmann follow the prankster's instructions, [said] he was "an innocent bystander and got involved in domestic terrorism." Bown, 36, remarked that there was "absolute panic in that hotel," adding that, "all I did was make it worse. I'm not proud of breaking windows. It is very disheartening."
As much as Mr. Brown would like to believe it, he was not the victim of domestic terrorism. He and Ms. Bergmann were the victims of human nature. Their own.