Charlestown, Massachusetts, US
Reflection on Obedience and the Milgram Experiment
Milgram’s experiment in 1962 explained that ordinary peoples are willing to actively participate in violence, mass atrocities, and genocide if an authoritive figure is giving orders. What did the Milgram experiment lack? It lacked transparency as real shocks were not applied, so what if we applied genuine electric shocks to participants and a third person to give orders on whether or not the punishment should be even given? Cognitive neuroscientist at University College London named Patrick Haggard and his team used these elements in their version of Milgram’s study. What they found was a “small, but significant” perceived time between a person’s actions and outcome when an agent was present during the testing. It made those under the influences of the agent feel less accountable in their own actions. They also tested brain activity in the subjects. Since in the Milgram experiment participants were not actually shocked with electricity, they were now able to hear the screaming and reasoning of those who were genuinely shocked. This can be measured using electroencephalogram (EEG). They found, “brain activity in response to this tone is indeed dampened when being coerced.” Together in these two results we can conclude that the feeling of responsibility is cloaked when someone is giving someone orders.
As humans we are a very sociable group who are dependent on others' views. We are willing to conform to a group because of the underlying feeling that we will receive emotional or physical punishment from our peers. We need to fit in and that is what allows us to inflict pain on others, but there are individuals who do lie outside of these societal norms. In Milgram’s experiment around 40% chose not to keep going with the experiment. Those with strong personal morals could not bring themselves to damage the learner out of concern for their health. They stopped their pain because they ended their personal conflict on whether hurting the learner was really worth the five dollars. The concern of following the majority, even if what they are doing is bad, can be solved. The things that we grow up with and surround ourselves with are what make us who we are and dictate the evaluation of our own decisions. That is why during both of the World Wars many of the soldiers who participated ended up hating themselves. What they did made them no longer believe in the fruits that are promised with war. This means that creating societies where someone could be their own person and have good morals leads to those who disobey unethical authoritative figures. Teachers and parents should instruct children at a very young age to think and act admirably. In doing so, the possibility of violence, mass atrocities, and genocide lessens.
Boston, Massachusetts, US
The Milgram experiment and Obedience Theory
The Milgram experiments, conducted in the 1960s showed that many people are willing to inflict pain on others if they are ordered to do so by a position of power. The article, “How Nazi's Defense of "Just Following Orders Plays Out in the Mind,” by Joshua Barajas reported that ”65 percent of volunteers, described as “teachers,” were willing (sometimes reluctantly) to press a button that delivered shocks up to 450 volts to an unseen person.” This is a highly disturbing statistic that demonstrates that most people have the potential to be a perpetrator of violence against others. However, while a great percentage of, “teachers,” followed orders, there were people that resisted the orders and refused to continue punishing the “learner.” This demonstrates that people exist who are able to defy authority. Therefore, even though many people do, not everyone has the potential to be a perpetrator of violence against others.
People who were able to disobey the “experimenter’s” orders were independent and self-assured. These individuals didn’t need assurance from the ‘experimenter,” but were able to think for themselves without taking no for an answer. On the other hand, those who succumbed to the orders often looked to authority for directions when they were confused. This group of people also seemed to feel they weren’t responsible for the pain inflicted upon the subjects. According to Barajas, Patrick Haggard, a cognitive neuroscientist at University College London, ran an experiment that determined that the brain’s activity is, “dampened,” when being coerced into actions. When young, society trains us to listen to authority and follow rules. Children are brought up not only to respect their parents, but any elders. As they grow up, this respected group expands to people of more importance or authority. While influencing such a societal hierarchy of respect does lead to order in many cases, we are too easily influenced by authority. By attempting to create a society that values individuality and questioning of authority, society can more easily avoid situations such as genocide where people who are easily influenced by authority are coerced into perpetuating violence against others.
Another factor besides the blind following of authority that contributes to people’s willingness to inflict pain on others is dehumanization and othering. Throughout history, a commonality through times when people acted brutally towards another group is thinking of the other group as lesser. For example, during World War II, the Nazi party attempted to convince Europe that Jews were an inferior race. This made people much more likely to engage in harmful activity towards Jews. As Watermelon said, an important way that this thinking is achieved is through propaganda. Nazi propaganda portrayed Jews in this way, and led Germans to believe that Jews were vermin that needed to be “exterminated”. In fact, extermination was the official Nazi term for the mass murder of Jews. This lessened the impact of Nazi actions, and in turn made people more likely to obey Nazi authority, even when orders were violent and inhumane.
Boston, Massachusetts, US
It isn’t true that everyone has it in them to be a perpetrator of violence against others. Although there were sadly few cases in the Milgram experiments that were examples of people showing remorse, there were still instances of it. Some in the experiments didn’t think it was right of them to continue with it for reasons such as not knowing enough about the tools being used and not knowing the true results of their actions, and others simply didn’t think it was morally right to hurt another human. However in many trials in the Milgram experiments, those who continued did so only after establishing that they were not to take responsibility for what would come out of the trial. Just like how research in How Nazi's Defense of "Just Following Orders" Plays Out in the Mind shows, these people felt that there was a distance between their actions, giving increasing shocks, and the result that came out of it, the “learner” becoming unresponsive. They would justify their actions by saying they were coerced into administering the shock in an attempt to pass the negative consequences onto the experimenter. Even though the “teacher” was capable of and committed the act of giving shocks to someone until they couldn’t respond, they didn’t want to get in trouble for these actions or even admit to being capable of doing so. There were many factors of this experiment that would be drastically different from more daily life scenarios that could happen as they were separated from the person they were hurting and was in a very controlled and organized environment. Results of what people would do would be very different in a raw, uncontrolled, and unorganized environment if there was some sort of riot for example.
Something that america! said that I liked was that although we might be intending to always do the right thing, we may not know what we are capable of and that could be what causes us to do bad things. If we were to be unaware of what it is that we're really doing, like giving shocks to someone, then we may not know when to stop where it is dangerous because we might not know that what we are doing could actually harm someone.
Someone's personality traits could stop them from doing as they were told in the Milgram experiments and not continue with the shocks. If there was a person who really separated themselves from society and thought that the norms of society were something they didn’t agree with and try to not live by as much as they can, they might be more likely to disobey the experimenter even if they are seen as an authority figure. Or if a person just didn’t have issues with disobeying authority figures in general, that person might be more likely to have stopped the experiment if they thought they should.
Boston, Massachusetts, US
Milgram’s experiment, although flawed, is strong evidence that a majority of individuals will torture or even kill a fellow human being if consistently ordered to do so by an authority figure they respect. The participants in the experiment were of varying occupations, socio-economic backgrounds and ages, yet 65% of them chose to inflict lethal shocks on the “learners,” so those factors may not have had a strong impact on how willing they were. In this line of reasoning, most everyday people could become a perpetrator of violence against others. This relates to a theory called situationism. As defined in Rethinking One of Psychology’s Most Infamous Experiments by Cari Romm, situationism is the theory that normal people are capable of morally questionable or even downright horrific things if put in a specific situation. In the 1960s, the idea of “the banality of evil” entered the conversation about the Holocaust with the publishing of Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem. Milgram’s experiment sought to prove whether this evil lied within everyday people, ready to be awakened by pressure. It did succeed in showing that people will go against their better judgment when ordered to by an authority figure, but also showed that people commonly have a moral compass that tells them to resist. As seen in video recordings, participants expressed their concern even though they gave in to the pressure - this does not mean they are evil, it means that they are willing to compromise their idea of what is fair.
An important flaw of the experiment is that it does not offer solid evidence that humans will continue a harmful order if it is not repeatedly enforced, or that bias impacts the likelihood of hurting others. These realities may be true, but the Milgram experiment does not prove them due to the structure of the experiment. The emotional distance between perpetrators and victims during the Holocaust was caused by the dehumanization of Jewish people, queer people, disabled people, certain ethnic groups, and other victims because Germans classified them as inferior and therefore more deserving of inhumane treatment. The Nazis believed there was one specific ideal population, and the rest of humanity was undesirable and threatening, so they felt less sympathy for their victims and guilt for their actions. The Milgram experiment was conducted without considering the effect of such prejudices and group mentality. Additionally, Nazis and the German population committed some acts without direct instruction, which the experiment does not explain either, because the participants had to be ordered repeatedly to continue. As mentioned by Watermelon, tactics such as propaganda could have also contributed to the perpetrators’ motivation, but the experiment did not account for it. Milgram’s experiment, although producing key data regarding the effect of consistent commands from authority, does not investigate the other troubling factors that contributed to the Holocaust.
While many participants in the experiment hesitated to continue with the shocks, only a minority of participants fully defied the instructions of the experimenter. These participants were confident enough in resisting authority that they walked out while a man in a lab coat adamantly told them to stay. These “teachers” were non-conformists and/or did not feel respect and fear when interacting with the experimenter. Either way, they denied the authority of its power in order to stay loyal to themselves. This is a quality that could and should be taught in society.
Boston, Massachusetts, US
Everyone does not have the potential to become a perpetrator of violence against others, as we are all capable of doing good and evil things. It is not incorrect to say that sometimes when pushed to the maximum, it can cause us to do things we might regret later. However, becoming a perpetrator of violence seems to be an extreme case nowadays. Everyone has once caused harm to someone but in less severe ways than inflicting violence. Though Milgram’s experiment is an example of how people can foolishly participate in mass violence, this conclusion does not apply to everyone. Religion also plays a role in whether an individual would be a perpetrator of violence, so this contradicts the idea that everyone has the potential to become a perpetrator of violence. It can be a factor that affects someone’s moral decision to take part in these acts of violence. Inflicting harm against someone is against many religions, and one’s duty to follow their religion is stronger than the instinct of obedience to an authority figure. Others are simply raised in a household with more emphasis on helping and doing good for others. The actions we do or don’t do in these types of situations are easily influenced by others, whether positively or negatively. This connects back to when we learned about conforming to a group and adding to our recent conversations about being a bystander. When there is an incident occurring and many people seem to be ignoring it, even though you feel inclined to help whoever is in need, you conform with the rest of the group and move along. One of the common excuses is “someone else will help out”. The Milgram experiment suggests that when bad things happen, we feel it is okay to let it continue if we are not taking responsibility for it. People are more likely to indirectly inflict violence on others because we like to think of ourselves as good people. An article by Barajas mentioned how acting under someone’s order causes us to dissociate from the actions we are doing and “described this distance as people experiencing their actions more as “passive movements than fully voluntary actions” when they follow orders” (Barajas 1). Times when we do inflict violence, we try to justify our actions and/or come up with excuses. Our natural tendency to obey a person of authority is stronger than the desire to help someone who appears to be in pain. This is similar to the idea of bystanders, where many people tend to continue to be in the background in a situation where someone is getting hurt or mistreated. We are highly influenced by someone of authority, which better explains how genocides, like the Holocaust, occurred. Besides the blind following authority, lacking a personal or emotional connection with the person you are inflicting pain on contributes to your willingness to carry out this action. When there is a lack of connection between the perpetrator and the victim, the perpetrator is less likely to feel obligated to help the victim. In the Milgram experiment, the “teacher” barely got to converse with the “learner”. Because of this, the “teacher” was more likely to continue inflicting pain on him because he did not know him personally. If the “learner” was his wife or child, for example, it can be assumed that he would step in to stop the experiment much sooner. User “america!” mentioned how the “teachers” in the experiment were told they would still receive their participation money even if they stopped the experiment, which was a key aspect I had previously missed. The one thing motivating them to continue was the fear of disobeying the authority figure. I found this surprising because most people do a lot of things in life just for money. This scenario shows how the individual’s thought to obey an authority figure is stronger than just taking the money and preventing any further harm.
Boston, Massachusetts, US
Reflection on Obedience and the Milgram Experiment
I do believe that everyone has the potential to become a perpetrator of violence, but they choose against it. The Milgram experiment is a prime example of this. Everyone who went in for the experiment learned that they were going to be causing gradual pain to other human beings, and still went through with the experiment. Although some stopped on their own accord because they knew what they were doing was wrong, others kept going because someone told them to. The participants knew that the level of shock they were giving was deadly, and they still went through with it because the authority figure told them to. The experimenter was the authority figure for the participants and was telling them how to commence the experiment. People tend to fear authority figures, which is why we listen to teachers in school and listen to our parents. Although there was no known consequence for not listening, the participants kept going because of the authority figure. Since the authority figure kept telling the participants to inflict pain on others, they listened.
I think experiments like Milgram’s explain why ordinary people are willing to participate in violent acts because when people are given absolute power over others, they take the chance. There also tends to be an authority figure present, which makes them fall into line and listen. An example of this would be the Stanford Prison Experiment. The participants who got the role of guard immediately abused their power and used the opportunity to degrade and humiliate the prisoners, and it got so bad that the two-week experiment had to be cut short after just six days. It also explains how people listen to authority figures simply because they are above them, which is also why people listen to the police and government officials.
People who had empathy were most likely to stop the experiment because the test subject started complaining of heart troubles, which is when many people stopped the experiment. They also stopped again when the subject stopped talking since this is when people genuinely got concerned. Empathy is a good trait to have because it allows humans to feel what others are feeling without necessarily feeling it. I think that as a society, people need to start being more empathetic because violent events could then be prevented since people seem to lack that quality. Although in the scenario we are talking about, it is good to disobey authority figures, it isn’t good all the time since there are actual times when we need authority figures around to establish peace in society. For example, disobeying a government official not only gets you in jail, but this disrupts the peace and balance in society. Then again, it isn’t always how authority figures work. Hitler is an example of an authority figure who didn’t help since he aimed to exterminate all Jews, and he had people doing this for him. The people who helped him were most likely sculpted to lack empathy and were able to commit these acts.
Boston, Massachusetts, US
Reflections on Obedience and the Milgram Experiment
Everyone does have the potential to become a perpetrator of violence against others. Everyone would like to think that they aren’t the type of people to inflict pain on people but some would in light of the moment. These spurs of the moment can be seen in the documentary when we witnessed the “teacher” in the experiment reluctantly continue to shock the “learner” despite his cries and pleas of pain — to the point where he stopped making any noise at all and the “teacher” still continued. The “teacher” didn’t want to hurt people but the fact that the experimenter was behind him urging him to do it made him feel compelled to obey orders as compared to disobeying them. It made him lack a sense of agency which is awareness of their actions as stated in the article “How Nazi’s Defense of Just Following Orders Plays Out in The Mind”. This article further discusses this topic of sense of agency where most people feel disconnected to their actions because of the orders they have to follow. They feel that they aren’t voluntarily doing it so it wasn’t something that they’re responsible for. One of the researchers named Haggard conducted a similar experiment to the Milgram experiment where he instead measured brain activity of the teacher when the experimenter told him to continue versus when the experimenter was in a different room not telling him anything. The results were that there was less brain activity when being coerced, showing how people truly feel disconnected to their actions when ordered to do so. This is further echoed in the Milgram experiment when we witnessed the “teacher” repeatedly asking if the experimenter would be responsible for the “learner’s” death if he continued to shock him. The experimenter said yes and he continued to administer those shots. However, what about the 35 percent that didn’t shock them? Why didn’t they? There are various different types of factors other than physical distance that could’ve played into a “teacher’s” willingness to shock someone. For example, trauma that they might’ve experienced prior based on abuse could have pushed them not to shock them. Maybe even gender, their race, their experiences in life, their age, whether they’re a parent or not, etc., are all things that could affect people’s contribution to the blind following of authority. This suggests that though people have the potential to become a perpetrator of violence against others, not everyone will act on that potential or live up to it. Even though we are determining factors to why someone shouldn’t obey orders to harm someone, it would be suffice to say that we should attempt to push more standards of disobeying authority figures that are unethical and advocate for more harm as compared to more peace. As stated by “HighAltitude” a lot of people nowadays are especially speaking out against public authorities which makes it even more relevant in this society to “uphold everyone to a high standard where it becomes accepted that individuals and groups are allowed to dissent and rebel against what they believe is wrong while being peaceful and non-violent but not complacent with how people are treated today.” However one of my questions for the future might be what decides whether an authority figure’s actions are unethical or not? It’s evident that events like the Holocaust under the rule of a cruel ruler was completely unethical and is a scar of our past, but for situations that are more grey than black and white – who decides that?
The Milgram experiment revealed a horrifying reality of human nature, but not one that I was particularly surprised by, especially not in our current day and age. I do believe that everyone has the potential to be violent against others, and that many would not even have to go under the direct influence that the experiment suggests. The Milgram experiment portrays how people are more likely to cause others harm if they have a direct authority encouraging them, and how it is easier to cause pain if they can not physically see the person they are hurting. Our human behavior wants to rely on the safety of other people making decisions, of having others tell us what is right and wrong, good and bad, because it is too difficult or contradicting for people to want to think for themselves. It is far easier to let others decide, and then blame the fact that they were just following orders and not really responsible later to dissuade their guilt. Joshua Barajas says “ people actually feel disconnected from their actions when they comply with orders, even though they’re the ones committing the act”( Barajas 1).These kinds of experiments absolutely show how ordinary people get swept into doing horrible things, leading all the way up to genocide. When people are told to do something by someone they trust, someone who society agrees is ‘smarter’ or ‘trustworthy’, like a doctor, or a scientist, law enforcement or even a well-liked politician, they feel a certain comfort in following the orders. These are the types of people that society as a whole has deemed respectable and trustworthy, that it is acceptable to defer to whatever they say because they have a certain standing, be it knowledge or control, over ‘regular people’. There is also the case where people enjoy inflicting pain on others. While it is unusual, it is probably a lot less unusual than most people would believe. These are the kinds of people who would rise in ranks in a group instructing others to hurt people, which would in turn force others to do worse actions. There are many, many moments in history where we can see people that are not necessarily bad hurting others because it is what they have been told to do, such as the Red Scare and McCarthyism, U.S. Japanese internment camps, China’s Cultural Revolution and Maoism, and probably every countless tyrant rise to power in the history of the world. However, one of the most obvious and known examples is the Holocaust. Regular German citizens became people willing to participate in the killing of millions jews, people who viewed themselves as good, decent people. The Milgram experiments prove how this mentality comes about, how people are likely to follow an authority telling them what to do, and how if the harm they are told to inflict is at first miniscule (yellow badges, checking papers, restricting access) and slowly builds(internment camps for forced labor, forced out of homes), up until the point that people do not even realize how it happened but suddenly they are dumping hundreds of bodies killed in gas chambers into fire pits. And even though the holocaust is the most known genocide, and perhaps the largest at least that we know of, it is far from the only one to use these principles. Like the readings said, people who are told by authority figures to do something bad do not hold themselves responsible, because of course if they were just “following orders” then it’s not really their fault. People believe themselves to be better, to stand above the ability to fall victim to these influences but the truth is that if told to do something when uncertain and someone else is confident, almost everyone will follow the instructions no matter how harmful they are.