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article imageUniversity fine-print leaves students electrified... literally

By Nikki Weingartner     Mar 7, 2009 in World
DePaul University students in Chicago, IL learned a valuable lesson in contracts when all but four consented to some pretty horrific terms. Although the form was an experiment, when presented with an actual consent form, the actions were repeated.
Those fortunate enough to have been involved with any sort of governmental red tape will know the drill all too well. That packet of forms known as the gateway that leads you through document after painful document full of micro-type legalese and of course, ending in one's John Hancock. It could be safe to say that given the age of the reader and well, the fatigue and frustration level associated with the bureaucracy, many simply sign without fully reading or understanding that which they sign, right?
To test the theory that people simply do not read that which they sign, a group of undergraduate students at DePaul University in Chicago, IL were asked to sign a consent form as part of research for course credit. The consent form in question was three pages long, with some very shocking terms included in the fine print. Still, out of 91 students, 87 of those blindly agreed to the terms by signing away their consent.
So what was in the form? According to a report in The Huffington Post:
The contract committed students to "administering electric shocks to fellow participants...even if that participant screamed, cried, and asked for medical assistance. It also required participants to do push-ups." The contract forbade signees to leave the lab without the experimenter's permission.
Essentially, 87 students consented to shocking their peers despite their right to refusal or cries for help. The subjects responded to their blind ignorance by the standard show of intelligence: rolling of the eyes and laughter. They learned a valuable lesson, right? Wrong!
After the joke was over and they all had their laugh, the study professor and her team shredded the evidence of the faux-consent form and presented a real consent form that would enable the researchers to use the data they had just obtained from the students. Out of the 87 students who originally consented to the crazy terms and had hopefully learned their lesson, just under 60 percent of those repeated the same carelessness as before either by not reading, barely skimming or briefly looking at only a few provisions and terms in the consent.
In response to the student's repeating their consenting behaviour, study co-author assistant professor Jessica Choplin explained that the students most likely knew somewhere deep down that the Internal Review Board would prevent any harm from coming to them just like:
"many people in the public assume the government is going to protect them from predatory loans."
The actual DePaul University study abstract can be found here, unveiling the social norm of trust and an inherent vulnerability found in the bolus of consumers with just under 70 percent of consumers reporting that they actually did not read the terms of the contracts they signed. Contract categories studied were computer software, rolling contracts, car rental contracts, apartment leases, home buying and home loans. The exact reason for this common act remains a mystery but several factors point to the consumer's reliance on a salesperson to explain any confusing or hidden terms.
Although many believe that a higher authority is apt to protect the consumer, the study abstract details that only a few courts in the United States have actually interpreted consumer fraud statutes to require "reasonable reliance," or essentially what steps a person would take based upon another's information or promise, with around 75% of the courts in the United States requiring a "reasonable reliance" clause before fraud actions can be brought forward. Moreover, some courts state that a "no reliance" type of clause actually prevents a consumer from cause.
If 70 percent simply sign a contract without being aware of the details, the extrapolated belief might be just that many have no understanding of reasonable reliance or their individual state laws regarding the legal term.
Think about the electrifying consequences that await you the next time you are asked to sign a document!
More about Consent, Contracts, Blind signing
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