12/23/2006 05:46 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

ABC Re-Conducts The Milgram Experiment

ABC will conduct a version of Stanley Milgram's experiment on obedience to authority, says Jossip. On January 3, 20/20 will air a special in which Chris Cuomo and social psychology professor Jerry Burger (who studies compliance and personal control) re-enact a "tamer" version of the Milgram experiment, in which participants were goaded into giving electric shocks to strangers far more easily than anyone predicted.

Is this a publicity stunt or a legitimate scientific inquiry? Burger is a published college textbook author and apparent authority on the "desirability of control," so he seems capable of conducting such research for actual scientific purposes. Then again, well, it is on 20/20.

But the presence of Dr. Burger means this test won't look anything like a real-life Jack Bauer scene. The conceit of the original experiment, in which actors playing victims pretended to thrash about, beg for mercy, and pass out after participants shocked them, can't ethically be reproduced. The American Psychological Association's code of conduct says, "Psychologists may dispense with informed consent only where research would not reasonably be assumed to create distress or harm." Geez, imagine if they had to follow that code on "To Catch a Predator."

UPDATE: The original item from Jossip incorrectly reported that Diane Sawyer conducted the experiments, when in fact it was Chris Cuomo. ETP regrets the error.