Video: What Were You Thinking?

By Chris Hansen Correspondent
Dateline NBC
updated 4/26/2010 4:46:51 PM ET 2010-04-26T20:46:51
transcript

CHRIS HANSEN: We all think we know better. We’re too smart to get fooled, to fall for a scam, to do something that might be dangerous just because someone tells us to. But the truth is there’s more to human nature than we realize.  No matter how intelligent we are, we can be convinced to do all kinds of surprising things. Think I’m fooling you? Just watch.

(Voiceover) When we look at major news events, we see again and again stories about people being duped.

(Clips from balloon boy hoax coverage; John and Elizabeth Edwards, John Edwards; photo of Rielle Hunter and baby; coverage of balloon boy hoax)

Unidentified Reporter: Videotape) There’s nobody in the balloon.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) When this icon of high finance, Bernie Madoff, appeared to promise a path to financial fortunes with absolutely no risk...

(Bernie Madoff being escorted; Madoff)

Unidentified Man #1: (File footage) I had no reason to have any suspicions.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) ...thousands believed him. Why are we so easily taken in? Is there something in our nature that sets us up to be tricked? When this couple showed up at a White House state dinner, even though they weren’t on the guest list...

(Madoff; road signs; man at podium; person playing three-card monte; Tariq and Michaele Salahi; state dinner)

Unidentified Man #2: (File footage) Mr. and Mrs. Salahi.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) ...trained professionals rolled out the red carpet and let them in. It’s puzzling, smart people being duped. It happens to all of us. You know those times when you scratch your head and ask yourself, what were you thinking?

(Photos of Salahis at state dinner; shoes; crowds of people; title graphic)

HANSEN: It all comes down to human nature. Tonight we’re going to show you how we’re hard wired to do things and believe things even when we know deep inside we shouldn’t.

(Voiceover) As children we instinctively follow to survive, and that’s a good thing. We need to trust, obey and follow our parents. We rely on them for our own protection.

(Child taking adult’s hand)

HANSEN: And as we evolved as a species, those instincts stayed with us. But we’ll show you how certain childlike impulses lying deep within us can override rational thought no matter how old we are.

(Voiceover) Over the next hour, we’ll be pushing people’s buttons, showing how easily they can be manipulated into doing things that are not only silly, but seemingly dangerous.

(Lateefah at electronic device; people in elevator; smoke entering room with people in it)

HANSEN: (Voiceover) First, a simple example of how we’re programmed to follow the crowd. Watch what happens when we put our hidden camera in an elevator.  Normally, you enter, press the button and wait. But what if there’s a group, and everyone turns to the back wall, even though it’s obvious there’s no back door? Think you wouldn’t follow? Watch this. See this woman? She’s walking into our elevator full of DATELINE employees. They begin to turn around.  And, sure enough, she can’t resist the urge to do the same. This girl at the back of the elevator seems almost eager to conform, as does this guy. So what about couples? Are they immune to the social pressure? These two hesitate, but eventually follow suit and face the back wall. Our natural impulse to follow the group in an elevator may be innocuous, just an example of social courtesy. But what if lives were at stake?

(People in crowded hall; woman entering elevator; button being pressed; hidden camera of elevator with group of people turning around)

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Just last fall an affluent, educated group on a spiritual retreat entered this sweat lodge, a kind of oversized sauna, designed to purge them of toxins. Many had done this kind of thing before. But this time something went horribly wrong. Despite rising temperatures most of the group decided to remain inside.

(Footage and photos of aftermath of sweat lodge disaster)

Unidentified 911 Operator: (911 call) 911, where is your emergency?

Unidentified Caller: (911 call) Two people aren’t breathing, two with no pulse.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) What were they thinking? Were they simply following the group, ignoring common sense to their own peril? We hired Dr. Michael Shermer, a psychologist and editor of Skeptic magazine, which examines why people believe and do irrational things. He says he’s seen this type of behavior before.

(Crime scene; Michael Shermer talking to group; Skeptic magazine; Chris Hansen talking to Shermer)

Dr. MICHAEL SHERMER: Social conformity is the principle here.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) In this case, Shermer theorizes, that for some the need to fit in outweighed personal concerns for safety.

(Crime scene photo of sweat lodge disaster)

Dr. SHERMER: We’re social primates. Our social group is everything. It’s so important to us.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) And it’s proof, he says, that it’s all hard wired.

(Crime scene photo of sweat lodge disaster)

Dr. SHERMER: And the fact that we’re educated and in a technological, wired society, all that’s irrelevant. Ever since the Enlightenment, we’ve always had this image of humans as rational calculators. We have a good nature, and we can make decisions based on weighing the evidence. But the gullibility happens because it’s the emotional part of the brain that’s driving things.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Just how powerful is that impulse to follow the crowd?  We rented this room on the fourth floor of an old building and we hired these temp workers who were told they’d be doing clerical work for the day. We also rented this machine. It pumps out harmless smoke that just looks dangerous, like toxic vapors or smoke from a fire. We’ll pump those vapors into the room to see how people will react. First, we asked one of the temps we hired to come into the room all by herself and fill out some forms. Hidden cameras are rolling. As she fills out the paperwork, smoke starts to slowly seep in. As the smoke gets thicker, she spots it, sums up the situation and heads straight for the door. You probably think you’d do the same thing, but would you?  Coming up...

(Hansen talking to Shermer; men with cameras in empty room; people climbing stairs; smoke machine by door; room filling with smoke; woman in room where smoke enters; women gets up, leaves; group of people in room with smoke)

JERRY: (Hidden camera) Do you guys see this?

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Will these folks follow common sense or follow the crowd?

When What Were You Thinking? continues.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) We’ve set out to explore if our childlike impulse to follow a group can lead to bad decisions. Watch this. As our hidden cameras roll, we ask a group of people to come into the room and fill out paperwork.  Keep your eye on this woman, Ramona. She’s the only one that doesn’t know smoke is about to seep into the room. The rest, DATELINE staffers, have been instructed to ignore the smoke. Will Ramona follow the crowd or follow common sense? Here come the scary-looking plumes of smoke. The four DATELINE staffers continue working as the clouds of smoke fill the room, but not Ramona.

(People in mall; room filled with staffers and Ramona, all filling out paperwork; smoke entering room)

RAMONA: (Hidden camera) Oh, no.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) When she sees what’s happening, she makes a quick exit.

(Ramona leaving room)

HANSEN: This is one of several social experiments we’re doing for DATELINE NBC to see how people react in different situations.

RAMONA: Whew, boy. Well, I know me. I see something was out of order, I’m going to say something about it.

HANSEN: Even though everybody else here stayed calm?

RAMONA: Yeah.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) We try it again. Here comes Carlos. Again, smoke begins to seep under the door. He sees it, but watch as he looks at the others and goes right back to his paperwork. He doesn’t leave. The next unsuspecting subject, Liz, does the same: looks around, notices no one else appears to be concerned for their safety, and keeps on writing. Each time we pump in more smoke. Now it’s getting hard to see. You’d think this would certainly be cause for concern, surely they’d want to make a move for the door. Nope.  Neither says a word or tries to make an escape. So after more than 10 minutes, the only thing clear in this room is that these people appear to be following the group. So I decide to go in.

(Carlos and staffers entering room; smoke entering room; Carlos and others;

Liz filling out paperwork as smoke enters room; smoke entering room; Carlos working on paperwork as smoke enters room; Hansen entering room, shaking Carlos’ hand)

HANSEN: How you doing? How come you didn’t get up and get out of here with all this smoke in the room?

CARLOS: I was curious, but...

HANSEN: You were curious? What were you thinking?

CARLOS: Figured it was a humidifier, didn’t have a strange scent.

HANSEN: The other folks who were sitting in here with you work for us.

CARLOS: OK.

HANSEN: And they stayed very calm. They didn’t notice the smoke.

CARLOS: I noticed that. It threw me off, that was the only—that I seemed to be the only person in the room that noticed there’s a cloud of billowing smoke. It was concerning at first, yeah.

HANSEN: How close did you come to actually getting up and going to open the door just to check it out?

CARLOS: Very close, but I just figured, finish paperwork, get out of the room.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) What about Liz? She also stayed.

(Liz)

HANSEN: How come you didn’t do anything?

LIZ: Because no one else was doing anything.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Think you’d leave? Chances are you wouldn’t. Turns out in a well-known social experiment similar to ours 90 percent of participants stayed in the smoke-filled room. Let’s see what this last man, Jerry, will do. He looks like a confident, take-charge type. Will that make a difference? Watch his reaction as he sees the smoke—first, a trickle.

(Liz; smoke-filled room; Liz and staffers filling out paperwork in smoke-filled room; Jerry and staffers in room; smoke entering room)

JERRY: (Hidden camera) Is something burning?

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Then it starts pouring in.

(Smoke entering room)

JERRY: (Hidden camera) Do you guys see this?

HANSEN: (Voiceover) As we watch him squirm from the control room next door, we think it’ll only be a matter of seconds before he leaves.

(Hansen watches Jerry and others on screen; Jerry in smoke-filled room)

Unidentified Woman #1: (Hidden camera) I’m sure they would tell us if it was important.

JERRY: (Hidden camera) That wire looks like it’s clearly burning.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Jerry calms down for a moment, but appears perplexed that no one else is reacting. Finally he gets up. Has he had enough? He looks increasingly frustrated, and yet, instead of leaving, he sits right back down and seems unable to focus. Six long minutes go by.

(Jerry and others in smoke-filled room; Jerry approaches smoke; Jerry sits back down; Jerry and others in smoke-filled room)

HANSEN: It’s a little smoky in here.

(Voiceover) And I decide to clear the air.

(Hansen walking up to Jerry)

HANSEN: Chris Hansen with DATELINE NBC. Nice to see you. Did you think about just getting up and getting the heck out of here?

JERRY: I thought about it. I kind of had this thing like, if I didn’t at least try to finish the application, it would kind of be more like they’re more serious than I am, so they might get the job or a better job or whatnot because they just stayed focused.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) It may seem strange, but his decision to stay illustrates the power of group pressure, the need to conform, even if it means seemingly putting ourselves at great risk.

(Jerry in smoke-filled room)

Dr. SHERMER: We are a social species that feels right and good about following our social group.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Dr. Shermer says we feel safe doing what others do, so the pressure to conform outweighs the rational desire to leave.

(Jerry and others in smoke-filled room)

Dr. SHERMER: It’s painful to stand up and be a revolter against the group.

Most of us don’t do that.

HANSEN: Even with smoke pouring in from under the door?

Dr. SHERMER: Even with smoke pouring in, yeah. And normally, you’re going to get the right cues from your social group. Normally people—the group itself would probably have done something.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) But you can’t count on it. The herd followed this man and lost billions of dollars.

(Madoff and paparazzi)

Mr. LEMONT HASKINS: (Hidden camera) Put it down, sir. You win the money.

You win the money.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Are we just like sheep, wired to be fleeced? Coming up, surely this doctor couldn’t get fleeced.

(Man playing three-card monte)

Unidentified Man #3: (Hidden camera) (Unintelligible)...now.

Mr. LEMONT HASKINS: (Hidden camera) Wait, wait, wait.

Man #3: (Hidden camera) Stop.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Or could he? When DATELINE continues.

(Man chasing down Lemont Haskins; Dateline graphic)

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Bernie Madoff convinced thousands they couldn’t lose, and they invested their life savings in his Ponzi scheme. What were they thinking? Sure, some may have been blinded by greed, but there was something else at work here. Deep in the wiring of his victims was that tendency to follow the group.

(Madoff walking; money; Madoff and others)

Man #1: (File footage) From other people telling me all good things about Bernie, I mean, he had a great reputation, I had no reason to have any suspicions.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Now they know Bernie was just pushing their buttons.

(Photo of Madoff and other man)

Dr. SHERMER: A real good con makes you feel like you’re an idiot for not getting in on this.

HANSEN: If you don’t do this.

Dr. SHERMER: If you don’t do this, you have really missed the boat.

(Lecturing) What do you think about this one?

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Social psychologist Dr. Michael Shermer says investors were suckered because Madoff seemed so credible and because they saw people just like them get in on the action.

(Shermer lecturing; photo of Madoff; Madoff walking)

Dr. SHERMER: For a con to work, you want the social signals to be like the mark you’re going for. ‘He’s dressed like me. He looks like me. He’s articulate like me. I want to get a part of that.’

HANSEN: (Voiceover) In fact, he says, the same forces are at work in one of the oldest cons in the book: three-card monte.

(Haskins running three-card monte game)

Mr. HASKINS: (Hidden camera) Who sees this? Watch the little lady.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) We hired sleight-of-hand expert Lemont Haskins. Think of him as Bernie Madoff, a friendly dealer promising a group of people they can’t lose at his game.

(Haskins running three-card monte game)

Mr. HASKINS: (Hidden camera) Watch it again. Don’t let the lady go, you crazy.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) The game starts with three cards, two black aces and a red queen. The object is to keep your eye on the queen as the dealer moves it around. Watch carefully to see if you can guess where she is when he stops.  Think it’s the one on the right? Guess again.

(Haskins running three-card monte game; screen freezes, starts back up)

Mr. HASKINS: (Hidden camera) Black. There I’ll show you there. I’m going to take the money away from it.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) It’s nearly impossible to win with a dealer like Lemont, especially with help. These three DATELINE colleagues are in on the con.  Lemont made sure they win. The idea is for the innocent bystanders to see our accomplices winning in order to entice them to place their own bets.  Remember, the charm of a Ponzi scheme like Madoff’s is that others appear to be making money.

(Haskins running three-card monte game)

Mr. HASKINS: (Hidden camera) Black. Oh, sir, you win the money. That’s the only way you do it.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) In no time, a crowd gathers...

(People watching Haskins run three-card monte game)

Mr. HASKINS: (Hidden camera) You think it’s the center. Center. Center it is. Center, I pay. Center it is. Center I pay.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) ...and watches as our DATELINE accomplices appear to be big winners.

(People watching Haskins run three-card monte game)

Mr. HASKINS: (Hidden camera) Twenty. I pay the 20. I pay the winner just right this is now.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Stephanie, who’s with us, tries to convince this woman to throw her money down.

(Stephanie and woman)

STEPHANIE: (Hidden camera) I’m not that bad after all.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) And just as Madoff victims followed their peer group, she follows Stephanie and puts her money down...

(People watching Haskins run three-card monte game)

Mr. HASKINS: (Hidden camera) Go ahead, point to it right over there. Try it over there. Black. Black, black. That’s the way.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) ...and loses her $20.

(Woman)

STEPHANIE: (Hidden camera) Oh, no. I’m sorry.

Unidentified Woman #2: I guess I saw the other lady that was standing there, who I guess maybe was with you.

HANSEN: She was. She was.

Woman #2: (Voiceover) You know, she was betting her money and I was helping her bet, and then I was kind of like hey, you know, why not bet my own money?

(Stephanie and woman playing three-card monte)

HANSEN: Exactly. Why not make an easy $20?

Woman #2: Because I was winning for her. Right.

Mr. HASKINS: (Hidden camera) Twenty gets you 40.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) And she’s not alone. Watch this guy. Can he follow the red queen?

(Man watching three-card monte game)

Mr. HASKINS: (Hidden camera) Twenty gets you 40. Just show me 20. Put the card on the money, right there. Put it on. Turn it over, sir. Turn it over, sir. Turn it over, sir. Turn it over, sir. That’s black.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) He loses once, then bets again.

(People watching Haskins run three-card monte game)

Mr. HASKINS: (Hidden camera) Come on, right there. You’ll get it. You’ll get it. Right over that way, there’s the 10, there’s where the 10. Turn it over. Oh, my goodness! Hold it!

HANSEN: Did you know that there’s really no way to win if the con man is good enough?

Unidentified Man #4: Really?

HANSEN: They’ll beat you every time.

Mr. HASKINS: (Hidden camera) You win 20, you win 20, you show me 20.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) When this man shows up he heads for our DATELINE colleague, someone he appears to relate to. He’s dressed like him and about the same age.

(People watching Haskins run three-card monte game)

Mr. HASKINS: (Hidden camera) You pay the 20 here, put it down, you win it.  Go ahead, simple as that. As simple as that. Put it down, sir. Put it down, sir.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) He puts down his money, and of course loses.

(Man putting down money on three-card monte)

Mr. HASKINS: (Hidden camera) Just like that. Hold it right, just like that.

Man #4: (Hidden camera) No, no, no.

Mr. HASKINS: (Hidden camera) This is—this right here is 20. One second.

One second, sir.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Like those Madoff victims, he’s outraged when he realizes he’s been tricked.

(Man yelling at Haskins)

Mr. HASKINS: (Hidden camera) You want to slide, slide.

Man #4: (Hidden camera) I gave you 20.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Our dealer senses trouble and gives the signal for everyone to scatter, hoping to avoid a confrontation.

(Haskins talking to man)

Mr. HASKINS: (Hidden camera) That’s all it is. This guy’s doing it is, that’s all it is, is crazy.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Dragging his little pooch, he gets all over six-foot-three Lemont.

(Man following Haskins)

Man #4: (Hidden camera) Give me your name. I want to know your name right now.

Mr. HASKINS: (Hidden camera) You see my name, wait.

Man #4: (Hidden camera) You just stole.

Mr. HASKINS: (Hidden camera) You lose—I didn’t steal no money.

Man #4: (Hidden camera) Twenty bucks. You stole 20 bucks.

Mr. HASKINS: (Hidden camera) What you want me to do? What you want me to do?

Man #4: (Hidden camera) I call the police. I call the police.

Mr. HASKINS: (Hidden camera) Fine, call the police? Call the police.

There’s the police right there.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) We had an off-duty cop standing by. He steps in and breaks it up. Turns out our angry victim’s a doctor.

(Man approaching Haskins and other man; man)

HANSEN: Did you really think you could win the game?

Man #4: Well, I guess in the moment I thought I could. But obviously no.

HANSEN: Well, here’s the great news. Here’s your 20 bucks back.

Man #4: Oh, thank you.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) He and everyone else who bet got their money back. So what does our expert Dr. Shermer think?

(Man taking $20 from Hansen; Hansen talking to Shermer)

Dr. SHERMER: Yeah.

HANSEN: Here’s a guy who’s a doctor.

Dr. SHERMER: Doctor, yep.

HANSEN: He’s out walking his dog on a beautiful evening, and he sees three-card monte.

Dr. SHERMER: Yep. Right. You can be as smart as you can be and still be just as gullible. You’re even better at rationalizing the beliefs because you’re smarter and more educated.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) And there was another thing that caused some Madoff victims to get taken. They were made to feel special. They believed only a select few were invited to invest.

(Madoff exiting building)

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) I’m blown away right now.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Up next, we’ll try to convince these people they’re special, that they have extraordinary powers beyond mortal men. Will that be enough to separate them from their money?

(Hannah; man watching screen; man; woman watching something; Hannah and Jeremy)

HANNAH: (Hidden camera) I don’t know what to think.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) And later, a reality show that isn’t real. How far will these contestants go?

(Man pushing button; Julie pushing button as Jeremy watches)

LATEEFAH: (Hidden camera) I will administer 150 volts.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) You’re in for a surprise, maybe even a shock, when What Were You Thinking? continues.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Someone who says he’s an important bank official from overseas sends you a letter saying he’s in trouble. Only you can help him.  In return, he’ll give you millions of dollars. The catch? You have to hand over some of your own money first. Sound ridiculous? Maybe so, but thousands of people have fallen for scams just like it. We’ve done stories about it here at DATELINE, like this woman who lost thousands to a Nigerian Internet scam. What was she thinking?

(E-mail excerpts; money falling; money being counted; woman on computer)

Unidentified Woman #3: Maybe God was selecting me for a special mission or something like that.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Again it’s those childlike impulses deep within our psyche being manipulated, in this case by an authority figure pushing the right buttons, making her think she’s special.

(Crowd of people in hall; woman on computer; e-mail)

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) Just have a seat.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) To illustrate this point, once again we bring in temp workers who think they’ve been hired to do clerical work, but we have something else in mind.

(Jeremy, Hannah and others in room)

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) Going to show you a few videos.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Can we fool them into believing they’re special then take their money?

(Hannah and others in room)

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) I’ll tell you a little bit about our company.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Their boss, Jeremy, is really an actor hired by us. He tells them his company studies paranormal phenomena and tests everyone who works for the company to see if they have extrasensory perception. They all agree to be tested.

(Jeremy telling people about company, giving them questionnaires)

Unidentified Man #5: (Videotape) Thank you for taking part in this highly selective experiment.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) We prepared this ESP aptitude test. All the actors in the video are really DATELINE colleagues who, as far as we know, have no paranormal powers.

(Fake ESP video; people watching video)

Man #5: (Videotape) Now Bijou, sitting right here next to me, possesses ESP ability. He will begin thinking of one of those utensils and transmit the image to you.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) We tell the group that this man in the video is transmitting his thoughts through the monitor. He’s concentrating very hard on one of these utensils.

(Bijou staring at camera; fake ESP video)

Man #5: (Videotape) Is it the knife, fork, spoon, tongs or the whisk?

HANSEN: (Voiceover) We tell them if they can select the one he’s thinking about, it’s proof they have special psychic powers. Let’s find out whether or not this woman, Hannah, has ESP.

(Fake ESP video; Hannah)

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) Just take a breath, relax and, again, nobody ever does very well at this. So...

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Hannah follows the instructions and checks off which utensil she thinks is being mentally transmitted. In this case, she believes the man in the video, our telepath, is thinking of the fork. She’s the only one to choose the fork.

(Hannah taking ESP test; people watching video)

Man #5: (Videotape) If you were thinking of the fork, you’ve answered correctly.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) And she gets it right. The test continues. This time Hannah picks the whisk.

(Hannah; fake ESP video; Hannah taking test)

Man #5: (Videotape) She will now point to the utensil he was transmitting.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Wow. Two in a row. Can she really be psychic?

(Fake ESP video; Hannah)

Man #5: (Videotape) Only 3 percent of all people taking this test are able to get two answers correct.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Now for the final test. She thinks he’s imagining the spoon. Could it be?

(Hannah; Bijou)

Man #5: (Videotape) The image Bijou was transmitting was a spoon.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Hannah gets it right again.

(Hannah)

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) You passed?

HANNAH: (Hidden camera) Yeah.

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) You did not.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) She’s the only one to choose the correct utensil all three times. What she doesn’t know is that the other three people, the ones apparently who have no ESP, are working for us. It looks like she’s pretty proud of herself, but as you may have guessed, Hannah’s been had.

(Hannah and others in room; Hannah)

Man #5: (Hidden camera) When you have a clear picture, write it down.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Jeremy watched Hannah’s choice and clicked on a different corner of the play button to match her answer so she’d always be right.

(Jeremy watching Hannah, clicking “play”)

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) She passed the test.

Unidentified Woman #4: (Hidden camera) Someone actually got it right?

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) Yeah. Yeah.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) So have we convinced Hannah she has special psychic abilities?

(Hannah and Jeremy)

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) I’ve been doing this for a while.

HANNAH: (Hidden camera) Mm-hmm.

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) And maybe once every year, year and a half, someone does what you just did.

HANNAH: (Hidden camera) Oh, really?

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) Yeah. Have you ever noticed that you had any inkling of things before they’re happening or as they’re happening?

HANNAH: (Hidden camera) No.

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) No?

HANNAH: (Hidden camera) I get a lot of deja vu, but that’s about it.

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) You do?

HANNAH: (Hidden camera) Mm-hmm.

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) Interesting. That’s one of the indicators, actually, that a person has this.

HANNAH: (Hidden camera) Oh, OK.

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) We think it has to do with the hypothalamus.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) The hypothalamus? Jeremy’s improv is all part of the act. He also tells her he might hire her to work at his fictitious company, the one that studies the paranormal.

(Jeremy and Hannah talking)

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) The pay is quite good, as you might imagine.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) But to cash in, she needs to cough up some of her own money to develop her talents. She has to give up her pay for the day.

(Jeremy and Hannah)

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) What I need you to do is have some more training done. And so I’m going to ask you to sign over today’s pay. I don’t know if you’re interested, but...

HANNAH: (Hidden camera) I know, it’s weird. I don’t know what to think.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Will Hannah give up her cash to develop her ESP abilities?

(Hannah and Jeremy)

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) This is just a simple waiver of today’s pay that says you’re interested in doing the training.

HANNAH: (Hidden camera) OK. OK.

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) After the filing’s done.

HANNAH: (Hidden camera) OK, yeah.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Sure enough, she falls for it. She signs a document and, believe it or not, gives us her pay for the day.

(Hannah signing paper)

HANNAH: (Hidden camera) Yeah, the mind’s always interested me. I majored in psychology...

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) Oh, you did?

HANNAH: (Hidden camera) ...in college.

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) Oh, OK.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) She thinks she’ll be doing clerical work for the next seven hours for free in return for the chance to develop her psychic skills.  It’s time to let her in on the ruse.

(Jeremy and Hannah)

HANSEN: Hey, Hannah, how are you?

HANNAH: Hi. Good. How you doing?

HANSEN: Chris Hansen with DATELINE NBC.

HANNAH: Hi.

HANSEN: How’s everything?

(Voiceover) I tell her she has no special powers. She’s a good sport and agrees to talk to me.

(Hansen talking to Hannah)

HANSEN: And you are getting paid today, by the way.

HANNAH: OK.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) She says she wasn’t entirely convinced that she had ESP, but was willing to explore the possibility.

(Hannah and others taking ESP test)

HANSEN: Did the fact that the other folks didn’t do as well as you did impact your decision?

HANNAH: Of course.

HANSEN: It made you feel special?

HANNAH: Right.

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) So I’ll just ask you to take this test with an open mind.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) But not everybody fell for it. From the start, this man said he doesn’t believe in the paranormal. When he passed the ESP test, he refused to give up his pay.

(Man taking ESP test)

Unidentified Man #6: (Hidden camera) Well, I’m not going to make a monetary commitment.

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) OK.

HANSEN: Did you buy any of it?

Man #6: No, not really. I had no images forming in my head, and so I just thought, well, I’ll pick whatever, so.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) What about this next man? He also told us he’s a skeptic.

(Man taking ESP test)

Man #5: (Videotape) Clear your thoughts. Count to three.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) But as you can see, he’s taking the test seriously.

(Man taking test)

Man #5: (Videotape) We will reveal the object once you have finished writing down your answer.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) And, of course, he passes the test. Now that we’ve shown him he possesses psychic abilities, can we take his money?

(Jeremy and man)

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) I know that you’re a skeptic, but based on this test we would like you to do some further testing and then possibly training after that.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Apparently, this skeptic has become a believer and hands over his pay.

(Man signing document)

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) All right. Cool. And then I’m going to sign this, too, right here.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Like so many other scam victims, the lure of cashing in on some outlandish opportunity was stronger than rational thought. After all, what are the chances that anyone really can read minds?

(Jeremy and man)

HANSEN: How do you feel now that he got you to turn over a day’s pay?

Unidentified Man #7: Like—pretty much like a complete jackass, I would say so.

HANSEN: Well, that’s not the purpose of this, by the way. It’s to understand how people’s minds work in these situations.

Man #7: Mm-hmm. Well, I understand a little bit more about myself now.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) We’ve seen how our internal wiring can be manipulated so we can seemingly hurt ourselves financially and even physically.

(People taking fake ESP test; Hannah; smoke filling room with people doing paperwork)

JEREMY: I’m not going to lie. It’s going to hurt.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) But what’s more frightening is how those natural impulses can be used to unintentionally turn on others. Coming up...

(Julie and Tyler talking to Jeremy)

LATEEFAH: (Hidden camera) I will administer 225 volts.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) No pain, no gain. A fake reality show provokes some real questions when What Were You Thinking? continues.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Welcome to a casting call for a new reality show called “What a Pain!”

(People waiting outside door; “What a Pain!” poster)

JEREMY: Thank you so much.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) These six applicants are here to audition. But as you’ve probably guessed, the show isn’t real. It’s a setup to see if we can demonstrate something deeply rooted in all of us. As we explained earlier, we’re hard wired to obey our parents, and as adults that survival instinct continues with our need to obey authority. For instance, we listen to the police or firemen in order to avoid danger. But that same instinct to obey can be manipulated, revealing a darker side of our nature. This machine is called a shock generator. It’s a replica of one used by social psychologist Stanley Milgram back in the 1960s.

(Woman, Lateefah, Julie, Aranit, man and Emily waiting outside door; people on sidewalk in forest; children following man; policemen on street; people crossing street; people with children; shock generator; original shock generator)

Unidentified Man #8: (File footage) This machine generates an electric shock.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) He was trying to figure out why so many average German citizens were convinced to go along with the annihilation of the Jews. He proved most people could easily be convinced to inflict harm on others if an authority figure told them it was OK.

(Nazi assembly; Adolf Hitler; shock generator; man at desk)

Unidentified Man #9: (File footage) Let me out of here! Let me out!

Unidentified Man #10: (File footage) Continue, please.

Dr. SHERMER: This is how evil happens.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) The aspiring contestants on “What a Pain!” certainly aren’t evil. But will any of them illustrate just how easily we can all be made to follow orders?

(Jeremy calling Emily into room)

JEREMY: So basically the show is about how pain affects people’s behavior.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Meet our first aspiring reality show star.

(Jeremy and Emily talking)

EMILY: I want to be on “What a Pain!” because it sounds very—like a very interesting experience.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) She’s told the game begins with one player asking questions to test another player’s memory.

(Jeremy and Emily talking)

JEREMY: You can take off your coat.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Emily will be the contestant asking the questions. Now meet Tyler.

(Jeremy, Emily and Tyler in room)

JEREMY: You can sit right down here, Tyler.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) He’ll be answering the question.

(Questionnaire)

JEREMY: If he gets it right, we move on to the next question. If he gets it wrong, something else happens.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) That something else is Tyler getting an electric shock.  Only Tyler is working with us. He won’t actually be shocked, but Emily doesn’t know that. Our casting director Jeremy asks Tyler to memorize 20 pairs of words. Emily will be testing him on them in a minute.

(Jeremy, Tyler and Emily talking; list of words)

JEREMY: So for instance, hair color, bird wing, blue box, wild duck, ink printer.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Then Jeremy prepares to strap Tyler into our version of an electric chair. Remember, it’s just a fake. Will Emily be willing to shock Tyler each time he answers incorrectly?

(Jeremy, Emily and Tyler talking)

JEREMY: So what I’m going to do here is I’m just going to put a little of this gel on your wrist.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Emily has seen enough.

(Emily)

JEREMY: Yeah, so...

EMILY: This isn’t really my thing.

JEREMY: No?

EMILY: No. Sorry.

JEREMY: You don’t want to try it out?

EMILY: No. Thank you, though. I think I might leave.

JEREMY: OK. Why not?

EMILY: Just not my thing. I thought—no. Just...

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Emily has no interest in shocking Tyler.

(Emily leaving)

EMILY: OK. Nice to meet you.

JEREMY: We have your contact info. Thank you.

EMILY: Oh, OK.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) But there are five other reality star wannabes. Will they obey? This is Julie. She watches intently as our casting director straps Tyler in.

(Julie, woman, Aranit, man and Lateefah in front of “What a Pain!” posters;

Julie, Jeremy and Tyler talking)

JEREMY: I’m just going to get Tyler all wired up.

(Hidden camera) Here we are.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Then she’s escorted next door and given instructions on how to use the machine. She doesn’t know she’s being recorded on hidden camera.

(Julie and Jeremy entering room with machine)

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) Each time he gets one wrong, you will go up in voltage, right? All the way until the test is completed.

JULIE: (Hidden camera) OK.

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) All right?

JULIE: (Hidden camera) OK.

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) Great. Are you ready?

JULIE: (Hidden camera) Yeah.

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) Cool. Let’s do it.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) The voltage marked on the machine goes from a mild 15 volts to a potentially lethal 450 volts. And just so you know, the voltage that comes from our home socket is only 120 volts. But the machine is really a hollow box and doesn’t generate electricity. If any contestant appears emotionally distraught, we’ll stop the game and reveal Tyler was just acting.

(Shock generator machine; electrical outlets; shock generator machine; Jeremy and Julie; Tyler in room)

JULIE: (Hidden camera) OK. The second word is “bird.” And the options are...

HANSEN: (Voiceover) The right answer is number two, but Tyler pushes number four, intentionally giving the wrong answer. What will Julie do?

(Tyler in room; “4” lighting up on machine; Julie and Jeremy)

JULIE: (Hidden camera) So now you’re going to get a little 15 shock volt coming at you.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Again he answers incorrectly. And again.

(Julie and Jeremy)

JULIE: (Hidden camera) OK, Tyler, you got that one wrong. The next one is 75 volts.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) At this point we’ve instructed Tyler to cry out in pain.

(Julie)

TYLER: (Hidden camera) Ah!

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Will Julie continue zapping Tyler?

(Julie)

JULIE: (Hidden camera) I don’t think I want to keep doing this.

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) Please continue.

JULIE: (Hidden camera) No, I’m sorry. I don’t—I don’t think I want to.

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) It’s absolutely imperative that you continue.

JULIE: (Hidden camera) It’s imperative that I continue? I think that—I’m like, I’m OK with it. I think I’m good.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Our casting director, acting as the authority figure, doesn’t let up.

(Jeremy and Julie)

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) You really have no other choice. I need you to continue until the end of the test.

JULIE: (Hidden camera) No. I’m sorry. I can just see where this is going, and I just—I don’t—I think I’m good. I think I’m good to go.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Julie stands her ground. Her compliance only goes so far.

(Julie and Jeremy)

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) Well, I just want to introduce you to a colleague of mine, OK? Do you mind?

JULIE: (Hidden camera) OK.

HANSEN: I’m Chris Hansen.

JULIE: OK.

HANSEN: And this is for a television show, but it’s actually for DATELINE NBC.

JULIE: Are you kidding?

HANSEN: What was going through your mind as he was trying to convince you to stay and continue to shock the contestant?

JULIE: I didn’t want to hurt Tyler. And then I just wanted to get out. And I’m mad that I let it even go five. I’m sorry, Tyler.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Tyler tells her he was never shocked.

(Tyler and Julie)

TYLER: Making sure I’m all OK, in one piece.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Julie stopped zapping Tyler after five wrong answers, but there are other contestants ready to take their turn at the machine. Coming up...

(Julie, Tyler and Hansen; Lateefah; woman and Jeremy, and guy at shock generator)

ARANIT: (Hidden camera) I’m going to hurt you, and I’m really sorry.

TYLER: (Hidden camera) Oh! Oh, don’t!

HANSEN: (Voiceover) What was he thinking? When DATELINE continues.

HANSEN: We’re doing a series of social experiments...

JULIE: Oh, my goodness.

HANSEN: ...on things like obedience to authority.

(Voiceover) We’re trying to find out if these aspiring actors will follow their hard-wired impulse to obey authority and shock someone simply because they’re told it’s OK.

(Man, Julie, Aranit, woman and Lateefah in front of “What a Pain!” graphic;

Julie at shock generator)

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) Please continue.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) They think they’re here to be on a reality show called “What a Pain!” where it’s all part of the game to administer electric shocks to fellow contestants. This woman drew the line.

(Jeremy with others outside door; “What a Pain!” graphic; Jeremy and Julie at shock generator)

JULIE: (Hidden camera) I think I’m going to leave now.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) What will our next contestant do? She’s bubbling over with enthusiasm as she enters the room. But will it last?

(Jeremy and Lateefah entering room)

JEREMY: It’s going to hurt, but no permanent damage will occur.

TYLER: I can take it. I can take it.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) She watches as Tyler, who’s working with us, is attached to what looks like an electrode and strapped into our makeshift electric chair.

(Lateefah, Tyler and Jeremy in room)

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) So this little gizmo is our voltage generator.

Lateefah: (Hidden camera) OK.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Remember, Tyler isn’t really getting shocked, but Lateefah doesn’t know that.

(Lateefah and Jeremy at shock generator)

LATEEFAH: (Hidden camera) I am the worst when it comes to pain. You could just like poke me, I’m like, “ah!”

HANSEN: (Voiceover) She’s told to zap him and increase the intensity with each wrong answer.

(Lateefah and Jeremy in room with shock generator)

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) Perfect.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) As our hidden cameras roll, you can see Lateefah is visibly upset each time she has to shock Tyler.

(Lateefah and Jeremy in room with shock generator)

Lateefah: (Hidden camera) I will administer 120 volts.

TYLER: (Hidden camera) Ah! Ah! I—OK, guys, this really hurts.

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) Please continue.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) You can hear her voice begin to crack.

(Lateefah at shock generator)

Lateefah: (Hidden camera) That was incorrect. I will administer 135 volts.

TYLER: (Hidden camera) Ah! Ah!

Lateefah: (Hidden camera) That was incorrect. I will administer 150 volts.

TYLER: (Hidden camera) Ah! Ah! Hey, that’s all. That’s—get me out of here. Get me out of here, I refuse to go on.

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) Please continue.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) She gets more distraught with each wrong answer, but keeps on following orders.

(Lateefah and Jeremy in room with shock generator)

Lateefah: (Hidden camera) I will administer 180 volts.

TYLER: (Hidden camera) Ah! Ah! Get me out of here! I refuse to go on! Let me out!

Lateefah: (Hidden camera) Oh, my gosh. I’m getting like—I can’t.

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) Please. Please go on.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) She’s clearly upset, her earlier enthusiasm gone.

(Lateefah and Jeremy in room with shock generator)

Lateefah: (Hidden camera) Like, I know I’m not the one feeling the pain, but I hear him screaming and asking to get out, and it’s almost like my instinct and gut is like, ‘Stop,’ because you’re hurting somebody and you don’t even know why you’re hurting them outside of the fact that it’s for a TV show.

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) Please continue.

Lateefah: (Hidden camera) Oh, my God. The next subject is wine.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Now we’ve instructed our actor Tyler to stop answering questions and to stop screaming out in pain.

(Lateefah and Jeremy in room with shock generator)

Lateefah: (Hidden camera) If you don’t respond within 20 seconds, I will have to administer 300 volts.

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) OK.

Lateefah: (Hidden camera) Administer?

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) Yeah.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) The room becomes eerily quiet, and yet Lateefah keeps shocking. But she seems so disturbed that I decide it’s time to go in and give her a break.

(Lateefah and Jeremy in room with shock generator)

HANSEN: Hey, Lateefah, I’m Chris Hansen with NBC. You looked a little upset.

Lateefah: Hi, how are you?

HANSEN: I thought maybe we could interrupt here for a minute. Are you OK?

Lateefah: Hi. Yeah.

HANSEN: Yeah. Were you getting a little upset?

HANSEN: Yeah. My heart’s beating really fast.

HANSEN: All right, well, calm down. Now, why did you continue to shock him?

Lateefah: I didn’t know what was going to happen to me if I stopped.

HANSEN: What was it about Jeremy that convinced you that you should keep going here?

Lateefah: He just—he had no emotion. I was afraid of him.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) We’ll get back to Lateefah in a minute. Right now another contestant is ready to go. So far our participants have been women. How will a man do?

(Hansen and Lateefah talking; Aranit and Jeremy entering room with shock generator)

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) And it’s just a very simple piece of equipment.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Will he stand up to our casting director? Aranit gets right into the game and quickly works his way up the shock panel.

(Jeremy and Aranit in room with shock generator)

ARANIT: (Hidden camera) Hope you don’t miss this, because the voltage is going to be 105.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) While Aranit seems sympathetic, he doesn’t hesitate to flick the switch.

(Jeremy and Aranit in room with shock generator)

ARANIT: (Hidden camera) I’m really sorry. We are now at 120 volt.

TYLER: (Hidden camera) Ah!

HANSEN: (Voiceover) He never questions the authority of the casting director sitting right behind him. He’s praised for following orders.

(Jeremy and Aranit in room with shock generator)

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) Good job.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) So he keeps on shocking him.

(Jeremy and Aranit in room with shock generator)

ARANIT: (Hidden camera) We are at 180 volt.

TYLER: (Hidden camera) Ah! Stop!

HANSEN: (Voiceover) It’s not that he doesn’t seem to feel his pain...

(Jeremy and Aranit in room with shock generator)

TYLER: (Hidden camera) Let me go!

ARANIT: (Hidden camera) Hey, Tyler? Does it hurt? I’m sorry.

TYLER: (Hidden camera) Ah!

ARANIT: (Hidden camera) Here’s the number 21.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) ...but he goes on.

(Jeremy and Aranit in room with shock generator)

ARANIT: (Hidden camera) Aye-yi-yi. Oh, I’m going to hurt you, and I’m really sorry.

TYLER: (Hidden camera) Ah!

ARANIT: (Hidden camera) Come on. You can do this.

TYLER: (Hidden camera) Let me out!

ARANIT: (Hidden camera) You can do this. We are almost through.

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) Good. Good.

TYLER: (Hidden camera) I can’t feel my legs!

ARANIT: (Hidden camera) OK, let’s continue.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Now we’ve reached the point where Tyler goes silent.

(Jeremy and Aranit in room with shock generator)

ARANIT: (Hidden camera) He’s not answering.

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) We’re almost there.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Will Aranit finally stand up to authority?

(Jeremy and Aranit in room with shock generator)

ARANIT: (Hidden camera) Please give me an answer, or I’m going to free 405 volt in your body.

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) Five seconds.

ARANIT: (Hidden camera) Five seconds. Four, three, two, one. I hope you’re doing all right over there.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Finally, 450 volts...

(Jeremy and Aranit in room with shock generator)

ARANIT: (Hidden camera) This is going to hurt.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) ...the maximum voltage of the machine.

(Jeremy and Aranit in room with shock generator)

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) Good.

ARANIT: Hey.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) I’m wondering, what was he thinking?

(Hansen entering room with Aranit)

HANSEN: How did it go today?

ARANIT: Great. Great. I like it, yeah.

HANSEN: Did it bother you to shock him?

ARANIT: Oh, yeah, it did. Actually, it did. And especially when he wasn’t answering anymore.

HANSEN: Now, what impact do you think 350 volts has on a human being?

ARANIT: Death.

HANSEN: Death. Were you worried that maybe you would electrocute Tyler?

ARANIT: No, of course no.

HANSEN: So you believed the producers of the show had it all set up so...

ARANIT: Oh, of course. Otherwise, I wouldn’t go on. What’s the point?

HANSEN: Now, the next thing I want to do is bring in Tyler, because I want you to know that he’s actually OK. Tyler’s an actor.

ARANIT: Well, I’m glad to hear that. And I’m glad to see that. I didn’t hurt you actually, did I?

TYLER: No.

ARANIT: Yeah, I had Jeremy here telling me ‘keep going.’ I was like, ‘well, should be everything all right,’ so...

HANSEN: So he was a pretty good host here, wasn’t he?

ARANIT: Yeah. So let’s say that I left all the responsibilities up to him and not to me.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) We asked psychologist Michael Shermer what was going on here.

(Hansen talking to Shermer)

Dr. SHERMER: They’re all looking at your actor for the cue that, ‘Is this OK?’

HANSEN: (Voiceover) In other words, if an authority figure says the behavior is acceptable...

(Aranit at shock generator)

ARANIT: (Hidden camera) You can do this. We are almost through.

JEREMY: (Hidden camera) Good. Good.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) ...it becomes acceptable.

(Jeremy and Aranit in room with shock generator)

Dr. SHERMER: And, boy, your actor was good. I mean, he had that authoritative look and voice down. And, of course, that’s how it works in the real world.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) And just like Dr. Milgram’s 1960s results proved, apparently the human impulse to believe what we shouldn’t and to go along with authority is alive and well. Think you wouldn’t obey? Five of our six contestants willingly administered shocks; three went all the way to the maximum voltage.

(Man at shock generator; Jeremy and Aranit in room with shock generator; woman at shock generator; man at shock generator; Julie, Lateefah, Aranit, woman, man at shock generator)

Unidentified Man #11: (Hidden camera) I got no more.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Remember Lateefah? We stopped her because she seemed anguished almost every step of the way.

(Hansen talking to Lateefah)

HANSEN: Lateefah, there’s something I’ve got to tell you.

Lateefah: Yes.

HANSEN: This is going to be on TV, but it’s going to be on DATELINE NBC.

LATEEFAH: Oh, my God. Are you serious?

HANSEN: We’re doing a series of social experiments...

LATEEFAH: Oh, my God.

HANSEN: ...to determine why people act the way they do.

LATEEFAH: Where is Tyler?

HANSEN: Hey, Tyler, come on in, buddy.

LATEEFAH: Tyler, oh, my God.

HANSEN: Tyler is an actor who helped us out.

TYLER: Hey.

HANSEN: And he did not get hurt one bit.

LATEEFAH: Oh, my gosh. I thought I was hurting you.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Dr. Shermer says any one of us can be manipulated into believing and doing things we shouldn’t. He says it happens gradually.

(Lateefah hugging Tyler)

Dr. SHERMER: The abuse gets a little bit worse and a little bit worse, such that your standards of tolerance get readjusted upwards to where you’re willing to impose even more evil than you ever normally would do.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) So how can we stop ourselves from being gullible? The key, Dr. Shermer says, is to be conscious of our vulnerabilities.

(People turning around in elevator; Jerry at table; man playing three-card monte; Jeremy and Aranit in room with shock generator)

Dr. SHERMER: The rub here is to find that balance between having a mind open enough that you can accept good opportunities, but not so open minded you end up believing any and all wacky ideas that come along. There’s a balance in there somewhere, and that’s difficult to find.

JEREMY: No hug for Jeremy, huh?

HANSEN: (Voiceover) So the next time you hear a little voice inside saying, “warning,” pay attention.

(Lateefah hugging Jeremy)

HANSEN: So what do you think the lesson in all this is? I mean, it’s a little fresh, very emotional, maybe...

LATEEFAH: The lesson that I keep having to learn...

HANSEN: Yes.

LATEEFAH: ...follow my freaking gut.

HANSEN: There you go.

LATEEFAH: My instinct was telling me stop, and I kept going for whatever reason.

HANSEN: You’ll be seeing more What Were You Thinking? experiments soon here on DATELINE, and check our Web site for an experiment we tried with a group of fifth graders.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive. Reprints

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