Wednesday, Oct 28th, 2009
The rationale behind torture is that pain will make the guilty confess, but a new study by researchers at Harvard University finds that the pain of torture can make even the innocent seem guilty.
Participants in the study met a woman suspected of cheating to win money. The woman was then “tortured” by having her hand immersed in ice water while study participants listened to the session over an intercom. She never confessed to anything, but the more she suffered during the torture, the guiltier she was perceived to be.
The research, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, was conducted by Kurt Gray, graduate student in psychology, and Daniel M. Wegner, professor of psychology, both in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
“Our research suggests that torture may not uncover guilt so much as lead to its perception,” says Gray. “It is as though people who know of the victim’s pain must somehow convince themselves that it was a good idea — and so come to believe that the person who was tortured deserved it.”