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Obedience To Authority Essay

1918 words - 8 pages


The Power of the Situation in Milgram's Obedience Experiments
Ahsan Chishty
Ohlone College

The Power of the Situation in Milgram's Obedience Experiments
Stanley Milgram is a name universally known for the Yale professor who shocked the world with his experiments on obedience. In 1961, Milgram along with many other colleagues devised an experiment after receiving a grant from the National Science Foundation to conduct an experiment in response to the trial of Adolf Eichmann. Milgram wanted to know if Germans under the rule of ...view middle of the document...

The experiment was conducted in over 20 different variations with different conditions, one in which the subject was even informed that the "learner" had a heart condition. Milgram surveyed students at Yale and also several of his colleagues to gain a general opinion as to what extent the subjects would go while conducting the experiment. All of those surveyed claimed that a very small number of the subjects would be prepared to inflict the lethal 450 volts on the subject. Surprisingly, in the first run of the experiment, 65% of the subjects went to the end of the machine adminstering the 450 volts. Many were uncomfortable doing so and some subjects even offered to refund the money they were being paid to participate in the experiment. The subjects all displayed very obvious signs of stress and tension; some trembled, others began to sweat, and a few of the subjects even had nervous fits of laughter. The results of Milgram's experiment brought about a great deal of questions and the need to understand why so many of the subjects were willing to administer shocks that could kill the learner just because the subject was being instructed to. Stanley Milgram writes in his book Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View, "What is surprising is how far ordinary individuals will go in complying with the experimenter’s instructions. Indeed, the results of the experiment are both surprising and dismaying. Despite the fact that many subjects experience stress, despite the fact that many protest to the experimenter, a substantial proportions continue to the last shock on the generator. Many subjects will obey the experimenter no matter how vehement the pleading of the person being shocked, no matter how painful the shocks seem to be, and no matter how much the victim pleads to be let out. This was seen time and again in our studies and has been observed in several universities where the experiment was repeated. It is the extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority that constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation" (Milgram, 1974, p. 6). Milgram's curiosity towards obedience and how blindly a person may follow the orders given by an authority figure caused a great rift in the realm of social psychology. In an article titled "Just Obeying Orders?" by Alexander Haslam and Stephen Reicher, Haslam and Reicher (2014) write that the startling evidence from Milgram's studies showed the capacity to which obedience may be taken and that it is not always stemming from some deep hatred or pathology and instead from a much more mundance inclination to obey those in power, regardless of the brutal or extreme commands they might ask of a person. Milgram took these findings and they became the substance of the agentic state theory which he developed to explain this sort of behavior in his book Obedience to Authority.
Ervin Staub, a professor at the University of Massachusetts...

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