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W IS DOM W EEK 4 > D O S OMETH ING > C A S E

THE EXPERIMENT

Living in a small college town, you find it hard to secure even part-time work. You’ve considered
selling plasma, but you aren’t sure that’s the best way to finance your college education. Then one day
you read in the paper that the Psychology Department at the local university is doing an experiment on
“memory and learning.” They are offering to pay up to 40 people to participate in the study. You call the
number listed and find that slots are still available. The receptionist explains that the experiment lasts only
about an hour, so you agree to an appointment the following afternoon.
You arrive promptly the next day and find another volunteer in the waiting room, a student named
Chris. You chat for a few minutes and are reassured that the other person seems to be a normal student . . .
just like you!
A man in a lab coat enters a short time later. With a kind smile he thanks both of you for coming,
“We surely do appreciate your willingness to help us out. Rest assured that you will be paid for showing
up—no matter what happens during the experiment. You see, we are conducting a study on memory and
learning. We want to study the effects of punishment on the learning process. One of you will act as
teacher, and the other will be the learner. The teacher will administer mild shocks to the learner each time
a question is answered incorrectly.”
“How will we decide who is the teacher and who is the victim?” you ask curiously.
“We’ll draw slips of paper out of a bowl,” the professor explains.
With that, he takes a small bowl off the shelf in the corner and extends it towards you. You select a
paper and open it to read the word, “Teacher.” Your sigh is almost audible.
Chris takes a paper and snorts, “That makes me the victim. You’d better be nice!”
You accompany the professor and Chris into a room where a chair with arm restraints and electric
probes is waiting. You watch the professor strap Chris into position and attach the wires. Then you go to
the other side of a partition, where your switchbox is waiting. The professor quickly explains how to use
the equipment. It seems pretty simple.
“How will I know how much pain Chris is feeling? This wall is blocking my view.”
“Oh, we have the switches set up in even, 15-volt increments. Each time Chris misses a question,
you simply flip the next switch in the sequence. Everything is automated from there.”
“Okay,” you respond.
The professor then hands you a document containing the script you should read and the questions
you should ask. Naturally, it also indicates the answers that Chris must give to avoid punishment.
The professor asks in a calm voice, “Are you both ready?”
“Yes,” you and Chris say simultaneously.
So, you begin. Chris gets a few questions correct. Eventually, though, a wrong answer is given.
After you flip the switch, you hear Chris say, “Ouch!”
A few questions later, another wrong answer is given. As you flip the second switch, Chris actually
exclaims, “Hey, that hurts!”
You turn to the professor, who says simply, “Please continue.”

Question: What do you do?

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