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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Virtual torture experiment revisits classic psych obedience test

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A group of UK scientists recently recreated the ethically-questionable Milgram experiment using a virtual shock-victim. Instead of observing subjects' obedience patterns, the experiment was designed to determine whether or not torturing a virtual being would cause emotional distress. The study seemed to provide evidence of bond-forming between some participants and the virtual character, as 6 of 23 subjects allowed to see and hear the victim refused to carry out the shock treatment to its end.

Scientists hope to use these findings to support the use of virtual beings (in place of real people) in psychological research, allowing researches to conduct otherwise unethical studies. But, as Collision Detection notes, this recent experiment also adds to the ongoing discourse about the affects of video game violence on the human psyche. If on some level of consciousness we do not distinguish between humans and our virtual counterparts, can violence enacted upon these virtual beings in video game worlds desensitize our reactions to real-life suffering? How long before a lawyer points to this study to justify his client's heinous act as a simple case of "GTA made him do it"?

[Via Collision Detection]
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