More Than Four Decades Have Passed Since Stanley Milgram Conceived His Work on Obedience and Authority. so What Have We Learned, as Scientists, and as Members of Society?

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More than four decades have passed since Stanley Milgram conceived his work on obedience and authority. So what have we learned, as scientists, and as members of society? Stanley Milgram believed that obedience was central to the structure of everyday social life. Living in a society requires some system of authority and obedience, otherwise there would be chaos. Obedience under some circumstances is useful and helpful to everyone – e.g. when a motorist hears an ambulance driving behind them with its siren on, and they pull over to allow the ambulance to go past them thus resulting in the medics being able to get to the hospital/incident quicker. However, Milgram was more concerned about the “dark” side of obedience, the tendency for people to blindly obey authority figures, even if the order is immoral. More specifically, Milgram was interested in finding out why the German soldiers during World War II obeyed orders which involved the slaughter of millions of innocent people during the Holocaust. Milgram noted in response to the Holocaust, that “the inhumane policies may have originated in the mind of a single person, but they could only be carried out on a massive scale if a very large number of persons obeyed orders” (Milgram, 1963, p. 371). This is the first part of ‘the “Germans are different” hypothesis’ – a hypothesis used by historians to explain the events of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany. The second part of the hypothesis was the belief that the Germans have a readiness to obey authority without question. The aim of Milgram’s study was therefore to test the idea that the German people were different, or if anyone could obey an immoral and unjust order. Milgram’s participants consisted of 40 American males between the ages of 20 and 50. The men had a variety of jobs, ranging from postal clerks to engineers, and varied in educational level as well – e.g. one participant had not finished elementary school, whilst another had a doctorate. The participants...
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