Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Milgram's Study of Obedience

I read about a man named Stanley Milgram who performed a series of studies in which participants would deliver shock to others. The participants were told that it was a memory experiment, and that they would be the ‘teacher’ to a person in another room. The other person was actually a confederate, or an actor who was involved with the study although the participant did not know about it.
If the confederate would incorrectly answer the teacher’s questions, then he would receive a shock. The shocks ranged from ‘slight shock’ to ‘XXX’ (death), and as the test would progress the shocks would become more intense the more the confederate would get the questions wrong. Part way through the test, the other confederate would first start making small noises of pain, but as the shocks became more severe, the other participant would begin to cry out for help. As the test would continue, the confederate would issue painful screams and cry out to be let go, and eventually they would not respond at all. During this whole time there would be a man in charge of the experiment who stayed with the participant to intimidate him to continue, saying things such as “the experiment requires that you continue”, and “you have no choice but to go on”.
The studies purpose was to see if the participants would obey an authority figure who asked them to deliver painful, potentially deadly electric shocks to another person.

How many people do you think would follow orders to give shocks after hearing the atrocious screams coming from the other room just to fall silent, and continue? You were probably like me in thinking that no person in their right mind and good judgment would do it. Wrong.

An astounding 65% of the participants in the study continued to deliver shock up to the very end, despite the agonizing pleas for release and help in the other room and the eventual deadly silence. This study was repeated multiple times, some with variations and some for validation. Even in different settings and time, the statistics still showed that 61-66% of the participants went all the way.
The powerful influence of authority over our decisions is more extreme than you would normally think. We obey authority for two main reasons; because sometimes the authority is in the position to force us into obedience, and also because we see them as experts and believe in their competence as a professional in their field.
There are many important lessons we can learn from Milgram’s study of Obedience. Among them is that authority has a large social influence on us and although they may be helpful in giving us advice on making correct decisions, they can also lead us to making decisions that are unwise or unethical if we follow their directives blindly.

Are there any situations in your life that you can relate to this study on?

1 comment:

Aaron Grimm said...

I can relate this too a authoritarian style leader like Hitler or Saddam. People that follow dictators I assume make some uncharacteristic decisions based on fear.

I also look at teachers or bosses who try to motivate people with an authoritarian style. It may work for a few, but their reactions won't be geniune, as this study shows. There are still a lot of people that associate learning with pain, which I hope this school gets away from.