posts 16 - 29 of 29
speedyninja
BOSTON, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 22

Think

As @iluvcows mentions, following authority is integrated into every part of society. As kids we are taught to obey parents and teachers, as adults we have bosses, and we constantly defer to experts in other fields such as doctors and scientists. As long as those we defer to have good intentions, I think this is a good thing, as it keeps society moving forward. We also theoretically take the best overall course of action as a society when people with the most experience and knowledge surrounding a topic advise our actions relating to their area of expertise. However, Milgrim’s experiments clearly show that one should never blindly follow and should always keep in mind their own judgement and morals.


Agreeing with @BLStudent, what I found Milgrim’s experiments to demonstrate most about humans is that if we are not careful, all of us are capable of doing appalling things without even fully recognizing it. I assume if you had asked the teachers before performing the experiment what they thought of electrocuting someone with an amount of voltage of unknown danger to them, 100% would say that this is terrible and that they would never do it. Yet a shocking 65% of the teachers in Milgrim’s experiment administered the full 450 volts. Although it's true that they were told the voltage was not dangerous, they blindly believed this information. If the teachers knew this action was not morally right, what drove them to do it anyway? I agree with @Fruit Snacks that this was partially due to the fact that the teachers did not recognize the responsibility they had over their actions. From the video in class, we saw that the man continually told the experimenter he wanted to stop, because he did not want to take responsibility for the learner’s health. Then, during the interview after the experiment, he kept deflecting blame and responsibility to the experimenter, who was telling him to continue. If this scenario were “real”, although I believe the experimenter would have responsibility too, the teacher would definitely be culpable, as it was still his decision to continue, and nobody was threatening or forcing him to continue. However, as Meyer brought up in his idea of “agency”, it seems that we often do not perceive ourselves as responsible for carrying out actions that other people tell us to do, especially if we realize they are morally questionable. I think it is tremendously important that no matter the external circumstances, we all realize the responsibility we have over our own actions, rather than deflect blame and make excuses.


Milgrim’s experiment also provided insight into the sheeplike mindset we fall into when faced with authority. The percentage of people who administered the full voltage changed quite significantly when the location of the experiment was moved to a less academic setting, and also when the test administrator was only communicating via telephone. This demonstrates that the teachers were quite influenced by the aura of power, control, or validity that came with the Yale experiment administered by a man in a lab coat. Although I think at face value all of the teachers would recognize that the test was morally wrong, because they fell into a subordinate mindset of following orders, they left behind their own judgement, morals, and reasoning. Again, this is a very dangerous human behavior. While I think it is important to be able to listen to others, take advice, and under the right circumstances, follow orders, we should never follow unquestioningly, and we should always be strong enough to defy authority when their orders do not fit out judgement of right and wrong. However, it is clearly very challenging to speak out against authority, even when we realize they may be wrong. As seen when there was a second experimenter arguing with the first, and in the Ash conformity experiments, having support from even one other person makes it a lot easier to speak out. In a societal context, I think this shows that being the strong, brave, first person to speak out is incredibly important, as it can lead to many others sharing their views and opinions, preventing a group from taking a bad course of action.


I think Milgrim’s study can help to explain many day to day and larger, more important behaviors. As, @ernest. mentioned, this homework assignment can be looked at as an example of conformity and our willingness to speak out. Someone must have not been blindly following Ms. Freeman’s rules and thought her expectations for us to finish this were unreasonable. They then had the guts to be the first to speak out about it, and many others with the same opinion with this support were willing to speak out as well. Obviously, this is a much less important scenario, but I believe the human behaviors were similar in some ways. Many people have brought up Trump’s presidency as being related, but I disagree. My main takeaways from the Milgrim experiment were the ideas of blindly following, authority, conformity, and responsibility. However, I do not see most of these qualities as being relevant in the amount of support Trump has. Firstly, because as we have discussed earlier, I think that there is a second soul of America that many of us in our liberal bubbles struggle to understand and believe in. I do not think most of Trump’s support comes from a fear or submission to authority or a need to conform. I do think that many Trump supporters will blindly follow what he says, but in many cases, I think there really is a commonality in ideals and policy. Also, I see this situation as different because Trump supporters do not think their actions as morally wrong, but most of the teachers in the Milgrim experiment had doubts because they did think their actions were questionable.


Assuming the situation of the United States were somehow the exact same as Germany during World War 2, I do unfortunately agree with @Fruit Snacks, we could find sufficient personnel in any American town. What I take that to mean is that there was nothing different about the people in Germany that led to the atrocities of genocide. Ultimately, I think the situation in Germany after World War 1 and the rise of Hitler and Nazis created the seed for genocide, and the people in Germany, whether they were perpetrators, bystanders, or the few upstanders, were no different than the people in any part of the world. However, I do not think Milgrim’s experiments can necessarily explain what happened in Germany because of the complexity of the history and tremendous scale of genocide compared to the experimentation of a few hundred people.


To address @yvesIKB’s questions, I think that our transition from a place of trust to skepticism and admitting we are wrong is fluid. We should always be checking authority and things we are told to do with our own judgement, and when/if our “orders” cross the line, then we should argue against authority, and if necessary, admit we were wrong to trust. This is no doubt difficult, but an important thing to do. Again, I think this thought process is the only way to explain August Landmesser’s actions. We must always keep in mind our own morals and judgement rather than blindly follow, take responsibility for our actions, and choose whatever course we deem most “right”, regardless of conformity and authority. My question is, what main factors do you think influenced the differences in the teachers responses during Milgrim’s experiments?

user1234
Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 23

Originally posted by speedyninja on December 19, 2020 15:24

As @iluvcows mentions, following authority is integrated into every part of society. As kids we are taught to obey parents and teachers, as adults we have bosses, and we constantly defer to experts in other fields such as doctors and scientists. As long as those we defer to have good intentions, I think this is a good thing, as it keeps society moving forward. We also theoretically take the best overall course of action as a society when people with the most experience and knowledge surrounding a topic advise our actions relating to their area of expertise. However, Milgrim’s experiments clearly show that one should never blindly follow and should always keep in mind their own judgement and morals.


Agreeing with @BLStudent, what I found Milgrim’s experiments to demonstrate most about humans is that if we are not careful, all of us are capable of doing appalling things without even fully recognizing it. I assume if you had asked the teachers before performing the experiment what they thought of electrocuting someone with an amount of voltage of unknown danger to them, 100% would say that this is terrible and that they would never do it. Yet a shocking 65% of the teachers in Milgrim’s experiment administered the full 450 volts. Although it's true that they were told the voltage was not dangerous, they blindly believed this information. If the teachers knew this action was not morally right, what drove them to do it anyway? I agree with @Fruit Snacks that this was partially due to the fact that the teachers did not recognize the responsibility they had over their actions. From the video in class, we saw that the man continually told the experimenter he wanted to stop, because he did not want to take responsibility for the learner’s health. Then, during the interview after the experiment, he kept deflecting blame and responsibility to the experimenter, who was telling him to continue. If this scenario were “real”, although I believe the experimenter would have responsibility too, the teacher would definitely be culpable, as it was still his decision to continue, and nobody was threatening or forcing him to continue. However, as Meyer brought up in his idea of “agency”, it seems that we often do not perceive ourselves as responsible for carrying out actions that other people tell us to do, especially if we realize they are morally questionable. I think it is tremendously important that no matter the external circumstances, we all realize the responsibility we have over our own actions, rather than deflect blame and make excuses.


Milgrim’s experiment also provided insight into the sheeplike mindset we fall into when faced with authority. The percentage of people who administered the full voltage changed quite significantly when the location of the experiment was moved to a less academic setting, and also when the test administrator was only communicating via telephone. This demonstrates that the teachers were quite influenced by the aura of power, control, or validity that came with the Yale experiment administered by a man in a lab coat. Although I think at face value all of the teachers would recognize that the test was morally wrong, because they fell into a subordinate mindset of following orders, they left behind their own judgement, morals, and reasoning. Again, this is a very dangerous human behavior. While I think it is important to be able to listen to others, take advice, and under the right circumstances, follow orders, we should never follow unquestioningly, and we should always be strong enough to defy authority when their orders do not fit out judgement of right and wrong. However, it is clearly very challenging to speak out against authority, even when we realize they may be wrong. As seen when there was a second experimenter arguing with the first, and in the Ash conformity experiments, having support from even one other person makes it a lot easier to speak out. In a societal context, I think this shows that being the strong, brave, first person to speak out is incredibly important, as it can lead to many others sharing their views and opinions, preventing a group from taking a bad course of action.


I think Milgrim’s study can help to explain many day to day and larger, more important behaviors. As, @ernest. mentioned, this homework assignment can be looked at as an example of conformity and our willingness to speak out. Someone must have not been blindly following Ms. Freeman’s rules and thought her expectations for us to finish this were unreasonable. They then had the guts to be the first to speak out about it, and many others with the same opinion with this support were willing to speak out as well. Obviously, this is a much less important scenario, but I believe the human behaviors were similar in some ways. Many people have brought up Trump’s presidency as being related, but I disagree. My main takeaways from the Milgrim experiment were the ideas of blindly following, authority, conformity, and responsibility. However, I do not see most of these qualities as being relevant in the amount of support Trump has. Firstly, because as we have discussed earlier, I think that there is a second soul of America that many of us in our liberal bubbles struggle to understand and believe in. I do not think most of Trump’s support comes from a fear or submission to authority or a need to conform. I do think that many Trump supporters will blindly follow what he says, but in many cases, I think there really is a commonality in ideals and policy. Also, I see this situation as different because Trump supporters do not think their actions as morally wrong, but most of the teachers in the Milgrim experiment had doubts because they did think their actions were questionable.


Assuming the situation of the United States were somehow the exact same as Germany during World War 2, I do unfortunately agree with @Fruit Snacks, we could find sufficient personnel in any American town. What I take that to mean is that there was nothing different about the people in Germany that led to the atrocities of genocide. Ultimately, I think the situation in Germany after World War 1 and the rise of Hitler and Nazis created the seed for genocide, and the people in Germany, whether they were perpetrators, bystanders, or the few upstanders, were no different than the people in any part of the world. However, I do not think Milgrim’s experiments can necessarily explain what happened in Germany because of the complexity of the history and tremendous scale of genocide compared to the experimentation of a few hundred people.


To address @yvesIKB’s questions, I think that our transition from a place of trust to skepticism and admitting we are wrong is fluid. We should always be checking authority and things we are told to do with our own judgement, and when/if our “orders” cross the line, then we should argue against authority, and if necessary, admit we were wrong to trust. This is no doubt difficult, but an important thing to do. Again, I think this thought process is the only way to explain August Landmesser’s actions. We must always keep in mind our own morals and judgement rather than blindly follow, take responsibility for our actions, and choose whatever course we deem most “right”, regardless of conformity and authority. My question is, what main factors do you think influenced the differences in the teachers responses during Milgrim’s experiments?

Post your response here.

I think the teacher's responses were different because of the different environments that they were in. When the person of authority isn't in the room there is less fear in going against what they say, and when you can see someone physically hurting in front of you, it's more likely that you will want to stop hurting them. Also teacher responses could have varied depending on the morals of each individual.

user1234
Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 23

First off I want to say that I definitely agree with @iluvcows that the video was horrifying, and I think we can all agree on that. The reason it’s so scary is because so many people would comply with something like this as long as they know that they won’t be blamed if something goes wrong. I don’t think that blindly following something is innate, but it’s more about the security of knowing that if something goes wrong it’s not your responsibility. This is also a very scary thought because just because someone tells you it’s okay to do something doesn’t mean you should do it.

I also agree with @ernst’s point that Trump’s supporters are not following him because of his authority. I think that it’s because they have the same beliefs as him and they like the choices he makes. I think something similar to this experiment is when kids follow the same political or religious beliefs as their parents, and most of the time it’s not because they actually agree with the ideas. A lot of the time they don’t know anything about the political party or religion that their parents agree with, they just follow it because they don’t want to get in trouble, or they don’t want to feel like outsiders in their own families. Also kids trust their parents and they represent the scientists in the experiment, so they think their parents wouldn’t steer them in the wrong direction.

Regarding Milgrim’s statement on whether we would, “be able to find sufficient personnel…in any medium-sized American town,” I think it depends on the time period and people’s beliefs. During WWII I would agree with that statement because a lot of people had very racist beliefs, so I think that it would be very plausible that people would commit such horrible acts. Also back then people were more focused on people’s perceptions on you, and if you disagreed with the majority you would immediately be caste out. Now, times are very different, and more people are not afraid of go against the majority or the “status quo”. People now would not be as capable of hurting other people for their beliefs as they were in the 1940’s. This idea goes along with all the different variables in Milgrim’s experiment that changed the teachers’ responses.

Overall a person’s ability or inability to go against authority is really up to the individual and their own morals and experiences. So in response to that my question is, what would be the difference between gen-z’s response and a boomer’s response to this experiment?

BlueWhale24
Boston , Massachusetts, US
Posts: 26

Morality vs. Human Nature

To begin, I’d like to first answer the questions posed by @BLStudent. I believe that many circumstances have changed since that of the original experiment conducted by Stanley Milgram. We’ve all recognized that the procedures which Milgram followed are unacceptable for practice in modern times, which is why we will likely never see another experiment quite like this ever again. However, outside of the experiment’s procedural confines, I’d argue that a more significant change took place over the past decades: more American citizens are beginning to challenge authority figures. Modern society as a whole has grown to value individualism and praise uniqueness; thus, as their sense of identity and individuality is challenged, individuals are more likely to challenge authority than their obedient predecessors. Finally, to address whether I would personally flip the switch in the experiment, I must admit that I don’t know the answer to this question. I think we all would like to believe that we could have the courage to oppose the experimenter’s orders, yet I feel uncertain of how I would personally react when being experimented upon. Like nearly all of us, from my earliest childhood years up until now, I’ve been accustomed to accepting constant authority - listening and obeying the commands of adults is almost a universal childhood experience. We’ve become hardwired to understand that disobeying authority results in consequences, which further dissuades us from doing the former. Truthfully, I don’t know how I would react if I was within this situation. My hope is that if I were faced with a situation like this in the future, I could use the understanding gained from this experiment to better aid my decision, and “not flip the switch”, so to speak.


Authority gives society structure. This is demonstrated by nearly every country on Earth utilizing some form of a hierarchical political structure. Law and order is disseminated through the highest figure or group, and flows down throughout the pyramid. Each level is subject to obeying the authority or commands of any group higher than them, under the threat of consequences. This basic structure has become ingrained into the human experience - respecting authority has become second nature. Yet, this experiment shows us why excessive authoritarian rule can be damaging to society as a whole. The most important conclusion that I came to regarding Milgram’s experiment is that innate morality becomes hindered when authority overrules consequence. To elaborate upon this, an analogy can be used. Let’s say there is a mean child, who enjoys taking candy from other children. Any time that he does this, he’s reprimanded by his teachers, his parents, and other adults. This in turn discourages him from doing such an action. However, how would the child react if one of these adults gave him permission to take another child’s candy? It’s safe to assume that the child would eagerly continue, as his risk of potential consequence has essentially been negated. Applying this analogy to the Milgram experiment, we see the same overall pattern, albeit with a few differences. We witness the “teacher” frequently protest against the experiment’s procedures. However, he reluctantly continues when he’s assured that the experimenter will take full responsibility for any harm caused to the “learner”. I’m convinced that had the experimenter not reassured this fact, the “teacher” would have immediately ceased his actions, fearing both the moral and legal consequences which may fall on him. However, I would like to point out that the “teacher” was clearly experiencing moral dilemmas regarding his actions, which differs from the point of the analogy; and yet, while it’s apparent to see that he’s genuinely concerned about the well-being of the man inside the room, his sense of morality gave way to the command of the authority figure. Once again, this highlights the most significant takeaway from this experiment. When responsibility, or blame, can be shifted elsewhere, the ramifications of committing a negative action become non-existent.


Most importantly however, this experiment provided us with a disturbing insight into human nature, which is the influence which fear can have over one’s actions. The effect of potential consequences can be boiled down to fearing the outcome of your actions, and what may happen to you as a result. In the Milgram experiment, the consequence which the “teacher” was facing was very low-stake; by choosing to stop, he may have angered the experimenter, but nothing more beyond that. Yet, he was still unwilling to disobey the instructions, simply out of the principle that the authority knows best and that their word is law. The experiment unveiled a shared theme of the common psyche, which is the notion that authority should not be challenged under any circumstances. This then begs the question - what could people be driven to do when faced with extreme consequences for disobeying authority? When the stakes are risen, and people are faced with torture or death for not obeying authority, what would they be capable of if completing their task meant saving themselves? When considering such questions, it’s important to first note that most people act in this way simply out of the human instinct for self-preservation. It’s almost impossible for anybody to go about their lives without any regard for their own safety or protection. The importance of keeping ourselves secure first and foremost has been hardwired into our brains. This is why news segments or cover stories about heroic and selfless acts are so admirable: the choice to put somebody else’s life above your own contradicts our innate chase for survival.


The sad truth about the aforementioned questions is that there are various instances throughout recent history in which they’ve been put to the test. Stanley Milgram was drawn to conduct such an experiment after recalling atrocities which took place in WWII. During this era, German and Japanese soldiers committed acts of genocide while under direct orders from higher authorities. Although these situations are much more distorted and difficult to consider in terms of the Milgram experiment, it’s still a valid question to consider whether these soldiers were being influenced by similar principles. Personally however, I refuse to accept such an explanation for these examples. We can see throughout variations of the Milgram experiment that when “teachers” are forced to distribute more direct forms of punishment, such as physically placing the “learner’s” hand upon a metal plate or simply having the “learner” be kept in the same room as them, they are much less likely to proceed through until the end of the test. While morality and conscience can be ignored to an extent based on the orders of authority, the tangible act of harming another person should trigger an immediate cease of one’s actions. Thus, in the previous case of German and Japanese soldiers, no portion of their actions can be excused. Direct authority did not suppress their morality - each person suppressed their own in order to conduct such atrocious actions.

In retrospect however, it’s important to realize that the setting of the experiment might not accurately reflect a real-world scenario. @yvesIKB cites a point from “The Psychology of Torture”, by Malcom Harris, which is that the environment of the experiment, specifically the payment-based nature of the transaction, might have played a role in how the “teacher” chose to proceed with his actions. Payment in certain circumstances often results in a sense of duty to fulfill a predetermined obligation. There’s no true way of knowing whether this had any impact on the experiments’ outcomes, but it remains vital in understanding that no experiment can truly encapsulate the human mind.


Finally, to address the point which was made by Milgram in his CBS interview, I personally believe that he is wrong in this assertion. Initially, my more cynical perception of human nature drew me to believe that Milgram could be correct in his assertion. The theme of self-preservation has not changed, regardless of how today’s generation is more willing to challenge authority. Nevertheless, the circumstances which built up to the events of WWII were critical in influencing the proponents of mass genocide. Indoctrinating themes of nationalism and racial superiority were implanted within the minds of millions of soldiers; the modern United States, and world as a whole, has transitioned away from that era. In addition, American citizens as a whole have begun to involve themselves more with issues such as democratic liberties and human rights. The modern American psyche differs from those of past generations, and unlike Milgram’s assertion, I truly have faith in the population of our country to “do the right thing”.


Before I end this post, I must say that I do not oppose authority. In fact, I still remain by my words of authority being key to a functioning society, despite the findings of the Milgram experiment. However, my question is this: how can we create a society based around levels of authority while also instilling the notion that moral accountability should always trump mindless obedience? In more simple language, how can we make sure that our society still functions as it does now, but also have people understand that making the right decision is more important than following instructions which dictate the wrong decision? Self-preservation is a human instinct, and I think it will remain as one of our species’ key tendencies until we cease to exist. But, our true strength as human beings lies within our ability to oppose this instinct - to do the right thing even when it’s difficult, and to act humanely in the face of consequence.

bebe
Posts: 22

Is the future of authority dead?

Like many of my classmates, I agree with @iluvcows assessment that watching this experiment in class was extremely disturbing. We were physically watching a man as he struggled with his internal moral battle about what was right and wrong. He let go of his initial beliefs to stop with the experiment when the “learner” started screaming, and instead allowed himself to conform with the authority figure in the room conducting the experiment.


The turning point at which the “teacher” decided to fully abandon his moral instincts was when he was told that he would not have any responsibility over the status of the “learner’s” life. This was consistent in 60% of the other trials. This finding blatantly reveals something incredibly selfish about human nature. We believe that something is only bad if we are personally responsible for it.


In Milgrim’s experiment, this was shown through the idea of an authority figure. However, The Asch experiment revealed that people will likely do something wrong if they feel some sort of pressure by their own peers. Most people, especially Americans love to preach the idea of free will. Many think that they have complete control over their lives and every decision they make. However, based on the outcomes of these experiments, it does not seem like free will is something that people even want to have.


@user1234 asked an incredibly interesting question to speculate any difference there may be between the responses from a boomer and gen z person. I think today there is definitely more of a culture of rebelling against society and authoritarian figures. It is much more acceptable to disregard norms and to choose your own path. In the experiment dealing strictly with a person of authority, I do think someone from gen z would be less likely to blindly follow. However, I think there is also a chance that when dealing with conformity around peers, they could be less likely to stray from the norms. Social media is a major role in our life today, and it is very easy to feel the need to remain within specific boundaries of posts in response to what others are posting. For instance, generally most people try to pose and take a nicer picture to go on their feed, so someone else might be less likely to just casually post a picture of their pet or something they found funny. In this case, people from gen z are extremely affected by the decisions of their peers.

It is very possible that I could just be living in my liberal Massachusetts bubble, but generally speaking most of the young people that I know are not Trump supporters. And the Trump supporters I do know are typically part of older generations. My question is, do you think that the reason there are fewer younger generation Trump supporters has to do with a lesser acknowledgement of authority? And if you think it does, what do you think that says about the future effectiveness our government which is so structured around levels of authority?


vare
Boston, MA, US
Posts: 16

What I concluded from Milgram’s experiment was that we as people, although we may not think it, are capable of doing many things under the influence of an authority figure. I found it quite surprising and truly frightening that people could be pressured (by what they believe to be an authority figure) to not only hurt, but essentially kill another person. What I found interesting about this experiment, and more specifically the teacher, was the fact that he was trying to justify his actions by saying it was all because the scientist told him to do so. While the times and cultural norms were certainly different back then, I think a majority of people would believe they would never be able to hurt another person. However, when faced with a situation like one in the experiment, many would likely be surprised to find that they were willing to go so far. This could certainly explain the denial when they realize that even though they didn’t truly hurt or kill anyone, they undoubtedly could have.


Now there are reasons as to why so many would be willing to go this far. One point, as @speedyninja said, is the simple fact that we spend most if not our whole lives around authority figures. It’s something that is integrated into us from when we are young, and it’s something that we continue to experience in our adulthood. Another reason is that as long as people are told it won’t be their responsibility, they feel as though it’s justified in their own personal case. While they may be doing something that they are against and know is morally wrong, they feel a sense of relief knowing that they won’t be taking the blame. Although there may be reasons for their actions, that most certainly does not justify them. When it comes down to harming and possibly killing a living being, one's own morals should take priority over the wants of an authority figure. No matter how much they pressure you into doing the act, at the very end of the day it is you who needs to go through with it, therefore you have as much responsibility as the person ordering you to do so.


In terms of how much insight it gives us into human behavior, I believe that it gives us one possible aspect of it, but it is much too broad to be able to pin down a single behavior through an experiment. Not only are the participants unvaried when it comes to gender and race, but this took place in the 1960s which isn’t very representative of the minds of those currently. On top of that, a single experiment simply cannot define an aspect of the human mind, as humans are much more complex and go through varying mindsets.


In a response to @bebe’s question, I do certainly think that the lack of younger Trump supporters does stem around the fact that the younger generation has a lesser acknowledgement of authority. Especially during this day and time where the American government, one of the largest authority figures, has failed to keep our country safe in the midst of a global pandemic. They have continuously failed us during these times, and have yet to give us any news to praise. As unreliable the government can be, it still is a figure that not only has all your information, but holds power over everyone as individuals. It may somewhat drop in effectiveness, but it would be difficult for it to ever become ineffective as we as humans thrive on having authority figures. Lastly, I find it hard to believe that in such an individualistic society, Americans would ever be so selfless as to sacrifice their own safety and security to undermine the government. As a follow up to this question, would it ever be possible for a society to arise that does not rely on authority figures? If so, what would that look like?

orangedino
Boston, MA, US
Posts: 24

Milgram’s experiments are shocking. The one that we watched in class disurbed me greatly. Watching a man shock another man because he is told so made my skin crawl. I just wanted to jump through the screen and push everyone away from the switches that controlled the shocks. The man in the video protested shocking the other man on more than one occasion, but still gave into what he was being told to do (continuing to shock the other man at a high voltage each time) even after the man he was supposedly shocking stopped responding. Milgram’s research shows that 65% of the “teachers” continued shocking the “learner” until the end of the experiment. This number saddens me, but it is an important number to know. People’s natural instinct is to follow the lead of an authoritative figure. We also see in the video that the “teacher” asked the authoritative figure about who would be responsible for the state that the “learner” was in. He asked multiple times. Milgram claimed that it is easier for people to carry out acts of evil if they weren’t the main cause of it, if that act wasn’t immediately linked to them. If the authoritative figure had said that the state in which the “learner” had been in was the “teacher’s” responsibility, the “teacher” more than likely would have stopped the experiment from the very beginning because he wouldn’t want that on his conscience.


To answer @vare’s question, I do not believe there could ever be a society with no authoritative figures. Although I would like to believe it could be possible, it is human nature to want to either lead people or follow people. If we were to make an attempt at a society with no authoritative figures, someone would take advantage of the system and dub themself as the leader figure. And if people were appointed to enforce the no authoritative figure rule, then they would be breaking their own rule by making people in charge of others.


In the Asch Conformity Experiments, Milgram wanted to see how many people would state the correct answer to a question if everyone else had given the incorrect answer. His findings showed that 75% of the participants stated the incorrect answer at least once (all of the participants had gotten the answers correct in private prior to stating their answers in front of other supposed “participants”). This information tells us that most people would rather do what everyone else is doing even if they don’t believe it is right. This can explain mob mentality. If many people all decide one thing, then chances are that others are going to join in so that they aren’t the ones who are left out or “wrong”, just like the behavior present in the Salem witch trials, and McCarthyism.


Milgram’s studies also showed that the number of “teachers” who didn’t stop continuing to shock the “learners” was 40% when there was another authoritative figure in the room and the two were arguing, compared to 65% when there was only one authoritative figure. Why is there that difference of 25%?

dxaoko
Boston, MA, US
Posts: 24

Who Takes Accountability?

To first respond to @Vare’s question of whether or not we would be able to see ourselves in a society that didn’t rely on authority figures, I would have to disagree as there would be a lack of structure in our system and as human nature calls for it, it would be difficult to distinguish between who we can trust and what we can expect for others when we don’t know who has the authority. We give power to those who we believe are most capable of handling the needs of our society but it all depends on who we choose to give power to. If we were to live in a society where authority figures weren’t present, I would imagine it to be chaotic as there would be no laws established and no regulations enforced, so no one is held accountable or held to an expectation. In the end, our societies tend to be abstract so not knowing who the authority is can end up leading to anarchy and a society in which people are unknowing of those who have the capacity to make change.


Watching Milgram’s experiment in class was extremely disturbing, to say the least, but it wasn’t shocking to see the purpose of this experiment once Milgram repetitively told the “teacher” to increase the voltage which would eventually lead to 450 volts. When the “teacher” asked who was going to take responsibility, he continued on with no hesitation after Milgram replied that he would be held accountable for whatever happened in the experiment. Continuously, the “teacher” would show his concerns for the “learner”, hearing scream after scream, but as Ms. Freeman pointed out, the man never left the orbit of his chair and stayed in the room until he completed the experiment. In the interview portion, I found it interesting how the man continued to avoid taking accountability for potentially hurting someone else, as he responded that the “learner didn’t say anything to make [him] stop” and got defensive when asked why he didn’t stop indefinitely. Knowing that ultimately, 65% of the participants went through the entire experiment, it enabled me to think about authority and how it intertwines with the dynamics of our society as well as our conscience and ethical morals as an individual.


To put this experiment into perspective in our times, I would agree with @ernest. that Trump supporters place a lot of support on him because he is able to appeal to their conditions and expectations of what this society is supposed to be like. Because they place so much emphasis and actively support him in (more often than not) extreme ways, they are feeding power to him which enables him to exercise his authority. I also noticed that in Asch’s experiments, similar results were found and a conclusion was reached on four factors that influence a person’s decision to conform: the number of people present, the difficulty level of the task at hand, the people in the group who are of a higher authority, and the amount of privacy one has to make their decision. Although I do believe that “majority rules” and the general consensus of other people are significant factors to someone’s obedience to authority, I think the way people are concerned with how stepping outside of their boundaries and challenging authority when they understand something is wrong may appear in history is also important to acknowledge. To further expand on @Noodles’ point, history is ever so changing; those who used to challenge the authority seen in Nazi Germany or Mussolini’s reign were seen as outsiders, but in today’s times, people who are not outspoken are viewed the opposite. I would have to say that human behavior acts under the “fight or flight” response under high-stress situations. In these situations, there’s usually a benefit-to-risk assessment that someone would undergo before taking anything to action; Is it worth it to confront authority when the risks are too dangerous and would possibly harm me? Humans prioritize their safety when the stakes at cost are high if they decide to go against authority and as @BlueWhale24 mentioned, they will act this way because of self-preservation which is natural human instinct. I believe that conformity is a double-edged sword; on one side, there’s a need to conform to authority as it is a basic form of structure that we are dominated by but on the other, conformity can lead to putting aside moral values and influence political polarization.


A question I would like to pose for the next student is this: When do you think a person begins to question authority and if you were said person, how do you think you would react under a high-risk situation?

ithinkitscauseofme
Roslindale, MA, US
Posts: 20

"Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?"

I agree with @orangedino that the video we watched in class on the Milgram experiment was deeply disturbing. For me, the most upsetting part was not just that the teacher continued to shock the learner, but that the teacher was so quickly reprimanded by the man “running” the experiment. The teacher did, in fact, learn to question, but he was satisfied without any clear answer. Clearly the negative reinforcement pretended in the experiment no longer works if the learner is passed out, so why didn’t the teacher continue asking the experimenter questions about why further pain was necessary? $4.50 back then was certainly worth more than it is now, but is it really worth not just standing up from the chair and checking on the learner? I think that is my biggest issue with the actions of the teacher - there is no large consequence if the teachers disobey, so why do they rarely stop? How many, if any, of the test subjects just completely stop their side of the experiment and actually go check on the learner?


I guess that my conclusion from Milgram’s experiment is that humans need to continue learning to question, because knowing to ask questions does very little when we are satisfied with no real answer. And I think that maybe learning to say no to authority from an early age is just as important a lesson as learning to obey authority. I think those lessons have to go hand in hand. As long as we are taught from a young age to blindly follow what authority figures say - to go sit on the rug when the teacher says it's time for morning meeting, to tear out the pages from the math workbook in a certain way, to raise your hand before speaking - we will keep doing so until and after we begin hurting ourselves and others in our blindness. And every time we tell little kids to stop asking “Why? Why? Why?,” we tell those kids that the “whys” in life don’t matter, that things are the way they are “because I said so,” that following blindly will lead to the easiest and most comfortable future. And this belief, that our future will be better when we follow blindly, makes us capable of doing most things.


I think this behavior explains a lot of far right activities. Take COVID and lockdown, for example. Understanding why lockdown is necessary requires answers to a lot of questions - how does a virus spread? How can we best protect ourselves from said virus? What are we willing to give up for the safety of others? On the other hand, ignoring lockdown and CDC protocols only requires that one listen to the right wing leaders when they say that authority is taking it a bridge too far. And as we see the numbers rise, as we see people refuse to question their belief that they are not actively killing people, it becomes obvious that, yes, we would “be able to find sufficient personnel…in any medium-sized American town.”


My response to @dxaoko is that I believe people begin to internally question authority when they have different morals from said authority, but that this is only shown outwardly when the person themselves is put at risk - in the video, the teacher’s main concern was who would be given responsibility. Personally, I would have been out before the experiment even started - not because I am some extremely good person, but because I have an extremely low pain tolerance and would not want to even fathom the idea of being the learner.


Question for the next person: How differently do you think this study would have gone in post WWII Germany? Would the people involved have been more wary given their contrie’s past?

wisteria
Boston, MA, US
Posts: 25

As we’ve all seen, the yields of the Milgram experiment have frequently been linked to the psychology of Nazis throughout the Holocaust, but as @ernest. pointed out, it’s important to remember that they are both very different situations with multiple factors at play(This experiment also involved a very narrow sector of the American population, and is most likely not reflective of every demographic within our country). In WWII Germany, the government’s propagation of negative stereotypes of Jewish people played an instrumental role in enabling the atrocities of the Holocaust. This type of dehumanization was not present in Milgram’s experiment, where both the learner and teacher seemed to be adult, working/middle class, white males. I would have assumed this would make it easier for the teacher to identify with and empathize with the learner who would soon become their victim, but it did not stop him from continuing past the point where the learner was completely unresponsive. The Milgram experiment also lacked the combination of both an authority and group pressure which was present during the Holocaust. The various political and social organizations formed under Hitler’s rule were designed to recruit and then brainwash members into conformity with the party’s twisted views. It is much easier to avoid seemingly unnecessary conflict by going along with the rest of the group, after all, “there is no comfort like complicity”. The Asche experiment illustrated this human compulsion to fit in with the rest of the group, something we see at all levels of society. This kind of group thinking can give rise to movements, but can also enable genocides.




These experiments have given us many insights into human behavior, but seem to only generate more confusion when it comes to the idea of human nature and the persistent question of whether we are inherently good or evil. I think the distress displayed by the teachers and their trauma following the experiment (I wonder how his compares to the mental health of former Nazis after the Holocaust) offers some hope in this respect. Although the teacher was able to transfer the blame and responsibility onto the scientist in that moment, it sounds as though the repercussions of his actions still came back to haunt him. It is clear that inflicting pain on another human did not come naturally to them, and was far from enjoyable. This gives me hope that if we can be more conscious of our choices and take full responsibility for them, rather than shifting it onto some lab coat wearing third party, then the main authority over our actions can be our own instinctual compassion and reasoning.


I think that @bebe poses a very interesting question on whether there in diminished acknowledgement of authority figures in the younger generations. I would have to slightly disagree with @vare, as I believe that we are still just as susceptible to the influence of authority in general, we are just more selective in which authority figures we trust and place our respect in. In such a polarized political climate, it’s inevitable that most of us have chosen a side to root for while constantly critiquing, sometimes demonizing, the other. Elements of the Asche experiment are present in this as well, as membership of a larger group can encourage us to be more vocal and assured in certain opinions, and less revealing of others. Of course there are many exceptions to this idea of two sides, as politics or any issue aren’t as simple as that. This year so many people voted for Biden not because they were avid supporters of him, but because they would choose anyone over the alternative. I think it is good if we are now more willing to question and criticize those who hold authority over us, because it allows us to hold them accountable and see their actions with more objectivity.



@vare poses the question, “would it ever be possible for a society to arise that does not rely on authority figures?” I think that a society without authority would be disastrous, and likely wouldn’t be considered a society at all. One thing we have learned from experiments like Milgram’s and Stanford is that human nature often manages to shock us in the nastiest ways (no “shock” pun intended that is actually really morbid). Although theoretical models of authority free society might seem appealing, they rely on the expectation that all humans will choose to be good and abide by the rules agreed upon by everyone. This is just not possible, especially not with such a large population. If no one has an authority, isn’t that the same as everyone having authority? As we saw in what I believe was the BBC prison experiment, once prisoners gained the authority they had long been denied, they established their own form of tyranny, and abandoned some of the morals and values they previously exhibited. Could we expect this to happen in our own society? It’s hard to tell, but I definitely don’t want to find out through experience. Our government is dependant on structures of authority, and many of our most essential institutions would collapse without it. The best we can hope to do is use our collective power as citizens to elect the most qualified and morally competent people to hold that authority. However, not everyone can agree on what it means to be “qualified” or “moral”, and many people’s decisions at the polls tend to be swayed by other factors. If every leader was as benevolent as they are charismatic (or rich), society would be much better off.


I must admit that as I was reading Milgram’s statement on “sufficient personnel in any medium sized American town”, I was more inclined to believe him because of his authority as an acclaimed scientist. Once I read through some of my peers responses contesting this idea, I was able to see past this and properly develop my own thoughts. When I saw the word “camps” my mind immediately jumped to the Japanese internment camps the American government established during WWII, or the detainment centers currently set up along our southern border. These are not death camps (although I’m pretty sure people have died in each) but they are certainly morally objectionable and in violation of several human rights, yet seem to have been staffed sufficiently. If there was much widespread protest to the internment camps, I have not learned about it. And we know that there are many who see no issue with what is happening to immigrant families and children in detainment, or if they do, they didn’t think it was significant enough to influence their vote. They are not the ones actively creating the horrible conditions or mistreatment that people in those situations were/are subjected to, and so they feel no responsibility and very little empathy. A couple of these readings used “American” as one example when discussing the impact of a group identity on an individual’s choice and actions. I believe this “American” identity and the idea of putting our (although that “our” doesn’t always refer to every American) country above all also contributes to such passivity in these instances, but that might be getting off topic.


I think that with our knowledge of the past, it would be very hard if not impossible to supply a death camp with just the members of any American town. Something so reminiscent of the Holocaust would certainly evoke outrage from any who are educated in in this part of history. The reason we study such dark parts of our history so thoroughly is so that we never make those same mistakes again. Although the Milgram experiment was designed with the Holocaust in mind, it didn’t bear many surface level similarities, which is why participants didn’t realize they were momentarily stepping into the shoes of a Nazi. I’m sure that if any of us were put into a situation reflecting the Milgram experiment, we would notice the similarities, and be able to take control of our own actions, regardless of whatever authority might be present.

My question is, do you think that it is enough to be educated in the wrongs of the past, can that knowledge be enough to override human behavior and authority in situations like this? or would humans be able to remain complicit, even knowing that they are behaving just like the Nazis did?

lurando
Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 26

Milgram himself claims that the purpose of his experiment is to figure out what the extent of a person’s obedience to authority. His original intent was actually more in line of Asch’s experiment as it was that experiment that got him inspired, instead of finding out if people’s judgements are more likely to be swayed by a group, he wanted to find out if people would be willing to commit such heinous and tortuous crimes if pressured by fellow group members. Indeed, many thought-provoking questions about the human psyche and trauma exploration experiments had been greatly spurred on by the Holocaust, as Cartwright notes. The Holocaust is not the only significant historical atrocity with unimaginable human cruelty nor is it the last, but it is no doubt one of the most profound.


It doesn’t seem like I’m in the minority at all when I say that I was shocked at the results. All of the psychology majors and scholars that Milgram consulted with agreed that only a few would ever go through the final experiment, yet that was the opposite of what we saw. Even more shocking, however, was when Milgram went through with his pilot experiment with a couple of Yale students, all of whom went the whole way. Of course, we don’t know the full script of the initial experiment, but the fact that every single one of them went got to the end was unbelievable. It was after the first couple unanimous experiments that he changed goals, that what he wanted to find next was not whether people would be more likely to commit punishments in the face of authority, but whether what would deter someone from obeying.


I agree and disagree with @BLStudent. BBC conducted an updated Stanford prison experiment where they made sure to not interfere. There were two things that they found: groups are formed through a common identity in order to break through adversity or to achieve their goal, and two, without a cohesive group identity, order breaks down and authoritarian ideas prevail. When the prisoners were first connected to each other through a common identity, they their empathy arguably strengthens because they shared and bonded through each other’s struggles. However, it’s only after the breakdown of the more democratic institution that everyone became more willing to follow authoritarian leaders.


Like @yvesIKB, I’ve also wondered whether a person’s gender, race, sexual orientation, and other differences could have affected a person’s willingness to finish the entire experiment. However, there is an experiment that produced results showing that women are as likely as men to follow authority. To respond to @ernest’s assertion that Americans today are more weary of authority than in 1960s, which the Moral Convulsion article that we read also seemed to assert, Burger’s study in 2007 seemed to give the same results, even more shocking knowing that the participants were made sure that they know the true nature of the experiment.


@noodles makes a really good point, and one that I noticed was also reflected in the David Cash case. There was no doubt that Cash knew what he did was wrong, yet he was adamant to the press that he did nothing wrong, that none of it was not his fault. Both the participant in the experiment and Cash hesitated at what the authority was doing/saying, but they nevertheless gave up in the end. We push off blame. We want to be seen as “good,” yet we sometimes do the opposite of just that. That is why we always seem to grasp for a reason to excuse ourselves, to trick ourselves into believing that we can’t be that bad.


To answer @ithinkitscauseofme’s question, I honestly don’t think results will be that different. The idea that if we have more awareness of our past and our actions, we would be less likely to do such things have warranted quite a discussion, it’s why we learn about history in the first place. But the 2007 experiment seemed to say “no, being more wary doesn’t change results,” which is disheartening, but of course, those participants might not have known the results of the Milgram experiment and other factors. My question to the next person, then, is “Could awareness of our past actions actually change paths?”

FANBOY
Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 23

The Good, the Bad, and the Authority

What I conclude from Milgram’s experiments is that, there is something about the way humans have been raised and the way society functions that heavily impacts what we saw in the experiments. My jaw dropped when I saw the “teacher” in the experiment panic when he didn’t hear the screams of the “learner” anymore. It reminded me of a picture of Nazi soldiers who had been captured by the soviets and were forced to see pictures of what really happened in the concentration camps. All of the Nazi soldiers were neither crying, panicking, or had a look of horror on their faces, because they all realized in that moment they had directly contributed to the genocide of Jews in Europe. They were lied to by Nazis, turned into Nazis themselves, and convinced by the power of authority they were on the right side of history. I think it is apart of human nature to listen. Humans have been listening for thousands of years. Our ancestors listened to their parents who said not to wander into the forest, the children who listened lived and the children who didn’t listen were eaten by a bear. The ability to listen is innate, like walking or talking. It ensures our survival.



@wisteria brought up the idea of this experiment and its relation to if humans inherently good or evil. I don’t think this experiment has anything to do with “good” or “evil”. “Good” and “evil” are all a matter of perspective, humans aren’t inherently anything. Similar to “babies aren’t born racist”. Nobody is born with a predetermined state of being. We are shaped by those around us. Serial killers for example were often abused and neglected as children by their parents. They were not told what is wrong or right, they were just domestically abused. They never got the chance to listen, because they never got the chance to be thought. Listening is what make us who we are. The “teacher” in the experiment listened to the “learner”’s screams and did nothing. The “teacher” has learned over the course of their life when someone is in pain they yell but the “teacher” has also learned “good” people do what they are told, no matter what is asked of them. Children listen to their parents and students listen to their teachers, or else.



The “teacher” was a grown man, not a child who could be spanked, there was nothing holding the man back from leaving the room other than what he has been trained to do, follow authority. He was manipulated into compliance, not only by an authority figure, but by promises. The scientist said over and over again he would take full responsibly no matter what happened to the “learner”. If you can tell any normal human being they are completely free from consequences, that they would never be held accounted for, no matter what they do. You have suddenly given someone something no human has ever had, “freedom”. They are now free to do whatever they want. They can never be accounted for or blamed. If there was one person like this in the world, the world would collapse within 48 hours, all because of one person. The “teacher” was free from blame allowing him to keep shocking the “learner”, if something happened to the “learner” its the scientist’s fault not the “teacher”. But at the end of the video clip one of the scientists who was in on it asked, was there anything the “learner” could’ve done to stop the “teacher”. I thought in a secret way he was asking “Who is more responsible: The man who says to pull the trigger, or the man who pulls the trigger?” Look at the world today, Milgram called 36 years ago there would be people who would be willing to work for concentration camps in America. If he could look at the border camps today, I don’t think he would be shocked in any way. To answer lurando’s question, awareness of our past actions can’t change paths, if it did we wouldn’t have children being separated from their families at the border. All of America knows what happened during World War II (except a small group of people who deny its existence), the most terrifying part is there are some “Americans” who will proudly fly a Nazi flag along side the Confederate flag at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Going back to my point about “good” and “bad”, these people clearly think they are right. They know the history and somehow reasoned they are the ones who are right. My question to the next poster is: “Where does this following of authority, like we saw with the “teacher”, come from?”.

Sippycup
Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 20

Complacency vs. Autonomy

When first watching the Milgram experiment in class, I was very surprised. I remember asking myself, how could anyone with morals do such a thing? The teacher clearly head the learner scream out in pain after being (fake) shocked yet he did not pause the experiment. He continued when the person in the lab coat instructed him to do so and confirmed that the learner was fine and that no one would take responsibility but the guy in the lab coat. I think that was one of the key moments. Humans want to be rewarded when doing something good and avoid responsibility when doing something bad. If the teacher faced no repercussions for shocking the learner, he would not have any incentive for not going further with the experiment, even if the learner died. During the 1 to 1 interview, he was asked if there was anything that the learner would say in order to stop the teacher from pausing the experiment and he simply dodged the question by bringing the blame elsewhere. Nothing would have stopped him. It's not to say that the teacher had no morals what so ever, during the experiment he was deeply concerned that the learner would die, however it's interesting to see to what extent humans would go to.

In the article, "The Psychology of Torture" one of the lines that really stuck out to me was "The repetition that fills human lives 'gives the impression of a pursuing fate, a daemonic trait in their destiny.’" This connects with Sigmund Freud's ideas on psychoanalysis. He claimed that each person had an id, ego, and superego. The id would control a person's primitive thoughts and this would consist of many desires and there was a connection that people who experienced some sort of trauma had this desire to inflict pain onto others, thus the teachers in the experiment wanting to shock the patients. I somewhat agree with this theory since I don't think that all humans necessarily have this desire and trauma does not always affect a person's morality or decision making in these types of specific ways.

As mentioned in class, one of the large factors was authority. I agree with @yvesIKB and their point of professional legitimacy. Because the person was a doctor, many people are bound to follow his instructions with a lot of trust put in since he has the credentials. Humans are willing to be complacent if there is a higher authority. Many of Trump's supporters follow him almost devoutly and it really concerns me as no one should put that much faith in a person. Despite being a president of the United States, one should always question the president's choices. This goes for all authority in general. One should question authority because what makes them more important than the common people? They are humans as well. If we are too complacent in our society, we turn a blind eye if there is an abuse of power.

kurapika
Boston, MA, US
Posts: 20

While I knew about the Milgram experiment prior to this class, it was still really shocking to see it all play out. The Milgram experiment (and the articles about it) reveal an almost inherent, darker side to human psychology. We seem to seek to conform, even if that means not doing what is right. Although some participants did seem to falter while administering the shocks once they reached a higher level, they ultimately followed the study’s orders to avoid confrontation or disapproval of the study’s administrators.


In the Asch conformity study, participants chose the answer the majority did --even if they knew it was incorrect. This result is so similar to the Milgram experiment, as it shows a part of human instinct to conform (even if it goes against your morals and values). As humans, we are social creatures; we (as a whole) find safety in crowds. So, if you decide on something that seems to go against this crowds and their ideas, the fear of being ostracized and judged by our peers is enough to stick to conformity. This sort of “herd mentality” also allows us to almost shift off blame or responsibility, like a “well they did it too so i'm not that guilty!” type of thing. This is seen in the Milgram experiment when the “teacher” participant first asks the administrator if he is responsible for the harm (seemingly) inflicted onto the “student”, and later when he tries to push part of the blame back onto the administrator and they study (“you guys told me to do it!”)


As I mentioned before, I already had an understanding of what the Milgram experiment had in store before watching it in class. But it is still shocking to me to see how far individuals will go to not disturb the balance, the social hierarchy, that is already in place; even if the actions required to maintain said balance is morally wrong, they will still continue to obey. As much as we may criticize this willingness to obey, this idea is essentially nailed into us since we are young children; starting with authoritative figures such as your parents and older family members, and later to teachers and administrators, and in extreme (or not-so extreme) cases, your government. We are taught to be quiet and comply, that questioning authority is, while in small doses okay, is something not to be encouraged. To enforce this lesson, we are faced with punishment, almost as a way into scaring us to obey this rule of society. And so, while shocking, it isn’t that surprising that this need to conform and obey seeps into all aspects of ourselves and behavior: even in extreme cases like the Milgram experiment.


Going back to how the government seeks for its people to obey, this allows them to do essentially what they want. This is very dangerous, as this conformity is manipulated into following ideologies and people. A more recent example is the mania that surrounds the supporters of Trump; a more darker example are the supporters of the Nazi Party and the Holocaust. This manipulation of people’s willingness to obey is so insidious not only because it can be twisted to follow something or someone blindly, but also because it lets these higher powers get away with so much. The United States and racism are so intertwined; it was what the country was built upon. However, many people simply see it as a side note, at most a “dark chapter of this country’s past.” But despite racist behavior still exhibited today, so many people continue to support this system and refuse to acknowledge its long, long list of flaws. To place a figure, ideology, system, etc. on a high pedestal and believe everything that comes from them creates an environment where you overlook (or don't even recognize) their inevitable flaws.Compliance to figures like these breeds idolization, which I’ve always believed sprouts ignorance.

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