Milgram, Stanley, Some Conditions of Obedience and Disobedience to Authority,
In Miller, A. (ed.), The Social Psychology of Psychological Research, 1972
"All organized hostility may be viewed as a theme and variation
on the three elements of authority, executant, and victim".
The premise of this famous study was -- If an experimenter tells a subject
to hurt another person, under what conditions will the subject go along
with this instruction, and under what conditions will he refuse to obey?
The focus of the study concerned the amount of electric shock a subject
is willing to administer to another person when ordered by an experimenter
to give the "victim" increasinly more severe punishment.
Thus, the subject must resolve a conflict- does he heed to experimenter's
orders and continue to shock for wrong answers, or does he heed the victim's
pleas and stop the experiment?
The subject is led to believe the study is on the effect of punishment on
learning, and must give increasinly stronger shocks to the "learner"
(an accomplish whose voice is on tape for each shock level).
The result is scored from 0 (unwilling to give first shock) to 30 (give
Initial pilot studies showed that people would heed the experimenter to
the end much more than expected.
The next study was on the proximity effect of the victim. Milgram found
that the closer the victim (seen but not hear, heard but not seen, in the
room, ) the more disobedience seen. This may be due to emphatic clues from
the victim or the "out of signt, out of mind" effect. Or maybe
putting the victim in the room allows group dynamics to form a bond between
subject and victim against the experimenter.
Another version of the study examined the closeness of authority. He found
that disobedience went up drastically if the experimenter was out of the
room (on a telephone, or on tape). Sometimes the subject would "lie"
about what level of shock they administered to keep the voltage low.
Most subjects were extremely nervous and somewhat traumatized by the experience.
Strange nervous laughter was even heard by some subjects. Yet despite
extreme anxiety people continued to obey the experimenter. "Perhaps
our culture does not have adequate models for disobedience".
"Tension, it is assumed, results from the simultaneous presence of
two or more incompatible response tendencies".
During the initial study, one concern was that the subjects assumed that
since the study was being conducted at Yale, it must be safe and therefore
they were more confortable putting their trust in the experimenter. They
tested this hypothesis by repeating the experiment with a fictitious name
in an office building in Bridgeport with no connection to the university.
The results were the same.
Milgram had some pyschiatrists review the method and predict what the result
would be. Of course, the high level of obedience shocked everyone.
Milgram concludes with the grim observation that it seems people can easily
be persuaded to hurt other people given the right situation.