How can TV turn people into torturers? A documentary broadcast on French television depicts a game show where participants willingly give electric shocks to rival contestants.
The game, Extreme Zone, is fake and the victim an actor – but those taking part and the audience think it’s for real. The documentary aims to illustrate the hold TV exerts on people.
“It’s really the notion of power that’s the issue, much greater than that of the individual”, said documentary maker Christophe Nick. “He’s alone when he’s on the set, without any bearings, without anyone telling him, ‘hey, watch what you’re doing, have you seen what he’s doing to you?’. You’re on your own, and when you’re on your own, faced with a power that abuses its authority, you become very easy to manipulate.”
The documentary was inspired by an American psychological experiment from the 1960s. Contestants gave what they thought were increasingly violent electric shocks to rivals who gave wrong answers. Eight out of ten pushed it to the maximum level.
“I never believed in the power of television,” said social psychologist Jean-Léon Beauvois. “I believed in its influence, certainly, but not in television’s power. So, I was very surprised, I never expected those kind of figures,” he added.
Of eighty people invited to take part in the spoof show, none refused. Programme makers say what it reveals about human behaviour is frightening.