Stanley Milgram who was a psychologist from Yale, conducted a well-known experiment about obedience which is relevant for human psychology. This happened in 1963 and the experiment was related to the fact that people were in conflict between their own conscience and obeying authority. Milgram was seeking for explanation of people who committed genocide because they were ordered to do so during WWII and he found out that obedience is a powerful impulse.
Milgram was inclined to believe that people tend to obey the authority because it is a tactic for survival. “For many people, obedience is a deeply ingrained behavior tendency, indeed a potent impulse overriding training in ethics, sympathy, and moral conduct” (Milgram 631). It is clear that people worry only about their own survival and that the interest of others is less important unless it is life-threatening. This experiment was organized in such a way that there were two people: “one of them is designated as a “teacher” and the other a “learner” (Milgram 632). However, the person who was a learner was always a person who worked with Milgram while the other person was the real participant.
The person who was secretly Milgram’s assistant was separated in a room and had electronic cables around him which would give him electroshocks if he made a mistake when remembering the pairs of words. The error leads to a shock which is increasing if the person makes more mistakes. This is ruthless and the teachers only go to some point although the reactions vary depending on the personality. The shocks have the power from 15-450 volts. Milgram wanted to see if people really obey authority so much that they are able to kill another person which happened in Hitler’s Germany.
People who were teachers volunteered for this experiment and they were 20-50 years old and there were 40 people who were all male. They had different professional and social backgrounds because some of them were unskilled whereas others were great intellectuals. All of them got a salary for coming to the experiment and it was 4.5 USD. The experiment would begin by participants meeting each other and “the teacher is a genuinely naïve subject who has come to the laboratory for the experiment” (Milgram 632). All of this took place in the Yale laboratories which gave credibility to this whole experiment.
The learner two pairs of words and has to remember which words are paired together and it is tested. If the learner makes a mistake, they get an electroshock which intensifies as he keeps making errors, which is not difficult because of the lack of the concentration that occurs after some time. “The point of the experiment is to see how far a person will proceed in a concrete and measurable situation in which he is ordered to inflict increasing pain on a protesting victim” (Milgram 632). Some people tend to be more sensitive, like Gretchen Brandt, a nurse who finally disobeys the experimenter. On the other hand, there are people like Fred Prozi who are worried about the health of the learner, but they obey. The most unusual event happens with Morris Braverman who seems to be an intelligent man, but whose reaction is shocking. “His very refined and authoritative manner of speaking is increasingly broken up by wheezing laughter” (Milgram 637). He does show sympathy because he asks to change places with the learner.
15 volts are not too much, but learners make many mistakes because of the nature of the experiment and finally the teachers have to give them the shock of 450 volts, which is great and could physically harm a person. The point is to test the obedience of people because the experimenter constantly tells them to continually give shocks until they get the right answer. Most people obey and some even enjoy this which tells a lot about human nature.
This experiment was supposed to show if Eichmann’s murders during the WWII were his choice or his job and Milgram concluded that: “the ordinary person who shocked the victim did so out of a sense of obligation – an impression of his duties as a subject – and not from any peculiarly aggressive tendencies” (Milgram 639). Therefore, obedience is inherent in human nature and most people listen to authority even if it means hurting other people. There were ethical problems involved with this experiment because Milgram deceived people about what the goal was about. For example, “Herbert Winer marched into his office, talking of heart attacks” (Parker 715). Some people were shocked about the fact that they were lied to and that they were lead to believe that they were actually hurting the learners. As for laughter it is explained by the fact that: “it’s a reaction to the notion that serious and complex moral issues, and the subtleties of human behavior, can reasonably be illuminated through play-acting in a university laboratory” (Parker 718).
While some people believe that what Milgram has done was unethical, it revealed much about human nature which is neither good nor bad. All people have both sides incorporated in their characters and many people listen to authorities because they do not want to make their own decisions. There are many possible reasons for that, but the most logical reason if fear of being hurt themselves.
Milgram, Stanley. "The Perils of Obedience." Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. Ed. Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. 12th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2013. 630-43. Print.
Parker, Ian. "The Perils of Obedience." Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. Ed. Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. 11th ed. Boston: Longman, 2011. 712-21. Print.