In May of 1962 Stanley Milgram, a Social Psychologist at Yale University, conducted a study on “Obedience and Human Nature” that was influenced by his curiosity of the WWII German Nazi Holocaust and concentration camps. Milgram asked “How could it be, that ordinary German people could allow the extermination of the Jews” and wanted to know under what circumstances would a person disobey authority?
The study took place in the greater New Haven area and consisted of 40 male participants that were recruited after responding to a newspaper ad. Each participant was compensated for their participation, and were given $4.50. It was thought by many professors that only 3 out of 100 participants might deliver the maximum shock.
After the recruitment, Milgram conducted a series of controversial experiments with his invention of a shock generator. The switches were labeled and ranged from slight shock, stong shock, very strong shock, moderate shock, intense shock, extream intense shock, to Danger Severe Shock and the last two only stating “XXX”. The voltage began at 30, increasing by 15 volt increments for each switch, all the way up to 450 volts. The purpose of Milgram’s experiment was to try and answer,“How far would you be willing to go?”
Prior to the experiment the professor explained the procedure to each participant. The “Student” was hooked up to the shock machine with leads that were connected by a paste that was supposed to protect the skin from being damaged or burned. The proctor explained that the shocks would be painful, but would not cause harm to the subject.
The role of the “Teacher” was to ask the “Student” a series of questions. With each wrong answer the “Teacher” was to deliver a shock to the “Student”. However, what Milgram did not reviel was that the study was in fact, rigged. The “Student” had been given a script, and was instructed to pretend to be shocked.
During the experiment, with each stagged wrong answer, the “Student” complained about the pain. As the intensity increased, the “Student” began to complain about having heart problems. Begging for the “Teacher” to stop. Pleading and demanding to be let out of the room over and over again. All the while the “Teacher” was prompted by the proctor to continue.
Throughout the exam, most of the “Teachers” began to doubt if they should continue. Asking the proctor “how far should I go”, or “what will happen if I continue”. Each time, the proctor would encourage the teacher to “please continue” telling them “you have no choice but to continue, the experiment depends on you”. With each shock the “Teacher” became increasingly agitated. Demonstrating mental anguish, and struggled with the their emotions of inflicting pain with the next shock.
Eventually after hitting the 300 volt mark the “Student” got to the point that he stopped responding to the questions. By this point the “Teachers” were angry and refused to continue. The proctor advised the “Teacher” to treat the silence as a wrong answer and instructed to proceed with the experiment and to administer another shock. This caused increased severe mental anguish and suffering on the “Teachers“ behalf. Some would refuse again to continue, stating that they “wouldn’t go on if I thought I were harming them”. One even shouted, “I’m not going to be responsible, I’m not going to kill the man.” The proctor simply responded, “you have too, you have no other choice but to continue.” Many of the phrases used to prompt the “Teacher” to continue included, “The experiments require you to continue”, and “It’s absolutely essential that you continue.”
The results of the Milgram experiment tested his theories of why people were willing to go against their conscious and demonstrated just how far people were willing to go to stay in compliance with an authoritative figure. In 1974 Milgram published his book ,“Obedience to Authority” which raised controversial, ethical, and moral issues of his experimentation on Obedience. Many believed that it was cruel and several professors stated it was “in humane” and questioned his use of human subjects, due to the cruel nature that caused mental anguish, unnecessary stress, grief, and turmoil on the so called “Teacher”.
After the experiment, Milgram purposed the question, “Why did so many agree to and perform the shock treatment, if they felt it was wrong?”
I believe that there are many factors that influenced the participants to continue to deliver the shock treatment, some of which include the following;
1. Human nature to be pleasing. I believe that Authority is seen to be powerful and insurmountable and having the authoritative figure presence, tromping them to continue even when they wanted to stop had a huge influence on the participants and affected the “teachers” decision to continue even though they wanted to stop. 2. Fear of non-compliance. I believe the participant felt an obligation to continue because of the agreement they made with the University to participate. I think that some may of thought their might be consequences if they disobeyed the proctor. 3. Curiosity and sadistic behaviors. I think that some participants wanted to see just how tolerant the “Student” could be. 4. The experiment was held at the highly esteemed Yale University. I believe this peeked the interest of the participants and many wanted to be a part of a highly accredited institutional study group. 5. Many believed it was safe. They were told that it was not dangerous, it was painful but would not harm the participant receiving the shocks and this allowed the participants to continue administering the shocks because they trusted what they were told. 6. Ability to redirect responsibility onto the Authoritative figure, in order to relieve the guilt they may feel- stating “I was only following orders.”
I found the results of the Milgram Obedience study astounding. Of the 40 participants, 26 delivered the maximum shock and 14 participants stopped at various levels throughout the experiment, siting they “just couldn’t go on.” While watching the video, I found myself feeling anxious, and thought about how I would of reacted. The Milgram experiment demonstrates exactly how people actually react when placed in certain circumstances, rather than a hypothetical situation, stating how they feel they would react. I believe this study revels how some humans can detach themselves emotionally in order to remain obedient. So after thinking about the statistics of the experiment I shouldn’t have been so surprised that 65% delivered the maximum shock. I would of never believe so many of them would have gone thru with the experiment and felt that the number would have been much lower.
There are many examples throughout history of how dangerous it can be to take obedience to the extrema. One example is during WWII. The Germans treatment of the Jews was horrific and unimaginable. It was estimated that during the Holocaust, the Nazis used the concentration camps to murder approximately 11 million people. So you ask, yourself, how could such a horrific event take place?, How could people be so EVIL? These conditions were real and the answer to these questions are highly debated throughout the world by Psychologist, Analysis, Universities and amongst people sitting at dinner tables everywhere. It lies deep within the dark places of evil minds. It unleashes it’s wrath and destroys.
In conclusion, I believe we are taught to be obedient from birth. As parents we teach our children to obey us, so that they learn consequences and grow into respectable, responsible adults. God expects us to obey his commandments. Police officers expect us to obey traffic laws. Employers expect us to obey rules and regulations, and office policies On a daily basis we are told to follow instructions, directions, commands and orders. Obedience involves power and status and is influenced by social pressure and conformity. As a society we are conditioned and expected to be obedient.