Thursday, July 03, 2008

You might be wondering why I called you into my office...

John saw the flier for psychological test subjects on the Yale campus bulletin board a week ago. Easy money. A few hours out of the day and some spending cash in the back of your pocket. A good thing when your parents aren't footing the bills, but this was turning into something he didn't sign up for.

"Please continue.", buzzed the overhead speaker.

"Hey wait! Is that guy alright? Didn't you hear him screaming and banging on the walls?"

The intercom crackled, "The experiment requires that you continue."

John had already pushed the red button six times, once for every wrong answer the test subject gave. The first shock he applied was just a few volts, enough to get your attention. But for each wrong answer the voltage doubled.

"Hey, didn't you hear him say he had a heart problem? Can't you see the needle is pointing to red?!"

The first time he pressed the button, the subject let out an involuntary yelp. John pushed a laugh down into his gut imagining the guy's hair standing up like some cartoon character. Hell, it could have been him getting the electric shock treatment if he hadn't drawn 'tester'. John was lucky that way.

As the voltage doubled and doubled again with each incorrect answer, the brief yelps turned into shouts that increased in length and volume and intensity. When John applied the sixth shock, it issued an unrestrained scream that lasted several seconds after the juice was shut off.

"It is absolutely essential that you continue!", said the metallic voice.

"Look, I'll give the 50 dollars back OK? I don't need the money. Would you just tell me that guy is alright! Professor! Jesus Christ!""

John's chest pumped up and down, swallowing air in thick chunks. This wasn't worth it. Nothing was worth it.

"You have no other choice," The professor boomed through the intercom. "You MUST go on!"

John braced himself, expecting a scream that would spend years lurching and shambling inside his nightmares, but when he opened his eyes it was only the weight of silence pressing on his clammy skin and the scent of ozone fluttering in his nose.

The intercom squawked opened.

"Thank you for your time, John." smiled the voice through the speaker. "The experiment is over.", and the intercom went dead.

-- short untitled story, by Kevin

Soon after the war crimes trial of Nazi Adolf Eichmann in 1961, Yale Psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment to test the ability of subjects to perform unethical acts under the direction of an authority figure. The experiment, now known as the Milgram Experiment, was testing the veracity of the Nuremberg Defense where a defendant states "I was only following orders". Nobody was actually subjected to electric shocks, but an actor in another room made the experiment seem very realistic to the participants in the study.

Now, the idea that anyone could be manipulated to do anything under the direction of an authority figure is pretty frightening, but apparently someone thought the experiment didn't go far enough and proceeded to try their own anonymous Milgram experiments over the phone.

As strange as it sounds, a person posing as a police officer or company executive placed phone calls to several fast-food restaurants around the country including Taco Bell, McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King, Ruby Tuesday and Applebee's and successfully persuaded managers to perform strip searches on employees.

Weirder still, the caller sometimes reversed the tables and convinced the managers into submitting to strip searches themselves administered by the same employees they had just finished examining. These occurrences continued for about a decade and came to be known as the Strip Search Prank Call Scam.

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