posts 1 - 15 of 29
Boston, US
Posts: 205

Readings (referenced below):

Viewing: If you were not in class when I showed the Milgram Obedience experiment footage, please do the following: go to the Keefe Library home page ( and then in the left column, click on “Academic Video Online from Alexander Street (ProQuest)” and then at the upper right, search “Obedience.” You should see a black/white video that’s the first one in the top row (on the left), called “Obedience, 1962.” (45:17) When you open that video, you should watch two sections:

Time count 0:19 through 9:14 [this is also at the start of clip #1]

Then time count 21:59 through 39:16 [this is also at the start of clip #2]

Now that you’ve seen a portion of the film of Stanley Milgram’s 1961 experiment at Yale, you know that ordinary people are capable of doing startling things out of obedience to someone or to some sort of idea. Often we would identify these folks at the start as bystanders—people who would not initiate such an activity but who are somehow brought into it. They then have a choice whether to remain a bystander, become a perpetrator, or to become a resister or rescuer.

In Milgram’s experiment, people volunteered to participate in an experiment by responding to an advertisement. That happens all the time. But why do so many of the participants go through with the experiment? Why do so few object?

As background to this experiment, you should look at the reading by Philip Meyer, “If Hitler asked you to Electrocute a Stranger, Would you? Probably?” taken from Esquire (February 1970). (Here is a version that shows the PDF of the original article.) You should also look at an experiment conducted by Solomon Asch in the 1950s. Asch’s work preceded Milgram’s, although this experiment focuses squarely at conformity, a piece (but not the entire piece) of the issue of obeying authority. Take a look at Haslam and Reicher’s article discussing Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford prison experiment (now discredited) and the BBC followups to that: “The Power of Tyranny,” Scientific American (2005). And finally, consider Malcolm Harris’ perspective in “The Psychology of Torture,” Aeon, 7 October 2014.

Some of the findings that are also important to know about that emerged from Milgram’s experiment:

• 65% of the volunteers (‘teachers’) gave the full 450 volts.

• When Milgram varied the experiment, so that the setting was less academic, only 48% gave

the full 450 volts.

• When Milgram had the authority figure give instructions by telephone (instead of being in the room), only 21% gave the full 450 volts.

• When more than one authority figure was in the room and the two argued over the experiment, no “teacher” continued to the end.

• When the “learner” was in the same room as the teacher, only 40% of the teachers “obeyed.”

• When the “teacher” had to put the “learner’s” hand on the metal plate to give the shock, only 30% obeyed the experiment.

Note what Milgram himself believed:

It is psychologically easy to ignore responsibility when one is only an intermediate link in a chain of evil action but is far from the final consequences of the action. … No one man decides to carry out the evil act and is confronted with his consequences. The person who assumes full responsibility for the act has evaporated. Perhaps this is the most common characteristic of socially organized evil in modern society. (Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority New York, 1974)

And in 1979, just a few years before his death (in 1984, at age 51, after his fifth heart attack), Milgram told 60 Minutes interviewer Morley Safer

“I would say, on the basis of having observed a thousand people in the experiment and having my own intuition shaped and informed by these experiments, that if a system of death camps were set up in the United States of the sort we had seen in Nazi Germany, one would be able to find sufficient personnel for these camps in any medium-sized American town.”

What do you conclude from Milgram’s experiment(s)? Does it give you any insight into human behavior? What will humans be willing to do, why they’ll do it, what they are capable of doing and not doing? Putting aside Hitler for the moment, what kinds of behavior does this experiment help to explain, not only in history but in our own times? To quote from Milgram’s 1979 CBS interview, would we “be able to find sufficient personnel…in any medium-sized American town”?

When you post, please be sure to reference other students’ posts in yours AND be sure at the end to pose a question for the next student to ask. (And be sure to reply also to the question that precedes your post!)

West Roxbury, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 19

Peer Pressure

After watching Milgram's experiment, I can conclude many things. One thing for sure however is that the human mind can easily ignore all the wrongs of a decision when being told to do so. Especially when it is just a flip of the switch. To add on to the matter, any sort of peer pressure can direct the mind to ignore any sort of conscious decision for the time being since it is a simple task of flipping a switch. Another thing I can also conclude is that since the teacher felt very guilty of his actions, he was so quick to disassociate himself from the electrocution when the patient came out to greet him to show that he was okay. This is just one example to show that the humans sometimes will not take responsibility for horrible actions executed.

Moving on to talking about what humans are willing to do vs not willing to do and why, naturally, humans hate bad confrontation. In this case, the teacher met the patient that he "electrocuted" and the likely case was that he was expecting the patient to confront him about why he would listen and go on with the shock. As an instinct, the teacher went to comforting the man as he was willing to disassociate from the situation. This may not be the case for all humans, but in terms of what he wasn't willing to do was to listen to his guilt no matter what Milgram said. Overall, this experiment mainly explained how us humans instinctively can go to dishonesty in order to avoid negative confrontation, and this instinct can be applied to many scenarios today as it is very common. For example, being caught for having some sort of association with drugs. But to conclude, the experiment is evident that us humans tend to be dishonest when it comes to avoiding negative confrontation.

My Question: What use is a conscience when we sometimes don't even listen to it?

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 21

Mob Mentality?

The Milgram experiment was most definitely immoral and unethical, yet the results of it cannot be forgotten. Watching the videos of a man screaming from electrical shock, and the man delivering the shocks not doing anything was quite disturbing. I want to tell myself that if I were the said “teacher” I would definitely stop and not give any shocks, however I don’t know that for certain. No one does.

What I conclude from Milgram’s experiment is that humans will obey unethical orders despite knowing morally that they shouldn’t. I want to say that this conclusion is surprising or shocking, but in reality it really isn’t. So far in this class we’ve talked about bystanders, and this correlates with the bystander effect very strongly. In the video, the “teacher” at one point says he does not want to be held responsible, then continuing after the scientist takes responsibility. This leaves the “teacher” as a bystander, not having the responsibility, but also not doing anything to stop the immoral behavior which he is playing out.

This type of behavior is what allowed the Nazis and other horrible groups of people to do what they did. Yes there was a number of upstanders throughout the holocaust, Schindler for example, however not enough. The number of people who complied and were bystanders far outweighs the others. This is a pattern throughout history. It wasn’t just a one time thing with the Nazis and Hitler, there have been many other genocides and horrible acts of violence performed by hate groups. This along with the experiment really show that humans want to obey orders, they want to fit in, just like Milgram said (according to Harris’s article). The same results came out of Solomon Asch’s experiment, one third of the time the participants conformed to the icorrect group. “These results suggest that conformity can be influenced both by a need to fit in and a belief that other people are smarter or better informed.” Could it come from humans' natural insecure ways, believing that others must know better than us, therefore taking their orders? People usually will try their best to fit in, may it be out of politeness, or something else. I consider the need to fit in as dangerous, because it may very well be that humans are willing to do just anything to fit in.

We have all heard the phrase “if your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump off as well?” And although most people would answer no, one can never really know unless we are in the situation. Would we be so desperate to conform that we would jump off despite the risks? How far would we be willing to go following orders? This is one of the questions that Milgram tried to answer, and he received results that surprised and disappointed him.

This kind of behavior helps explain why in the military, soldiers will carry out orders, despite how unethical they might consider them to be. I don’t think that any average person would want to just shoot at their “enemies'' or bomb a place that could potentially have innocent civilians, but when given the orders to do so, they do it. Just like in Meyer’s article, when during the trial of Francis Powers, he asked “if he had thought about the possibility that his flight might have provoked a war.” He replied, “The people who sent me should think of these things. My job was to carry out orders. I do not think it was my responsibility to make such decisions.” I believe that when the responsibility is taken off of an individual, that they could carry out pretty much any order. That is the reason that I agree with Milgram when he says that we would “be able to find sufficient personnel…in any medium-sized American town”. This is supported by the experiment.. When the “teacher” had to put the “learners” hand on the metal plate to give the shock, only 30% of them obeyed, compared to 65% of the teachers giving the full 450 volts when they were in a separate room. The “teachers” were way less likely to hurt the “learner” if they had to be actively, physically doing the shocking. Even though both resulted in the same outcome, somehow for humans having to actually carry it out physically and face to face changes the way they react.

My question for whoever comes after me is this: Have there been times in your life where you have conformed to the general public/larger group of people? (This could be on a small scale like changing your answer on homework after talking to classmates about it.)

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 16

Conformity and Obeying Authority

I think that Milgrim’s experiment raises more questions than it does conclude any for me. But the overall response does show that there is an overwhelming obedience to authority for Americans, regardless of the consequences. It was interesting to see how when the environment and circumstances were made less serious or scientific (such as giving instruction over an intercom, having two doctors in the room arguing, etc.) less people were willing to go all the way with the shocks. It raises the question for me, why were these people so willing to follow authority when it seemed more formal, when the outcome was the same? In Philip Meyer’s, "If Hitler Asked You to Electrocute a Stranger, Would You? Probably" Esquire (1970) a piece of information I found quite interesting was “agency--the critical thing is that you see yourself as the instrument of the execution of another person's wishes. You do not see yourself as acting on your own.” This helps to answer that question. When one views themselves to be performing tasks on behalf of someone else, they feel less responsibility and therefore are willing to go further. Like in the video we watched in class, the subject continued to give the shock only after he made sure that the scientist accepted all responsibility and that he wouldn’t technically be to blame. This makes me question where one’s own morality comes into play, where is the line drawn between obeying authority and listening to your own conscience? This connects to the Asch Conformity Experiments, where people are more likely to conform to others' answers when there is more pressure on them. Milgrim’s Experiment explains a lot of behavior. I think it honestly relates to any large group that you see, whether it is religion or politics, people tend to conform to what the group does as a whole or what the authority figure does. Looking back at many events in history where a large group, or majority of people went along with such a horrible idea that we now deem as wrong, we question why these people wouldn’t do something about the things being done if they didn’t agree with them. I think it goes to show the power of societal or authoritative influence, and even if you think you would have done something to stop it, you will never know because you weren’t in such circumstances.

@madagascar “Have there been times in your life where you have conformed to the general public/larger group of people?” Yes, definitely. I think that is a flaw of mine to conform to what other people think out of fear of being singled out in a crowd. I think I would start to question if I was truly sure about my answer or not and get nervous to have to justify my response. Although I would like to think I am confident enough in my thoughts to stand up for what is right, it depends on the situation for me.

My question is : If you were in Milgrim's experiment, what do you think you would do?

Boston, Massachuesetts, US
Posts: 19

Coincidence, or Human Nature?

Something I observed, that many others pointed out, from the Milgram Experiment, is the lack responsibility. disassociation from the action committed. The subject we watched repeatedly asked the researcher present whose responsibility it would be if the learner got hurt, and when hearing that the researcher would take full blame, felt that justified continuing on with the experiment. They felt a lack of responsibility, whether it be because the learner was not someone the teacher could see or feel, or because of the reassurance from the other person in the room, the researcher. This disassociation from the action is something highly seen in Humankind, from slavery times and before. It is always taught in history books that both the North and England were anti-slavery, with England abolishing slavery in 1831, and the North being made up of free states. However, there seems to be a disassociation with the cotton purchased by these factories and free, anti slavery states. This cotton was produced by slaves, and whether the factories and regions like it or not, they were partaking in slavery by creating a market and demand for it. So while the North and England were not the ones pulling the trigger, they were paying the South to do so. This relates back to the Milgram experiment because both (the north + England and the learner) knew what they were doing was wrong, but continued to do the harmful things to the learners (in this case, the learner for the North and England is African American people, so people who are actually being electrocuted) because the researcher (the south) tells them that it is ok and that they will take full responsibility. It is borderline human nature, to have this innate selfishness, this feeling that the teacher had done no wrong, and wanted to stop, so that is what counts, but it isn't that is not how it works.

The person before me asked a really interesting question, "Have there been times in your life where you have conformed to the general public/larger group of people?" I must say, to start off, without a doubt I have conformed my answer to fit the general public/larger group of people. It is no secret that humans are social creatures, and crave social acceptance and conformity, in many cases. Humans just want to fit in, and feel like they belong in a group of people. I really struggle with that, as a person with diagnosed anxiety, I am constantly worried what other people think of me, and sometimes I conform to sort of hide myself, so that others can't really think of me as wrong, or different. I struggled with this for a while, which makes it infuriating when teachers say that wrong answers are allowed, because I get that incorrect answers push through discoveries, but getting it wrong makes us set out, and just the teacher saying that I did it wrong makes me very uncomfortable as I worry whether people think I am stupid. In short, this relates to human nature once again because it seems to be human nature to want to fit in, and to follow what the crowd/orders are.

A question I propose to the next lucky person, Do you believe that people should refuse to allow an unethical study, that could potentially answer dire questions, such as a cure to Schizophrenia?

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 11

human psychology

To start, I'll answer the question Fidget asked: Do you believe that people should refuse to allow an unethical study, that could potentially answer dire questions, such as a cure to Schizophrenia?

It depends on how unethical. Something like this, maybe? But for sure, the people volunteering should know exactly what is going to happen; the volunteer shouldn't be lied to or made to believe something false.

And the question before that, "have you changed yourself to fit a group?" Yes. I'm not exactly ashamed of that, I did what I thought was best for me and best for my safety and wellbeing, because the human mind prioritizes safety and there's comfort in numbers.

The scientific part of me thinks that these results shouldn’t be treated with any seriousness due to the experiment’s major, MAJOR ethical concerns. It does tell us a lot about human curiosity, and how badly we want to know why people do things, even if you don’t touch the contents of the study. I think that lots of people would react similarly to the man in the video we watched. This experiment is not at all a good representation of how all people, or even people of different cultures would react in this situation. In America, blue collar workers are used to being overworked and underpaid, and fired when they don’t comply. I think this experiment would have gone completely differently if there wasn’t a stipend for completing it. America’s culture raises you from a young age to care about money, especially if you don’t have enough. I don’t like placing the blame solely on the man forced into that situation, I think the culture that made him is what we should be talking about. We’ve all grown up with a focus on America, because most (all?) of us live here, but I’m curious as to how people in other countries, or even different parts of america, would have acted in that experiment. I don’t think the Milgram experiment can be used as a model of human morality, because it has an extremely small and specific sample size; males from the general CT area.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 20

Humans vs. Authority

I think that Milgram's experiment was accurate and eye opening, although it was unethical and graphic. After watching the experiment, I realized how much people truly obey authorities without questioning rules. We do not question the wrongs of something, we just do it because we are told. I am not sure if it is because we are afraid of the consequences, afraid of peer pressure or if we are taught by society to obey. Either way, it was a very eye opening experiment to watch and this obedience can be shown throughout history. It gave insight to how humans truly behave in situations crucial like these.

Throughout the video, I kept questioning what I would do if I was in the scenario. I would have hoped that I would stand up and put a stop to this because I can acknowledge that this is very wrong. I am unsure though because if someone was constantly telling me what to do, I might have listened to them. I would have been very concerned about the man being electrocuted but I am unsure what I would have done because of the power of authority. I definitely agree with @madagascar when they said that they talked about what they would have done in this situation and that “no one does' '. I also agreed when they said, “What I conclude from Milgram’s experiment is that humans will obey unethical orders despite knowing morally that they shouldn’t. I want to say that this conclusion is surprising or shocking, but in reality it really isn’t.” This statement was very powerful because it is true. Most people would still follow orders even if they knew it was wrong.

Throughout history/daily life, we see many examples of times where this experiment explains certain behavior such as in school. In school we are told to show up a certain time, only talk when we are supposed to, not to eat except during a specific time period, only use the bathroom with permission, dress a certain way, no cell phones, and to always pay attention. We all follow these rules without questioning why, and without questioning if they are morally right.

To answer the question of @fidget: “ Do you believe that people should refuse to allow an unethical study, that could potentially answer dire questions, such as a cure to Schizophrenia?”, I believe that it depends on the person and the situation. I think the person should be able to give consent to the experiment and understand what will be happening. If a person is comfortable with an unethical study because they want to help people with horrible diseases such as Schizophrenia then they should be allowed to. If a person did not feel comfortable doing a certain study because it is unethical then they should be allowed to refuse it.

My question for the next person would be: Why do you think we obey authorities? Why do we obey rules even if some rules are be morally wrong?

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 19

Blindly Obedient

Milgram's experiment was startling. While he was trying to collect evidence that may suggest that all Germans are more obedient than others, he found that his first testing group in America was so obedient that he didn’t even need to do any testing in Germany. The overwhelming results were that people are extremely obedient, even when they are told to do things that are morally and ethically wrong.

Most humans are willing to act in certain ways if they are told to do so. They do not feel responsible for the actions if they were only a link in a chain of action. In Stanley Milgram’s 1961 experiment at Yale, there were “teachers” and “learners”. “Teachers” would be told to punish “learners” with an electric shock if they answered a question testing memory incorrectly. There was someone telling the “teacher” to administer the punishment. The film showed some teachers being reluctant, but many went all the way. One “teacher” was hesitant to continue administering the punishment. He asked if he would be held responsible for what happened. The person directing him said that he would take all responsibility. The “teacher” continued after it was confirmed that he would not be held responsible for anything that happened. I think what @Fidget said is a key related factor. There was “disassociation from the action committed.”

Milgram had to make the conditions increasingly extreme to try to get participants to be disobedient. He eventually wrote the script so that the “teacher” would be asked to physically restrain the “learner” and administer a painful punishment. On man came in and shocked the “learner” with no question. He said “Like this, boss?' Zzumph!”. He was seeking approval from the person he was receiving directions from.

This behavior helps explain events in history where groups of people acted in ways we hope that most people are incapable of. The Cambodian, Armenian, and Rwandan Genocides, the violence in the Congo, the acts of terrorist groups, wars, and so many other events in which groups act in disturbing ways may partly be able to be explained by this behavior.

To answer @dennis12 “Why do you think we obey authorities? Why do we obey rules even if some rules are be morally wrong?”, I think that we obey authorities because that is what we are taught to do. We constantly are told what to do by coaches, teachers, and other figures. We are often rewarded for being obedient. Disobedient behavior is looked down on.

My question for the next person would be: Do you think that the date that the experiment was conducted plays a role in the results? Has society progressed in a way which would cause people to question authority and produce different results?
Boston, MA, US
Posts: 17

Obedience v.s. Ethics

When we’re younger, we are always told by our parents and leading figures in our lives to “do as we’re told”. Whatever the adults in our lives tell us to do have to be the right choices. Right? Well, no. There is always an extent to which obedience draws a line, as shown by Milgram’s experiment.

After watching the video of Milgram’s experiment on Friday, I was shocked to say the least. The whole experiment was unethical to begin with. Various people signed up via an advertisement for a study but were not informed of its contents. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were emotionally scarred after going through what they went through. They were under the impression that they essentially killed the “student” with the lack of response during the higher voltages and suffered extreme stress during the experiment. It’s quite interesting how people pride themselves on having a high moral compass when they are unable to hold their ground against unethical practices in the face of authority.

From Milgram’s experiment, I’ve concluded that obedience overrides ethics. The man in the scenario we watched continuously showed concern for the “student” when he heard exclamations of pain and pleas to stop. He said he did not want to contribute to that man’s death but once he heard that the study would take full responsibility, the man found it easier to go to the highest voltage. In his mind, it wasn’t his fault. It was the fault of the conductors of the study. Had they not continued to urge him with phrases like “you must continue” and “it is absolutely essential that you continue”, he would’ve stopped. Or so he said. I think @fidget brings up an interesting point when they said the “teachers” felt a lack of responsibility since the “student” was not someone they could see or feel. If their suffering was out of their vision, it was easier for the “teachers” to dissociate themselves from the harm they were inducing and further justify their actions. Milgram’s experiment really shows how obedience is ingrained in us and can push us to doing unimaginable things. People are prone to follow figures of authority in spite of the extremity of their orders.

One instance that exemplifies this in history is the Sewol Ferry Tragedy that occurred in South Korea on April 16, 2014. A ferry carrying hundreds of students and teachers for a school field trip was en route to Jeju when it sank from the excessive amount of cargo on its decks. 250 students died. During the crisis, the crew members of the ship urged the students and faculty to stay in their cabins, even when the waters continued to rise. Of course, in the light of authority, they obeyed. The majority of the students remained where they were until escape was no longer an option, as they thought that the order of the ship crew was the best choice. Such events, as tragic as they are, depict the powerful effects of obedience. Even in the face of immense danger, people will choose to listen to the higher ups and not act out on their own.

In response to @20469154661’s question, I think that the date of the experiment did play a role in the results. Back then, people were more inclined to trust their leading figures as they had no prominent reasons not to. However, in light of today, we have seen how broken and inefficient our governmental system truly is, as shown by the immense inequalities in racial justice and the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, we are less inclined to trust authority because we’ve learned that they are not always able to be counted on. I’d think there would definitely be a higher percentage of people who would refuse to go to the highest voltage but some people would also do the opposite as well. The concept of obeying authority doesn’t really transcend time. People are conditioned to obey authority even when its results may be unethical. I think it's simply how humans are built that we act this way which leads me to ask: Do you think there is a way to alter this obligation to obedience? Or is the urge to always follow figures in power despite the consequences something we can’t change?

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 19

Obedience Is Ingrained Within Our Society

Milgram’s experiment definitely exposes the reality behind human nature, that is, individuals are less likely to object to authoritative orders when they are not required to take full responsibility. More than 65% of the test subjects went through all the 450 volts, despite hearing the agonizing screams of the supposed “learner” half way through the experiment. This shows the inhumaneness behind human behavior when supposedly controlled by a higher authority. Humans, as seen through history, are willing to do anything they are told, the reasons behind their obedience may involve things like money or fear, and although they have the capability to listen to the orders, they also have the capability to go against the majority and follow their own intuition, yet not many choose that route.

Aside from Hitler, this experiment explains the behavior exhibited by humans when in a circumstance with some sort of social dynamic. In the case of Milgram’s experiment, there was a great amount of trust towards the main authority figure that had mentioned the harmlessness of the shocks, many of the subjects, disregarding the cries of the “student”, allowed this fact to motivate them to continue. In one of the experiments in which more than one authority figure was in the room and argued about the experiment, no teacher continued until the end. This shows that individuals often need reinforcement in their own ideas in order to convince themselves that what they believe is the right opinion. This point is furthered by Asch’s experiment in conformity and the eagerness to be in groups. Many people would rather conform to something they don’t necessarily believe in than go against the grain. As shown through a quote from Isabella Wilkerson’s Caste recounting the bystanders of the Holocaust, “...yet they did nothing to stop the evil, which had now grown too big for one person to stop, and thus no one person was complicit, and yet everyone was complicit.” People often take part in evil when they believe themselves to not fully be responsible for the final outcome, in other words, dissociating themselves from the crime they committed.

I truly believe we would “be able to find sufficient personnel…in any medium-sized American town”, what happened in Germany was not specific to Germans but rather humans. Social dynamics imposed on by the structure of society, often forces people to remain obedient regardless of the consequences. @Dennis12 brings up a great point about examples of forced obedience in settings like a school. “We all follow these rules without questioning why, and without questioning if they are morally right.” Even in smaller situations like these, our society is constructed in a way that normalizes an authoritative and submissive relationship. In the case of the military, even if one was reluctant to kill an innocent civilian, the conditioning of following orders would eventually train individuals to kill without remorse.

To answer @goob’s question, I would hope that there’s a possibility to alter this obligation to obedience, but I believe the way in which society operates will not allow for us to deconstruct something that’s always been there. In part I feel like it is an innate aspect of humans to follow figures in power regardless of consequences. People always want reassurance that there will be someone greater than them to take responsibility and initiative. If we as a society could normalize voicing individualistic ideas, perhaps we would be able to alter this obligation. In reality, the social dynamic involved in obedience will always present itself in different forms.

As for my question: If these experiments prove that an overwhelming majority of individuals would proceed with an order regardless of consequence, is it justifiable to punish soldiers that had aided in horrendous crimes (Nazis, Khmer Rouge soldiers) since they technically were doing as they were told? I propose this question because I find it difficult to imagine myself within their shoes.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 17

Obedience and Conformity

Milgram’s experiments revealed a lot about human conformity. Like @Murs1214 mentioned, humans can ignore morality when being told to do so by an authority figure. Some people often believe that they will always stand up for others and fight for what they believe is right. The Milgram experiment showed that even though the teacher knew that their actions were wrong, they still continued with the experiment because they were told that it was necessary.

The different varieties of the experiment highlighted the extent and circumstances humans are most likely to obey and conform. The fact that more people followed through with the experiment when the instructor was in the room and was the only one giving instructions compared to other scenarios is interesting to watch, but it is not shocking at all. When there is a strong authority figure and almost no reparations for their actions, it is easier for people to obey. For the other scenarios the instructor either did not have as much authority since they are not in the room. Humans are willing to inflict pain upon others under the disguise when they are forced to. In reality, most of the time we are not forced to follow others’ order, but rather they only serve as recommendations.

Adding on to what @madagascar said, this experiment just continues to prove how Nazis and other groups are able to do what they did without much interference. The Soloman Asch experiment showed that the bigger the group, the easier it is for others to conform to their thinking even when it is wrong. This mentality still continues today with genocides, violence, and discrimination happening around the world without people speaking up against it. Most people tend to only bring up situations like these on social media when the event is “trending”.

An example of this behavior happening in today’s world is in the finance industry. There have been numerous accounts of accounting fraud. For example, Wells Fargo had a huge scandal a few years back where upper level management put pressure on lower level associates to inflate their reports. Everyone knew this was unethical, but they still proceeded with this to boost their financial standing and their reputation.

Hypothetically, if we were to consider a medium-size American town, there would be enough people willing to conform in order to fit in. Soon, people from surrounding towns will also join in, and before we know it, it will have spread all across America—at which point the number of people in the group will outnumber the upstanders. With that much support, a significant amount of damage will be done before it can be stopped.

To answer @yelloworchids’ question, I believe that the soldiers should still be punished because they have aided in the horrendous act. Even though these soldiers were given an order, they should have carefully reflected upon the situation before acting. With all said, I believe that the soldiers should not be punished to the same extent as the level because I do not believe that they do not have as much power.

Now let me ask you a question: If it is that easy for a group of people to conform to the ideology of an authority figure, why is it much harder for them to support and conform to the ideas of an upstander?

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 17

The Danger of Conforming

Watching Milgram’s experiment was alarming, although not entirely shocking. While it was disturbing to watch, it was not completely surprising. It was peer pressure on a much larger scale, but what made it horrifying was that the “teachers” did not back down even with the believed consequence of killing someone. From this experiment I can conclude that in the presence of a form of power or authority for the most part humans will obey their orders, despite grave consequences. That is what makes it especially frightening, that we are all capable of overlooking something as valuable as a human life. While the "teacher" in the clip we watched expressed concern, he was still unable to put an end to the experiment, despite admitting that he was worried that the "learner" had been killed.

I also agree with @Fidget that we can conclude that the lack of responsibility and dissociation from the actions being committed is also extremely dangerous. In Milgram’s experiment the “teacher” was separated from the “learner” and unable to see the “learner”. While this did create a feeling of worry from the “teacher”, it also meant that the “teacher” could more easily choose to obey the commands. When the sound cut out and the “learner” was assumed to have passed out or been killed, the “teacher” was originally concerned, but then proceeded to go on. Although the experiment ceased after three times of giving the highest shock level, I wonder how long the experiment could have gone on. Would the “teacher” ever stop once there was no sign of the “learner” left?

Similar to Milgram’s experiment, the Asch Conformity Experiments looked into how humans will obey and conform, except this time with others in a group instead of to an individual in power. The experiment ultimately showed that people were willing to ignore reality if it meant going along with the group. While the individuals in the experiments knew that their answers were wrong, they still went along with the group just for the sake of conforming. This is equally dangerous and when also combined with a figure of authority this human need to conform can play a part in horrific consequences including many genocides.

Answering @anonymouse ‘s question, I think it is harder to conform to the ideas of an upstander because of the need to conform to a group. An authority figure often remains in power because of the support of a group, whereas an upstander often has little to no support. In this way it would be much easier to go along with someone who not only is already in power, but also has the support of a large group.

My question is: What would have happened if the “teacher” had known the “learner” in Milgram’s experiment? Do you think the results would be the same or different, and why?

Boston , MA, US
Posts: 17

Banality of Evil

From Milgram’s experiment, I can conclude that humans actually have a much greater tendency to obey authority than we may think we do as individuals. Like Kendra Cherry writes in The Asch Conformity Experiments, “If you are like most people, you probably believe that you are non-conformist enough to stand up to a group when you know you are right but conformist enough to blend in with the rest of your peers.” Most people think they would disobey authority if they did not think the order was right, but wouldn’t just to do it to cause unnecessary disarray, including Stanley Milgram himself: “If someone else had invented the experiment, and if [Milgram] had been the naive subject, he feels certain that he would have been among the disobedient minority.” Personally I too would think that I would not obey the experimenter in Milgram’s experiment, but I guess that is one of the ideas that can be deduced from the results: the existence of the banality of evil, as Hannah Arendt put it, wherein people are not inherently evil, but they lack the ability to recognize the consequences that their actions have on other people.

I can see how Milgram’s theory of a “state of agency” applies to this experiment and allowed so many people to go all the way up to 450 watts. For example in the video when the “teacher” makes sure to confirm with the experimenter that he accepts “full responsibility” for whatever happens to the “learner”. This definitely situates the teacher as an “agent” of the experimenter, because he would only go on if he knew all fault would go to the experimenter and not himself, and thus he is fine with carrying out the act. You could even say that he is the perpetrator, even if the experimenter is instructing him in what to do, the “teacher” is still carrying out the actions. So here, even if I don’t agree with the execution of his experiment, I agree with Milgram that “people should feel responsible for their actions”. Aren’t we always taught to “take responsibility for our actions”? Why would this not apply here, even if the experimenter is directing the “teacher” in what to do? Since the “teacher” was not bound to anything except by the demand of the experimenter, there is no reason why they shouldn’t take responsibility for what they are perceived to be doing to the “learner”.

I think this experiment helps to explain the behaviors of bystanders during historical tragedies like genocides, a lot of the time because of propaganda created by the people in power. Because the source of authority was telling them what to do, or not do, they were complicit in certain events. In our own times, it shows how Trump has built such a mob of supporters, who have been persuaded by his authority that they blindly follow him. And it’s not like it’s just a few people, but rather half of the whole country who are oblivious to his faults. They will listen and do anything he says. For example in the current events article we read a few weeks ago, where a supporter said he was ready to go out into the streets with his gun to fight a civil war if Trump said to.

Another thing evidenced by Milgram’s experiment that I can see today, is that oftentimes it’s hard for people to take the first step over the threshold of disobedience. In the video from the experiment, it is clear that the “teacher” is worried for the “learner” and thinks the shocking is not right. He continues to protest, but also continues to give the electric shocks, and ultimately does nothing to disobey the authority. It’s clear he doesn’t support this, but he is unable to take the first step, which would be either going to check on the man in the room, just leaving, or even stopping giving the shocks. I think you can see this reflected today: there are a lot of obvious societal problems and many citizens are organizing for change. At the same time however, many other citizens are remaining complicit despite the fact that they might support the cause, but they find it hard to take the first step.

I thought what @madagascar wrote was really interesting: “I consider the need to fit in as dangerous, because it may very well be that humans are willing to do just anything to fit in. We have all heard the phrase “if your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump off as well?” And although most people would answer no, one can never really know unless we are in the situation. Would we be so desperate to conform that we would jump off despite the risks? How far would we be willing to go following orders?” I think all these questions are really intriguing, and the point about the need to fit in being dangerous I absolutely agree with. I actually think this is related to a point Isabel Wilkerson made in her book Caste: The Origins of our Discontents. She writes about how in history “sell-outs’ or “snitches” from lower castes, were rewarded by the dominant caste for telling on people of their same caste. In order to survive, these people felt they had to conform and obey orders as much as they could from the dominant caste, and as a result put people from their similar situation, in trouble.

In response to @penguinsintherain ‘s question: What would have happened if the “teacher” had known the “learner” in Milgram’s experiment? Do you think the results would be the same or different, and why?

I think the results would definitely have been different, with people not going as far up the number of watts. Personally, I was surprised to learn that no one objected to shocking someone from the start, so especially if they knew each other, then I would expect some people to refuse to even do the experiment. The “teacher” would have a stronger motivation to disobey the experimenter and stop harming the “learner” if they knew them.

My question is: Do you agree with Milgram that “people should feel responsible for their actions”, or with Phillip Meyer who wrote “if everyone felt responsible for each of the ultimate consequences of his own tiny contribution to complex chains of events, then society simply would not work”?

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 16

Obedient to a fault

After viewing the Milgram Experiments, I was extremely disappointed. I had much higher expectations of people than what ended up being true. It was very surprising to see how quickly someone was willing to inflict pain on another person just because they were instructed to. If they knew what the experiment was, I doubt that many people would think that they too would torture someone. People have high expectations of themselves, even if those expectations are unrealistic. Peer pressure can make people change their actions, even if they know that what they are doing is wrong.

We could see the inner turmoil of the teacher in the experiment we saw in class. He felt horrible for continuing to shock the student. But he kept going because the scientist told him to. He was willing to set aside his morals because he was listening to someone in a place of authority. As soon as the scientist admitted that he would take responsibility for any negative consequences, the teacher continued with the experiment. This shows that the teacher didn’t really care what happened to the student. He only cared that he would not be in trouble for any negative consequences. His ethics and morals were overridden by obedience. He didn’t think he was at fault for his actions and that the scientist was. I wonder how far he would go if he was only encouraged to continue once.

The experiments explain a lot of things in US history. I believe it explains the Civil War. Poor people were convinced that the Civil War was about states’ rights when it was really about slavery. The Confederate leaders persuaded the Southern people that they were doing the right thing and protecting their heritage. The people most likely knew what the war was about but they wanted to obey their leaders. The experiments also explain horrific war crimes in the Vietnam War. Soldiers wiped out civilians because they were ordered to.

I would agree that it would be very easy to find enough people to commit horrible acts. As we saw from the experiment, if people feel that they are not directly responsible for something, then they will be more likely to do it.

Answering @penguinsintherain ‘s question, I think that the learner being a stranger was vital to the experiment. I don’t believe that the teacher would have purposefully hurt his friend to the same extent. The only force connecting the strangers was their humanity but friends have a strong interpersonal relationship. That relationship would stop them from causing excess harm to each other. I believe that the teacher would’ve stopped the experiment around halfway through.

My question is: Would the results be the same if it was done virtually and the teacher and learner were across the world from each other?

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 24

The Danger of Blind Obedience

Watching the Milgram Experiment unfold on video was disturburbing but necessary due to the gravity of the experiment's findings. In America, we learn about atrocities like the Holocaust and other genocides and it is very common place to say something along the lines of “I don’t understand how these people could just stand by and not do anything”, “that would never be me”, “that could never happen here”. The reality is people blindly follow authority, sometimes even if they morally object to it. That's how these events unfold, the masses simply do as they are instructed with the exceptions of few upstanders. Human behavior is to follow authority. Maybe it’s because somewhere down the line it was easier to survive if you just “went with the flow”.

The experiment helps explain how so many people turn a blind eye to pain, like the man who screamed that the electric shock was too painful and the “teacher” who just kept on electrocuting him. Despite the experiment being unethical it’s results truly reflect the mindset of many individuals. To take a modern example, just within the US, there are thousands of migrant workers being abused and some tortured by ICE officials in cruel camps. As Milgran said we would be able to “find sufficient personnel…in any medium-sized American town” because all of these ICE officials come from local neighborhoods and if walking down the street would look like everyday citizens. There will always be those who conform to a set of rules and then use the excuse of obeying authority to disassociate from their actions if and when they are morally wrong. We see this in some instances of police brutality and in our military. Its so easy to place the blame on anyone but yourself when someone is instructing you to carry out a torture like electric shock in the Milgram experiment.

Adding on to @penguinsintherain about the Ache’s experiment, I think the bandwagon mentality that the experiment revealed directly correlates with blind obedience and its dangers. Individuals simply ignored the truth because others did and that reality is all too real for people who ignore issues just because others are

Answering @leafinthewind’s question I don’t think the results would be too different if the experiment was conducted virtually because the idea that they are still in “separate rooms” is real. For example in the real experiment they couldn’t see each other and the audio was through an intercom so a virtual space would provide these same controls. However, it could entice the “teacher” to disregard the protests of the “student” more since they aren’t physically in the same space.

Its interesting that when there were more than one authority figure present in the room that argued with each other, less people went through with the experiment. This poses the question whether disagreements between authority figures impact the validity of what they are asking the teacher to do. My question is how does arguments between our leaders in government destroy our willingness to blindly obey or question their actions? If everyone agreed would we trust them and “obey”.

posts 1 - 15 of 29