Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Milgram Experiment

     A series of psychology experiments were performed by Stanley Milgram.  The goal of the study is to measure the willingness of the participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience. 
     The study has three key participants.    A scientist/”authority,” a “coach,” and a “learner”/student.  Unbeknownst to the “coach” he is actually the one being studied.  However the “coach” is told that the test is about observing the coach training the learner who is supposed to remember a group of facts.  The scientist authority figure is to “observe” the technique and keep the study on track. 
     The real kicker comes when the “coach” is asked to deliver a shock to the the “learner.”  There is a bank of switches which deliver a shock to the “learner” if he gets a wrong answer.  With each wrong answer the “coach” delivers a shock to the “learner.”  The switch bank increments from 45 volts up to 450 volts.  With each missed question the next higher level of pain is induced.  The switches are marked low danger, medium danger, high danger, life threatening, death. 
     The “coach” continues to ratchet up to the next level at the direction of the scientist/authority figure.  Of course the study is rigged so that the coach continues to deliver ever increasing shocks no matter how much pain is caused.  Eventually the “learner”/actor cries out in pain and then eventually is non-responsive.  However the scientist/authority figure continues direct the “coach” to increase the intensity level of the jolts to the maximum 450 volts. 
     “Coaches” from all walks of life were tested, 65% went all the way to 450 volts even though their conscience was bothering them.  These were just “nice” obedient run of the mill folks. 
I would encourage everyone to view the videos here below.  There are two studies on video the original Milgram study and another one below in three parts.

Original film from Milgram  (
“Many people not knowing that much about the experiment claim that people who go to the end of the board are sadistic.  Nothing could be more foolish as an overall characterization of these persons.  The context of their actions must always be considered.  The individual upon entering the laboratory must be integrated into a situation that carries its own momentum.  The results, as I observed them in the laboratory, are disturbing.  They raise the possibility that human nature cannot be counted on to insulate men from brutality and inhumane treatment at the direction of malevolent authority.  A substantial proportion of people do what they are told to do irrespective of the content of the act without limitations of conscience so long as they perceive that the command comes from a legitimate authority.  If in this study an anonymous experimenter could successfully command adult to subdue a 50 year old man and force on him painful electric shocks against his protests, one can only wonder what government with its vastly greater authority and prestige can command of its subjects.” Stanley Milgram comments.
A newer version is available here in 3 parts:
Part 1 of 3  
Part 2 of 3 
Part 3 of 3 
     The conclusion is clear that the “average” person will continue to follow the direction of who, or what they perceive to be an authority figure, even if in their own mind it might or could be causing serious injury or even death.  We in America have been trained from the time we are very small to OBEY authority figures at home and all through school.  We have, to the tune of 65%, become obedient slaves.  Even escaped slaves from the Old South felt guilty for having “stolen” themselves from their masters. 
At what point will you consider resisting or defying authority when you perceive the authority is wrong.  Remember, “it is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong (Voltaire).”
     Feel free to leave comments.


  1. Hey Dan.... good article. I believe the American schooling system tends to program future generations to become more dependent upon government and less upon individual initiative and responsibility. Like Lemings we tend to march toward the cliff of governmental control and leap over the edge rather than turn around and go against the tide. Keep up the good work Dan.

  2. Yes you are exactly right... Obedience is programed in rather than questioning for the sake of learning...