Perils of Obedience Summary

In Stanley Milgram’s “The Perils of Obedience,” he conducted an experiment that tests conflicts between the obedience to an authoritative figure versus one’s own conscience. Throughout the experiment he discovers that many subjects would go against their own morals in order to please their overseers. The experiment was set up with an experimenter, a teacher, and a learner. The experimenter explains that the study is concerned with the effects of punishment on learning. The learner is conducted into a room, seated in a kind of miniature electric chair; his arms are strapped to prevent excessive movement, and an electrode is attached to his wrist.

He is told that he will be read lists of simple word pairs, and that he will then be tested on his ability to remember the second word of a pair when he hears the first one again. Whenever he makes an error, he will receive electric shocks of increasing intensity. Since the focus of the experiment is on the teacher he watches as the leaner is seated in the electric chair.

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Then he, himself, is seated before an impressive shock generator with different levers ranging between 15v – 450v of electricity to be delivered to the learner’s chair. Each subject is given a sample of the shock with 45v before the experiment begins to authenticate the machine. The leaner is an actor and receives no shock at all; this is strictly for the teacher’s response. The psychiatrists specifically predicted that most subjects would not go beyond 150 volts, when the victim makes his first explicit demand to be freed.

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They expected that only 4 percent would reach 300 volts and that only a pathological fringe of about one in a thousand would administer the highest shock on the board. Their predictions were unequivocally wrong. On the first experiment, 25 of the 40 tested seen the test through to the end.

Their predictions were based on the human’s conscience over the authoritative figure’s demands. The findings were dismissed as having no relevance to “ordinary” people considering the subjects used were students of Yale. Colleagues of Milgram claimed that these students were highly aggressive and competitive when provoked. The second set of experiments included professionals, white collar workers, unemployed persons, and industrial workers. Although Milgram’s colleague asserted the outcome would be different when performed with “ordinary” subjects, the outcome was very much the same. The experiments were also conducted in other countries around the world and scientists found that the level of obedience was actually somewhat higher.

Updated: Feb 22, 2021
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Perils of Obedience Summary. (2016, Dec 13). Retrieved from

Perils of Obedience Summary essay
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