It’s hard to believe that there are many people who have not yet heard of Stanley Milgram’s infamous Obedience Experiment, but given the society that we’re living in, it seems vital that the public be informed on the nature of human obedience. So, as a public service, here is a brief synopsis of the experiment.
Stanley Milgram wondered how so many soldiers in World War II Germany had willingly taken actions that led to the death of so many innocent people. After the War ended, many of these soldiers claimed that they did so merely because they were following orders. Milgram decided to test this hypothesis.
He took a group of test volunteers and told them that they would be taking part in an experiment on the effects of punishment on learning. They were introduced to a “learner,” who would be strapped to a device that administered electric shocks. The volunteer was to read a pair of words to the learner. The learner would later be quizzed on the word pairs, and if their response was incorrect, an electric shock would be administered. Each wrong answer would lead to a more severe electric shock. The first shock was 45 volts. The shock machine had knobs which ran all the way up to 450 volts.
The thing was, all of that was a lie. The machine did not administer shocks. In fact, the “learner” was not another experimental volunteer, but a trained actor. Milgram’s aim was to determine how many people would, under the supervision of an “experimenter” who would urge them on, would reach the top of the voltage scale before their morality kicked in and they were unable to administer any more of the supposedly painful shocks.
Milgram estimated that a few percent of the subjects might make it all the way to 450, but most would be morally incapable of doing so. He was wrong.
Sixty percent of the test subjects made it all the way to 450 volts. Even when the “learner” cried out in pain, they went on; even when the learner complained of a heart condition, the subjects continued. Even when the learner fell eerily silent, and gave no response, many subjects simply continued administering the shocks, as instructed. When they complained that they were worried about the learner, the experimenter admonished them that the shocks were “painful but harmless.” When they said that they wanted to leave, the experimenter simply told them “The experiment must continue.”
And they listened. Many of them, who had been ready to walk out the door, sat down when the experimenter said this. And when they complained that they didn’t want to be responsible for causing the learner permanent harm, the experimenter informed them that they would not be liable. With this reassurance, the volunteers continued administering the shocks.
Although it has often been decried as terribly unethical, the Milgram experiment is a chilling reminder of human beings’ tendency towards obedience. Furthermore, it proved what many thinkers and rebels have been saying throughout history: only independent thought can set you free. Only those test subjects who were more willing to consider their own moral principles were able to simply walk away from the experiment.
Think about it.
Click this link.
If you did not click the link above, then bravo. Even so, you should click it anyway, just to see what message you would have received if you had. If you did click the link, then I hope I’ve given you some food for thought.
If you clicked the link after reading the above paragraph, then I urge you to consider the link’s message. If you didn’t, then you are either incredibly lazy or quite the independent thinker.