Shocking Test Results

You aren’t who you say you are.  At least, most people aren’t.

A scientist from Cambridge University studied human behavior by asking people if they were willing to shock a stranger for money.  About 64% said they would never do something like that.  However, the scientist then set up a different test.  This time, she actually offered people money to shock a stranger.  The question was no longer hypothetical.  There was a stranger in the next room, visible on a monitor, and people were offered money to push a button and give the stranger an electric shock.  

Guess how many took her up on the offer.  96 percent!

Let’s say that one hundred people were tested in this manner.  Sixty four of them would say that they never would shock someone.  But, once offered real money and real opportunity, at least sixty of those individuals would change their mind and hurt a stranger for money… the very thing they said they would never do.

What did the study prove?  Many things.  For one, odds are you are not who you think you are.  Most people hold a higher moral view of themselves than is accurate.   They want to believe they are better than they actually are.  The study showed what the Bible has long proclaimed, we are deceiving ourselves.  “But prove yourselves doers of the word and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (Jam. 1:22).  “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless” (Jam. 1:26).  It is one thing to think of ourselves as religious and good people.  But our words and thoughts on the subject aren’t nearly as important as our actions.  We can profess to know God, but it is our deeds that will reveal the truth about us (Titus 1:16).

How much money do you think it took to persuade these noble-minded people to shock the stranger?  Shockingly little.  A dollar and a half for each shock.  In total, if a person kept pushing the button when asked, they could take home thirty dollars.

The Bible warns us that the love of money is the root of all evil (I Tim. 6:10).  It says money.  Not lots of money.  It turns out some humans don’t have to be offered much to betray their morals.  Just thirty dollars, or maybe just thirty pieces of silver.

The test included one other variable.  Some people could see the stranger’s face on the monitor and see how they reacted to the jolt of pain.  Others could only see the stranger’s hands on the monitor.  Those who could see the face stopped shocking the subject sooner than those who could only see the hands.  Ever wonder why we are nicer to each other in a grocery store than we are to the same strangers on the roads?  Ever wonder why people behave so rudely to each other on the internet?  Now you know.  Without seeing each other face to face, we lose some of our compassion and empathy.

The study wasn’t all bad.  Four percent of people turned down the money and opportunity to harm a stranger.  It’s not a huge number.  It’s a narrow road.  But that’s our goal.  To be different.  To say no to temptation and prove ourselves doers and not just self-deceived hypocrites even when the vast majority of the people around us are failing the tests.  

When it comes to compassion for our fellow man, we must remember that it is harder to be compassionate towards the people we do not see.  That doesn’t free us from the responsibility.  Loving your neighbor and loving one another (Mk. 12:31) is not limited to those who see face to face.  We just have to work harder at empathy and compassion when we aren’t.  On the road, you aren’t honking at a car or cutting a vehicle off.  There’s a person with a human face and a precious soul… there might even be a family’s worth in that car.  Online insults aren’t aimed at a screen but at a human being.  Don’t allow distance to harden our hearts.