Many experiments were conducted throughout the twentieth century around human nature. More specifically, focusing on how humans have the capacity for cruel and evil acts when put in the right situation. Muzafer Sherif’s Robbers Cave experiment in the mid fifties; Stanley Milgram’s shock experiment, carried out in the early sixties; Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford prison experiment in the early seventies; these are just to name a few of the more famous, or rather infamous experiment. A quick Google search will provide countless articles about how these experiments were conducted and the results they produced. If you have not heard of any of these, they are definitely worth a read. Spoiler alert – they all shine a very dim light on humanity.
Digging a little deeper into these studies, however, reveals that not everything is at it first appears. These experiments, along with the results, were manipulated. Zimbardo plotting with his ‘prison guards’ on how to inflict the maximum amount of stress upon his ‘prisoners’; Milgram hiding documentation proving that many of his subjects either knew it was a hoax or simply believed they had truly contributed something meaningful towards science; or Sherif purposefully causing divides between his groups of boys; with unfair advantages to one group and the orchestration of situations in the hopes of causing arguments, recent studies into these experiments have shown the results to be flawed and biased, tipping the scales to favour the desired outcome.
The question this raises is why? Why would these psychologists want to create experiments in the hopes of understanding psychological concepts, but rig the game so there could only ever be one outcome? Perhaps they had already made up their mind. Perhaps they decided from the start that people were not decent or kind and only needed a way to show the world what they already knew. Or perhaps not enough was known at the time about the human mind and what motivates a person to act in a certain way. Countless other experiments have shown time and again that given the choice, people will do the right thing, helping others if called upon, giving selflessly, even if it means leaving themselves with little or nothing.
Humans are very social creatures. It is our social skills that have helped us build towards the modern and civilised world that we live in today. This would not have been possible if all we wanted to do was fight and hurt each other. I know what some would ask; ‘what about war?’ It is a valid question, but wars are started by the few and fought by the many. Soldiers do not fight out of hate for their enemy, but rather out of love for their brothers in arms. It is the thought of defending, not destroying, that inspires the bravest of soldiers. I believe there is something of that in all of us. Yes, we are willing to fight, but only if the reason is a noble one.