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Milgram experiment

Related: authority - experimental - psychology - sociology - Stanford experiment - torture


The Milgram experiment is a famous scientific experiment of social psychology. The experiment was first described by Stanley Milgram, a psychologist at Yale University in an article titled Behavioral study of obedience published in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology in 1963, and later summarized in his 1974 book Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View. It was intended to measure the willingness of a participant to obey an authority who instructs the participant to do something that may conflict with the participant's personal conscience.--http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment [Sept 2004]


As the Stanford prison experiment and Milgram experiment show, many people will follow the direction of an authority figure (such as a superior officer) in an official setting (especially if presented as a compulsory obligation), even if they have personal uncertainty. The main motivations for this appear to be fear of loss of status or respect, and the desire to be seen as a "good citizen" or "good subordinate". --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torture#Motivation_to_torture [Oct 2005]

Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People: The Dynamics of Torture

A great deal of research suggests that most human beings, ordered to inflict pain on a stranger, will do so as long as the order comes from someone who seems to be in authority.

Landmark research in the field was done by Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram, who in 1960 designed an experiment to test the limits of obedience. He recruited students from the university to take part in a pilot study, and in individual sessions they were told that they were participating in an experiment that would measure the effects of punishment on learning. Each participant was then directed to inflict a series of electric shocks on a "learner," increasing the intensity of the shocks with each wrong answer given.

Although the learner appeared to be just another volunteer, he was actually a confederate of Milgram's and received no shock at all. The setup, however, was very realistic. The instrument panel of the shock generator, for example, engraved by precision industrial engravers and bore a label from the fictional Dyson Instrument Company, Waltham, Mass. Each subject was given a sample shock of forty-five volts from the generator prior to beginning the test, a shock accomplished by depressing the third switch on the machine.

The students had no anger, no vindictiveness, and no hatred for the person they were shocking, nor would they have suffered any punishment for refusing to continue. Yet 60 percent of the students were fully obedient, applying shocks of 450 volts in spite of the label on the dial that said Danger: Severe Shock. One of Milgram's colleagues immediately dismissed the results, arguing that Yale undergraduates were an unrepresentative sample of humanity, that they were highly aggressive and would step on each other's necks given the slightest provocation.

Milgram then began refining the experiment. He thought that the lack of protest from the "victim" in the pilot studies had enabled the subjects to go blithely on in spite of the designated shocks on the dial. And so he worked out a series of pleas that the victim would utter at different levels of shock. He used newspaper ads to recruit subjects from outside the Yale community. He varied the distance between the learner and the teacher. He changed the location,and appearance of the testing site so that it did not carry the prestige of the university. And yet as long as an authority figure was present, people continued to obey. No severe training had taken place. No reward was in sight. No threat had been implied. No punishment was possible. The authority figure was a stranger and so was the victim. --- From Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People: The Dynamics of Torture, 2000 John Conroy (Knopf) via http://www.ralphmag.org/milgrimZN.html [Oct 2005]

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