Gameshow hosts have so much power over people that contestants are willing to do anything they're told, including torture each other to death, research suggests.

Psychologists from the University of Paris simulated the recording of a new programme in a real TV studio with an audience and a well-known weather girl as the host.

Recruiters found 80 contestants to take part in what they thought was a show called Zone Xtreme. They were introduced to another contestant called 'Jean Paul', played by an actor, who was sent to a separate part of the studio where he could be heard but not seen.

Each of the contestants was told by the host to ask 'Jean Paul' a series of 27 questions and apply what they thought was an electric shock of increasing strength for each wrong answer.


More than eight in ten - 64 contestants - administered the maximum 460 volts, which could cause death, despite hearing 'Jean Paul' cry out, scream and beg to stop the game. If they wavered, Miss Young intervened with lines such as "Don't let yourself get upset" and "Go on, we are taking all the responsibility for this".

Only 16 of the 80 contestants refused to continue with the programme.

The experiment was broadcast as part of a documentary entitled Game of Death for French network, France 2, in 2010, but the analysis and findings have just been published in the European Review of Applied Psychology.

"It has long been known that television and television hosts had influence on viewers," the researchers said.

"We suspected they could also have prescriptive powers to [influence] people's behaviour, including cruel and immoral behaviours. Until now this had never been shown."

The experiment was a twist on the 1960s research by US academic Stanley Milgram, who examined why ordinary people were prepared to commit horrific atrocities in Nazi Germany.

He found 80 per cent of his subjects inflicted pain on a stranger when ordered to do so by a figure in authority such as a scientist.

The French experiment reveals that this "authority figure" is far broader than previously realised.