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Are we a society of followers?

Stanley Milgram
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One of the most famous psychology experiments of all time was the Stanley Milgram Experiment. In 1964 Stanley Milgram wrote, "The social psychology of this century reveals a major lesson: often it is not so much the kind of person a man is as the kind of situation in which he finds himself that determines how he will act." –Stanley Milgram, 1974.”

We all consider ourselves good people; but, who we think we are, and what we actually do, may be a totally different experience?

Stanley Milgram set out to prove that in his classic experiment. His experiment was inspired by the Second World War. Many people across the world wondered how so many people would imprison, torture, and kill so many people during the Nazi Regime.

Stanley Milgram started his experiment after listening to the defense of Nazi criminal Adolph Eichmann. His defended himself by insisting he was only following orders when he gave the orders to exterminate millions of Jews.

Milgram wanted to know if people would do things they knew were wrong if they were ordered to do it by some kind of authority. Could blind obedience to the authority actually happen? Stanley Milgram’s classic experiment revealed the shocking truth about how obedience and the power of authority correlate.

The Stanley Milgram experiment

Forty men were recruited from an ad in the newspaper to participate in the experiment. They were paid a sum some of $4.50 for their participation. For the purpose of the experiment, Milgram devised a shock generator and each participant was designated as “teacher” and was to shock a student every time the student answered incorrectly. The generator did not actually shock the student by the student would act as if it did. Milgram wanted to see just how far the “teachers” in the experiment would go to harm their fellow man just because they were told to do it.

The teacher believed he was delivering electrical shock to the student and the level of shock increased every time a mistake was made. Each time the shock meter was increased the student would beg the teacher to stop, shout out they had a heart condition and eventually bang on the wall. Once the level of voltage increased to 300 volts, the student would become motionless and silent.

The teachers would ask the voice of authority (experimenter) if they should stop; but, were instructed to continue. Incredible though it may be 65 percent of the teachers rendered the maximum shock. It is to be noted that the teachers did become angry and nervous for carrying out their instruction; yet, they still did it.

Implications of the Stanley Milgram experiment

Milgram’s experiment showed how people will follow orders from an authority figure even if they may resent it or question it on a personal level. This experiment was repeated by Thomas Blass in 1999 and he obtained the same results.

Milgram maintained that there were several reasons why the test participants obeyed the orders given them to shock the students:

  • The authority was there on the premises
  • The teachers assumed the authority figure was an expert
  • Yale University sponsored the experiment
  • They were told the generator would render pain but essentially was not dangerous

In subsequent experiments Stanly Milgram found that if there were any “teachers “who rebelled against the authority figure many others followed. This second phenomena showed that situational factors such as a rebellious teacher could influence the teacher’s others participation in the experiment. Stanley Milgram maintained that the situation had the biggest influence; while other psychologists argue that both situation and the personality and temperament of the individual will account for the level of obedience rendered.

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