Milgram's Electric Shock Experiments

Milgram's famous electric shock studies showed the negative sides of obedience to authority (Milgram 1974). Subjects administered increasingly higher levels of shocks to a confederate as the experimenter repeated their demands that the experiment must continue and they would take responsibility (actually no shocks were actually done). Milgram found that people were willing inflict serious pain on another person when ordered to so do. Sixty percent of subjects (across various social strata and education levels) administered the highest pain levels. The experiement showed the power of the situation to affect behavior -- people focused on the requirements of their position rather than the consequences of their behavior (Scott p. 328).

However, these situational impacts can be dramatically modified with simple changes to the authority-subordinate situation. Organizational changes like flatter hierarchies, participative decision making, multiple channels can encourage independence and reduce blind obedience to authority. "If we are concerned about the extent to which individuals are overly compliant, we need to change the structures within which they are embedded and the cultural definitions that constrain their self-conceptions" (Scott p 329).