Stanley Milgram, "The Perils of Obedience" Response

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Milgram, Stanley, “The Perils of Obedience.” Harper’s Magazine Dec. 1973: 62+. Print.

Yale University psychologist, Stanley Milgram, conducted a series of obedience experiments during the 1960’s to prove that for many people, obedience is a compelling drive overriding their own morality and sympathy. These experiments ended in shocking results.

The Milgram experiment consisted of a teacher, learner, and the experimenter. The teacher being the actual subject while the others were actors. They were told that they would be taking part in a memory and learning study. The learner is strapped into a kind of an electric chair while the teacher/subject is seated in front of a shock generator labeled with terms like “Slight Shock,” “Moderate Shock” and “Danger: Sever Shock.” The final two switches are labeled simply with a menacing “XXX.” The teacher/subject is to ask the learner a series of word pairing questions and when answered incorrectly, the learner will receive a “shock” delivered by the teacher. The learner will in fact receive no shock but this fact is hidden from the subject. The shock levels starts at 30 volts and increasing in 15-volt increments all the way up to 450 volts.

As the experiment continues and the learner starts answering incorrectly, subjects show obvious conflict and hesitation especially when the learner starts verbally protesting. Each time the subject asked the experimenter whether they should continue, the experimenter ordered a series of commands to prod the subject along. To stop this experiment, all the subject must do is make a clear break with authority.

The level of shock that the subject was willing to deliver was used as the measure of obedience. How far do you think most subjects were willing to go? I, along with most people, didn’t foresee that 65% of the subjects were willing to deliver the maximum shock. So why did so many subjects carry out a seemingly sadistic act on the instruction of an authority...
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