Social Influence: a Possible Lethal Weapon

Topics: Milgram experiment, Stanford prison experiment, Stanley Milgram Pages: 5 (1789 words) Published: May 19, 2013
Social Influence: A Possible Lethal Weapon

Social psychologist Philip Zimbardo states, "Unless we learn the dynamics of "why" we will never be able to counteract the powerful forces that can transform ordinary people into evil predators." Unfortunately, throughout history and even today the power of majority opinion has led to immoral acts of violence at a universal level. In this "advanced" society, the world is experiencing Darfur, Armenian, Bosnian, Karen, Cambodian and Rwandan genocides. There is also the massive killing of innocent civilians in the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. U.S soldiers over seas are accused of committing immoral war crimes when images of soldiers humiliating and morbidly abusing Iraqi prisoners appeared in the social media. Their excuse for their behavior is that "they were just following orders." What is most astonishing is that such atrocities are being committed by groups of "normal" people. The question that arises is the reason "why" ordinary people commit evil acts. Atrocities committed by groups of "normal" people continue to be studied. Even though some social experiments are labeled unethical, studies have investigated the effects of social influence on behavior as well as the importance of social need for obedience and conformity. The Milgram and Stanford Prison social experiments have discovered the possible connection between the need for obedience and conformity to the committing of "immoral and cruel acts." The Milgram experiment successfully depicts how a regular person can be influenced to commit immoral acts by an authoritative figure and the Stanford Prison experiment shows how "conformity to implied social rules and norms" can be just as powerful an influence as obedience to authority. Both experiments give possible reasons to why normal people are capable of "lethal" violence.

The Milgram Experiment is known as one of the most questionable scientific experiments designed by social psychologist Stanley Milgram and its purpose is to research the degrees of obedience to authority. In the experiment, it is observed how an ordinary individual will deliver lethal electric shocks to a complete stranger. Twelve volunteers are chosen from the public and introduced to an actor that plays as the professor conducting the experiment and another actor plays as a volunteer. The actual volunteer is given the role of the "teacher" and the actor is always the "learner." A list of words is given to the teacher so he or she can repeat to the learner. If the learner does not successfully memorize the list and correctly answer a series of multiple choice questions, then he will be electrically shocked by the teacher. Through an electric generator, shocks are delivered from a range of 15 to a deadly 450 volts and the voltage increases as the "learner" answer the questions wrong. It seems as the voltage keeps increasing so does the teacher's reluctance. Their facial expressions and reactions are being analyzed by a social psychologist through a camera. The "professor" pushes the volunteers to finish the experiment with phrases like, "it is essential for you to continue"," you must continue", and "you need to keep going." The data of the experiment results in 9 out of 12 participants delivering the fatal shock of 450 volts. With this small sample study it is concluded it is possible for normal people to inflict excruciating pain on a stranger because they are told to do so by an authoritative figure.

Social historian Michael Walzer states, " always a collective act and it is justified by the values of the collectivity and the mutual engagements of its members." As result, Milgrim uses his original experiment as a "control group" and changes certain variables in the experiment to prove the theory stated above. For example, Milgram runs his experiment with just Yale college students and another with just women and finds the level of...
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