Milgram’s experiment on obedience to authority

A very classic experiment of Social Psychology which nowadays is considered as unethical is the experiment of Stanley Milgram. During the ’60s Milgram as a professor of Yale University decided to research if the tendency of someone to obey to an authority is a matter of character or if it has to do with other, extrinsic factors. With this research Milgram wanted to understand better the answers of the military service and the guards who were working in the camps during the period of Nazi Germany. Those guards and military service were asked in the past why they have killed so many innocent people. Their answer was that they were not they who killed but their leaders killed those innocent people. Moreover, they were claiming that their behavior was analogous to the orders they were receiving which they should follow without any doubt in order to be considered as really consistent with the duties that were given to them.

Milgram with this experiment speaks clearly about human soul. He clarifies that people are not separated in two groups: “good guys that will never kill” and “bad guys that are born to kill”. Every human being could be a possible killer if for example feels that they do not do a crime by themselves (absence of personal decision) but someone else has made a decision for the crime they do, so this someone else is responsible for this crime.

In Milgram’s experiment the scenery is simple and really well-organised: Two participants who know each other for the last minutes will play the “teacher” and the “student”. Researchers position them in two different rooms allowing them only acoustic contact (through microphones and heaphones) but not eye contact. Researchers inform them that the experiment investigates how easily can memory be improved. The “teacher” aims to train “student’s” memory. Every time that the “student” does not know his/her “lesson” the teacher punishes him/her with electric shocks. If the “student” continues to make mistakes, then the electric shocks become harder, so the punishment of the “student” is more strict. The “teacher” is obliged to continue the procedure no matter if he receives or not answers from the “student”.

Miligram’s results were interesting and shocking. Milgram found that no matter how bad every “teacher” was feeling during the procedure regarding electric shocks, the experiment was being continued until the end. Many teachers made complaints, felt uncomfortable or guilty and almost all of them looked many times the researcher/proffesor or asked for help, explanation or exemption from the experiment. The researcher/professor who was sitting close to them inside the room was always saying the same phrases like “You should continue the procedure” or “The experiment requires that you go on” without any other explanation or encouragement to the “teacher”. So, most of the “teachers” found the whole procedure really unpleasant but under the “pressure of science” they kept doing electric shocks to unknown innocent people. They were believing that it was not their own intention to  kill somebody (but someone else’s) and the only thing they were doing was to obey to authority without any other option.

To conclude, Milgram showed that Nazi guards and military service were not the “human monsters” in the whole world history. They were just people that stopped communicating with any emotion of guilt or responsibility in order to continue killing people and staying calm. This can also been done from many other people in any country, in any time. If a person is persuaded to obey blindly to someone that seems “good” or “better” then he/she is capable for anything, without any emotion to blame himself/herself.

As for those who  resist to authority: They will quickly understand the irrational order they receive. They will try to stay away from the pressure the authority puts them (probably because they don’t feel in a pleasant way or because they feel afraid that they will do something they do not desire). Moreover, it is possible that they will try to challenge the validity of the authority and the whole procedure.  Humans that will finally refuse to continue the procedure of the experiment are probably individuals with high empathy, independent personality, strong opinion and antisystemic ideas about life.




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