Analysis of Milgram’s study
Milgram’s results were shocking to say the least (no pun intended). Why would average, everyday people agree to administer extreme electric shock to an innocent middle-aged man? Were the participants sadists (people who enjoy giving others pain)? Did Milgram manage somehow to recruit only “crazy participants”? The answer to these questions is of course “No.” The participants were indeed average people who came from all walks of life. They were young, old, rich, poor, educated and uneducated. So what accounts for their obedience? Milgram says the essence of obedience is that a person comes to view himself as the instrument for carrying out another person's wishes and therefore no longer regards himself as responsible for his actions. When people behave like this, Milgram says they’re in the Agentic state. This is a state where people don’t see themselves as responsible for their actions; they believe their actions are controlled by an external force. They see themselves as puppets. This is opposed to an autonomous or independent state in which people see themselves as acting on their own. If the current had actually been turned on and the learner had died, when the police arrived, and asked “Who killed this man?” the participant would confidently have pointed to the experimenter and said “He did.” That’s the power of the agentic state; people really don’t see themselves as responsible for their actions. Why are people able to so easily be transformed into the agentic state? Well, if you think about it, so much of socialization involves stressing obedience. Children are taught to be obedient and they’re punished for disobedience. Once children move outside of their families and enter the school system, obedience is still stressed. In fact, can you think of an institution more repressive than the school system? You’re constantly being threatened with detention, suspension, expulsion and that silly permanent record (where is that...
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