‘BB19’ Compared To Milgram’s Electric Shock Study, Stanford Prison Experiment, With Paul As Authority Figure

This season of BB19 began as a house divided, with those who dared oppose the power player in the game being quickly sent home. This type of game play is not unusual in Big Brother but does not typically begin on Day One and continue to the end of the season. The fact that it did so this season could have something to do with a clear authority figure and Big Brother veteran, Paul Abrahamian, primed to play the game.

As such, BB19 has been compared by some to the shocking study conducted by Stanley Milgram, as well as the eye-opening Stanford Prison Experiment, which had to be shut down due to rampant abuse.

John Krause, who has worked extensively in the field of psychology, recently spoke to RHAP live feed correspondent Taran Armstrong about both studies and how they may help explain some of the behavior seen this season in the Big Brother house.

In a lighthearted discussion, John explained to Taran that Milgram’s electric shock study examined how far a person would go when directed by an authority figure — in this case, a scientist — to engage in certain behaviors. In the 1961 experiment, the study subject was called the “Teacher” and was to give a second subject called the “Learner” electric shocks if he answered designated questions incorrectly. The Learner was in another room, and the Teacher believed he was connected to electric shock apparatus that could eventually result in lethal harm. Unbeknownst to the Teacher, the Learner was an actor and part of the study, so he was never shocked and his wails of discomfort were fake.

Milgram’s study demonstrated that when people are told by an authority figure to take part in behavior they may otherwise find objectionable, they are capable of doing so without hesitation – even when they were told the consequences could be fatal and believe they are inflicting pain on another.

Paul is a veteran of the Big Brother series, having made it to the final two during BB18. Coming into BB19, Paul was seen as an authority figure and made sure every houseguest knew he had played the game before, according to Taran. He did this by constantly talking about his experiences in BB18, and setting himself up as a true authority figure and seasoned vet in the house.

As Taran noted, when certain moves have been made this season, including fights, they are usually at Paul’s “behest.” The new BB19 houseguests likely feel “legitimized” in behaving in any manner Paul dictates, because an “authority figure told them to do it and they don’t feel any moral qualms about it…,” Taran said, which he found to be comparable to Milgram’s experiment. Taran continued by saying the houseguests “cleanse themselves of responsibility” by believing what they are doing is what the “house” wants due to Paul’s prompting.

The Stanford Prison Experiment was also discussed to explain behavior in the Big Brother 19 house. In that study, university students were randomly divided into two groups. One was made up of “Prisoners” and the other group was made up of “Prison Guards.” Many of these students were friends outside the experiment and for the study were secluded in an empty area of the university dorms.

According to John, the experiment was meant to last “several weeks but was disbanded in just six days because of the extreme abuses” taking place.

A number of Prisoners began accepting abusive treatment, such as mental and physical harassment, from Prison Guards, and many Prisoners abused their Prisoner peers at the request of Guards, John said.

Even more intriguing is that the Prisoners were assigned numbers and began referring to themselves as such rather than their names. This, according to John, was indicative of students losing their own identities during the study.

In addition, the leader of the experiment, Psychology Professor Philip Zimbardo, acted as the prison warden and decided to end the study when “he found himself… conducting and allowing abuses to happen over a few… days,” John stated.

John argued that much of a person’s personality is caused by external or situational forces. So being given a label, such as “Big Brother Houseguest” or “Big Brother Veteran,” can change an individual’s personality in a short period of time.

See video below as Josh discusses his plans for HOH (Warning: Video contains strong language).

Taran agreed, saying even when a cast member gains the Head of Household (HOH) role, his or her identity in the game changes dramatically by obtaining a feeling of power, while those who never win HOH have a very different outlook on the game.

John indicated he sees “a lot of Josh [Martinez] in the Stanford Prison Experiment.” He explained this is because when Paul tells Josh to act like a “bulldog” or instructs him to annoy others by banging pots and pans, Josh will do it. John noted that Josh showed some disobedience when it came to Paul’s orders, only when Josh was temporarily in power as HOH.

Taran surmised that Josh was being used as a “Prison Guard” to rattle the other houseguests, even though at times Josh felt uncomfortable doing so.

John theorized that two houseguests, Jessica Graf and Cody Nickson, did not fall in line with this “Prison Guard” mentality, only because they were ostracized early on in the game. Thus, they fell into the “Prisoner” role following Cody’s reign as HOH in Week One when he declared himself Paul’s enemy. According to John, once a person is ostracized from a group it’s very difficult to “get back in.”

Although people often say they would never behave in a way that goes against their own interest or moral values, the Milgram study and the Stanford Prison Experiment demonstrate how individuals, depending upon the circumstances and the environment they find themselves in, will do just that.

Paul has expertly latched onto this feeling of authority and appears to have implemented this strategy in week one. He now finds himself in the final five and could easily win this season of Big Brother if he continues to be seen as the authority figure by those remaining in the game.

See video of Paul below as he discusses in Week One how he plans to win the game as a BB18 veteran (Warning: Video contains strong language).

Even if Paul makes it to final two this year, it will depend on the BB19 jury of ousted players as to whether they believe he should win the game. It should be noted that jury members are now out of the confined environment of the Big Brother 19 house, can discuss game play with other evicted houseguests, and have the ability to freely re-examine their own actions and whether Paul influenced them to play in a way that was against their own beliefs or self-interests.

Big Brother 19 airs Sundays and Wednesdays at 8 p.m. Eastern Time and Thursdays at 9 p.m. Eastern Time on CBS. Big Brother After Dark airs live nightly on the Pop cable network at 12 midnight Eastern Time, with the exception of Thursdays, when it is broadcast at 1 a.m.

[Featured Image by Sonja Flemming/CBS]