Last modification: 17/03/2010 
- France - television

Fake torture TV 'game show' reveals willingness to obey
A new documentary directed by Christophe Nick broadcast on French television on Wednesday blended reality TV with a game show to give a 1960s psychological experiment an unsettling 21st-century makeover.
By FRANCE 24 (text)
FRANCE 2 / Molly Hall (video)

Just how far can TV go in the name of entertainment?

To answer this question, scientists carried out an experiment filmed and broadcast by French TV channel France 2 in a blood-chilling documentary about the seemingly limitless power of the small screen.

“Le jeu de la mort”, or “The Game of Death”, by director Christophe Nick, blends reality TV with a game show to give a psychological experiment from the past an unsettling 21st-century makeover. In the 1960s at Yale University, Stanley Milgram measured the willingness of participants to obey authority figures in an attempt to understand how accomplices in the Holocaust could have submitted so fully to Nazi orders. The new French documentary recruited volunteers who were told that they were going to shoot a pilot for a new show called “La Zone Xtrême”, or “The Xtreme Zone”. What lay in store for them, however, was a sort of pop-culture recreation of Milgram’s project.

A game becomes a torture session

With no financial incentive on the table, the point of the game was to ask one “candidate” – played by an actor – a series of questions. If he gave a wrong answer, the punishment would be an electric shock, with the voltage increasing by increments from 80 to 460 volts with each incorrect response.

The fake “candidate”, Jean-Paul, who remained out of the sight of the interrogators, communicated his pain progressively: first through whimpers, then pleas to stop the electrocutions and, finally, by total silence.

The startling outcome was that 64 of the 80 interrogators carried on with the game until it became something akin to a torture session. One might be tempted to assume that the players were crazy or sadistic. But the psychological conclusion, at once both facile and unimaginable, is that they were simply following orders: they hated making Jean-Paul suffer and expressed their desire to stop the game -- but, apart from 16 of the participants, never managed to resist orders from an authority figure to carry on.

‘The grip of TV’s power’

The main conceptual difference between the French documentary and the original experiment by Milgram is that the authority in question in the new version is not a scientist, but rather the TV setting: the host, Tania Young, and an audience watching intently.

"The interrogators are not dominated by a hierarchical stucture, but rather by the grip of TV’s power,” Jean-Léon Beauvois, a researcher in social psychology, explained.

In other words, they did’t dare contradict the demands of the TV host – an iconic figure in which they place their trust. “An individual faced with a power greater than himself becomes the most obedient being imaginable,” Beauvois observed.

But the makers of the “docu-game” could face criticism for manipulating the participants with the very methods the film aims to denounce. To minimise fallout, as soon as production ended, volunteers were notified that they had in fact participated in an experiment, and were asked for their permission to be shown on the programme. Only three refused.

Those who agreed were informed that they were normal, and that the context of the experiment was responsible for their behaviour.

“Most of them are thrilled to have participated in an experiment that could be useful for something,” director Nick noted. “And some of them are ready to do it all over again.”


Comments (7)

Voltage, Ampers, pain and tissue damage

Hello, the woman in the video says that quote: "Even with no price money at stake, more than 80% of contestants sent an electric shock at voltage high enough to caused serious injuries had they been real." While the amount of voltage has no, I repeat NO impact on the pain or tissue damage of an electric shock. I my self have been shocked with electric shocks at school with more than 50 thousand volts, when my teacher has laughed when some of the students said it tickled. How ever, what does do tissue damage and cause pain in an electric shock is the amount of current that goes through the tissue, this is measured in Amperes and is independent of how high the voltage is. The amount of current needed to kill a person is about 100 milliamps through the heart, thats 1/10 of one Ampere. How many milliamps is needed to produce pain differs from person to person just as other types of pain (10 milliamps is said to be painful), but if you run a current of 3 milliamps at the voltage of 1 million through a person, the same person would easily live to tell about it, he might even not feel the shock at all. As well as a shock of 24 volt with 125 milliamps would easily kill a person if the person did not get imitate medical attention.

I for one if set in the position of the contestants here would have demanded to know the amperage of the shocks, and also would have refused to continue if they would not say and would have of course understood that it was a joke if "partner" would scream in pain of a none or not very painful amount of Amperage.

Please be more professional in the future the statement "voltage high enough to caused serious injuries" is not at all professional.


jm love

jm love


I studied with one of Dr. Millgram;s assistants.

When Dr. Millgram presented his experimental results, serious ethical issues were discussed, leading to policies that would have prohibited the experiment.

I do not understand why this re-creation was allowed - it damages the experiment subjects.

Oh, They were assured that they were "normal."

Those who agreed were informed that they were normal, and that the context of the experiment was responsible for their behaviour.
Let me vomit right here and now. How perfectly ridiculous. Are these people capable of rational and critical thinking? It does not appear so. To tell the experiment's participants that they are not responsible but rather the context of the experiment is responsible for their behaviour is so preposterous and wreaking of follow the Nazi order that it is hard to believe that in 2010 such rubbish is taken seriously even for a minute.

AGAIN, even more examples of no moral values and lack of thinking for onesself. Shame on Bornot and Beavois. Their craven excuses put such people in a very bad French light.

“Most of them are thrilled to have participated in an experiment that could be useful for something,” director Nick noted. “And some of them are ready to do it all over again.”
Furthermore, the fact that they are so thrilled again puts into question the lack of moral values and cowardice and conformity of the average (French) person. Sad story that even the filmmaker and a social psychologist are so empty and wrong.

Co-director Bornot and social psychologist Beavois are both quite off the mark.

a lesson

Tell us more about the 16 who walked out.
I'd like to learn from them.

Because they are mindless, unthinking followers who

evidently have no internalized conscience or ethics. Modern day society, now more than ever (IMO,) churns such automatons out on a regular basis. Why doesn't society start churning out people with consciences (ergo, morality and ethics)and who think for themselves. We need leaders who think for themselves not followers.

La Jeu de la Mort

The French are courageous and timely to screen this show. The only effect that Dr Milgram's experiment had in the USA was to get laws passed restricting experiments with volunteers, so that the experiment can no longer be performed legally. The US otherwise took little notice, the results of which we see on the news items about Guantanamo, etc. Formidable, mes amis!

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