Milgram’s study of obedience looked at the question of if and to what degree people will follow authority over their own morales or preference. Yale students were asked to hypothesize what might be the outcome of this kind of experiment, given the specifics of the methods and procedures. Their response was that a total of 3% at the very most would inflict pain to “victims” of the experiment at a certain level of pain (named “Very Strong Shock”). The way the procedure was set up was that some would be chosen to be teachers and others learners.
This was rigged so that already designated learners would respond to the treatment (electric shocks for incorrect answers to word association questions) in a predetermined way. The study was on the teachers and if they could continue with the experiment to the end knowing that they were inflicting pain on the victim. Certain measures were taken to make this seem real to the teachers and, therefore, get the psychological results of such an experiment.
The results were far from the predictions made my the Yale students. Twenty-six of the 40 participants “obeyed” (well over 50% when the predicted amount was 3%)or went the entire procedure of inflicting all levels of pain for incorrect answers to word association questions. The other 14 ended the experiment along the way at their discretion. These participants were labeled “defiant”.
In some of the discussion in this article, it was mentioned that obedience to authority similar to this experiment is what explains the concentration camps of WW2 and that time. This implies that the soldiers and gentiles of Europe did murder and torture Jews (and others) more out of obedience than for a specific purpose. And now that Milgram has been successful in showing the influence of authority on people despite their knowing better or good judgment, it seems that he has implied that obedience is a power of influence on the psychology of people and their behavior. Although Milgram’s method of completing such a study is probably unethical to most, I consider it to be the least stressful and dangerous way to extract such information from participants. No real harm was done to the victims. The only harm done is the mental stress of the teachers which should be considered. However, having said that, I certainly would be angry if this was ever done to me. There is no truly ethical way to research obedience accurately, however, I would give my approval. But then again, I would not partake of the experiment myself.
American Psychologist, 1964, 19, pp. 848-852.
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