When Good People Do Bad Things: Dr. Zimbardo, audience

Audience Experiments

The Dr. Phil studio audience was secretly recorded while waiting to be seated. Would they blindly follow someone just because he looked like an authority figure?

See the hilarious results!


Dr. Zimbardo explains, "We are trained, from the time we are kids, to be obedient to authority, and usually that's good: our parents, our teachers, our priests, our rabbis. The problem is not all authority is just. In this case, it was a simple demonstration of how people can mindlessly obey somebody who looks like authority."
The actor, Rene, was holding a hat that resembled a police officer's hat, and perhaps that's why they followed his ridiculous directions.
In another experiment, audience members are tested on how far they would go when an authority figure asks them to potentially cause harm.
See what happens when Jason, an unsuspecting audience member, is asked to guard a hoodlum with a weapon!


The taser used in the experiment is fake, and the security guard and perpetrator are actors.

[AD]"So, some guy with a hat on just walks up and says, ‘If he moves, hit him with 40,000 volts,' and you gave him 80,000!" Dr. Phil exclaims to Jason. "Are you a mean guy, generally speaking?"

"Not at all," he says.

"Do you have a rough-and-tumble job or something?"

"No, sir. I'm a facility director at our church," Jason says.

"I bet that collection plate fills up this Sunday!" Dr. Phil jokes.

How will a woman react to the job of guarding the perpetrator with a taser?


"You're not only not going to push the button, you're telling him, ‘Run away, so I'm out of the conflict,'" Dr. Phil notes to Sheryl, the audience member in the previous experiment.

"Yeah," Sheryl says.

Dr. Phil informs everyone that Sheryl and Jason are spouses! "We separated them for the experiment, and they did not know the other was part of it, and they reacted in completely different ways," he says.

Sheryl is a youth pastor.

"So, y'all live in the same home, you're from the same community, you have some of the same background, same exposures, same religious beliefs " you fried him " twice," he says to Jason, "and you refused to do it," he says to Sheryl. Dr. Phil gives Sheryl credit for asking for a badge.

"I was so worried about having to cause him pain, I just could not do it," she says.

Dr. Phil asks her, if the bad guy came after her, could she then use the taser on him?

[AD]"Probably not," she says. "I think I probably would've given him my purse and said, ‘Run away.'" She says she's not surprised by her husband's reaction in the experiment. "He's a react quick kind of guy."

Dr. Phil asks Dr. Zimbardo, "Did you expect someone to tase the actor?"

"Oh, sure. We've done this in England. We did it 10 times, and half the people did exactly what he did " just gave it to him on the spot," he says.