Stanley Milgram has done obedience to authority experiment, which is considered to be one of the classic experiments in the contemporary social psychology. In the mid-1900s, psychologists operated somehow different than current psychological researchers do. Milgram`s experiment deals with social influence, which is an important branch of social psychology. The purpose of this research paper is to describe Milgram`s methods of study, show the subjects` reaction to the experiment and the power of social influence.
It is worth mentioning that WWII had the great influence on psychological thought of America because of the mobilization of the US population and immigration of the European intellectuals and their desire to support the war efforts what had changed social perception as well as political ideology and conformity.
The Argument of Milgram`s Experiment
In 1960, Stanley Milgram after graduating from school at Harvard moved to Yale, where he took a course of lectures in Obedience of Authority. He was involved in the subject and, therefore, wanted to know how the behavior of concentration camp guards was achieved. Milgram understood that social pressure might influence guards in concentration camps to make harm to others. This kind of behavior was a backbone of his obedience to authority experiment. By manipulating the conditions of the experiment he studied dimensions which increased or decreased obedience. During his obedience to authority experiment he came to the conclusion that obedience is important when one is a part of a system. People being parts of a system constantly face a dilemma whether to obey moral standards of a system and do something with what they can disagree or keep their own moral principles. They should choose whether to be loyal to a system or to their moral standards. The power of social influence plays an important role in obedience to authority. Once a person has become a “victim” of a system, this system can easily manipulate his behavior and conscience. Milgram explained reasons of people`s behavior in stressful situations and gave detailed information concerning this subject.
Milgram`s experiment on obedience to authority was designed as a measurement of the desire of participants to obey authorities who forced them to act with conflict to their personal conscience. This experiment was described in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychologyin 1963. Later, in 1974, Milgram gave deeper description of his experiment in his book, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View. In the process of his experiment one subject was selected to play the role of a “teacher” and another – the role of a “learner”. Both participants drew slips of paper which identified their roles. Both slips taken by these subjects were always saying “teacher”, while the “learner” was the actor. During that experiment the electro-shock generator was to send an electric shock to the “teacher” as a sample of the shock that would be sent to the “learner” in case he would give false answers. The teacher was given a list of word pairs. He was to read the first word of the pair and then give the learner a choice of words. If the learner was giving a wrong answer, he would receive a shock from the teacher. The subject was sure that the learner was receiving electric shock, but he did not get it in reality. A voltage level has been increasing in 15-volt increments for each wrong answer given by the learner. Sometimes, when shocks have been increased up to 135 volts, “teachers “ started laughing nervously when they have heard that the “learners” were screaming with pain. Many subjects asked to stop the experiment because of the pain experienced by learners. The experimenter usually replies that experiment requires continuing or that the learner has no other choice, so the experiment must go on. The experiment could be stopped after the subject had given 450-volt shock three times in succession.
To my opinion, people who are obeying authorities are losing their individual character. They are then not able to make their own decisions. Actually, an average person is supposed to suffer because of the obedience to the authorities or a system. This approach to people is killing an individual personality and is harmful to the human nature. In democratic societies this kind of behavior is not acceptable, because of its immoral character. All humans have the right to live in accordance with their personal characters and their individual moral decisions. That is why I think that Milgram`s experiment on obedience to authority may exist only in theory and not in practice.