Milgram's Experiments

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English 1A
20 June 2012
Sphere of Authority
Stanley Milgram, a Yale psychologist, stunned the world when he stated that “perhaps the most fundamental lesson of our study is that ordinary people doing their jobs, and without particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process.” Milgram’s stunning conclusions, which were derived from his experiments, proved that obedience is one of the basic elements in the structure of social life. The proximately of the victim, responsibility for the actions, and perceived legitimate authority figures will greatly determine how far an individual will go to fully comply.

Obedience, which is one of many social influences in our life’s, results in a change in behavior when a direct command is given by a high authority. The main focus in Milgram’s experiment was to specify what people would do when told to do something through social pressures (the norms of the majority). Being obedient involves a hierarchy of power and status to fully take place and there are plenty of examples of human authority we encounter in daily life. Such as parents over children, husbands over wives, teachers over students, bosses over employees, policemen and judges over ordinary citizens, etc. (Franzoi)There is also spiritual authority God gives to some over people under their care. In the bible, Romans chapter 13: versus 1-5 teaches us that authority has been established by God, and that therefore those under him should submit to authority. It was set up to ensure that those under authority of God will do what is good and right and those who resist authority will bear the consequences from God. (Van der Toorn 130)

The Milgram study showed that participants would comply with the unethical orders of an apparent authority figure that was physically present in the room. The physical presence and the proximately of an authority figure dramatically increased compliance. When the subjects in the experiment were distant, it was much easier for the participants to resist the orders of an authority figure if they were not close by. When the experimenter instructed and prompted the “teacher” by telephone from another room, obedience fell by 20.5%. Later, experiments conducted by Milgram indicated that the presence of rebellious peers dramatically reduced obedience levels as well. When other people refused to go along with the experimenters orders, 36 out of 40 conformed to their peers and refused to deliver the maximum shocks. Stanley Milgram’s experiment showed that when an authority figure is close by then obedience is more likely to occur. (Behrens 703)

The real life example of proximity of the victims and who bears the responsibility of an action is Adolf Eichmann, a logistical genius whose part in the Holocaust was planning of the well-organized collection, transportation and extermination of those to be killed. (Alic) At his trial in 1961, Eichmann expressed a great surprise by being hated by Jewish people, he justified his actions by saying that he “merely obeyed orders, and surely obeying orders could only be a good thing”. In his jail diary Eichmann wrote “The orders were, for me, the highest thing in my life and I had to obey them without question.” Even though Eichmann was completely sickened when he toured through the concentration camps, millions of people were still slaughtered and it was justified by saying he lacked the responsibility of the actions occurring. It not only explained but pardoned the actions of the Adolf Eichmann and transferred the burden of accountability to the superior just because he wasn’t in the proximity of the victims. (Cesarani 246)

Assuming the responsibility also appeared in Milgram’s experiment; Obedience to Authority. Milgram recruited several different people and the respondents were told that the experiment would be studying the effects of punishment on learning abilities. The “learner,” which was an actor working with the...
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