This report aims to illustrate how Stanley Milgram’s research into obedience to authority has influenced our understanding of human behaviour today.
In 1961 the psychologist Stanley Milgram (1933-1984) began research on obedience to authority. Influenced by the cruelties committed in the second world war he wished to discover what made ordinary people commit evil deeds (Banyard, 2010). Milgram took forty male volunteers who believed they were taking part in a laboratory study on the effects of punishment on memory and learning. They were asked to give an ever increasing range of electric shocks to a ‘learner’ for every question he answered incorrectly. Positioned in separate ...view middle of the document...
None believed that any would choose full voltage. Popular opinion at the time suggested anyone who could behave in such a way or commit evil and cruel acts towards others was a monster. Milgram’s studies showed that this was evidently not the case and quite ordinary men were indeed capable of inflicting harm on others when requested to do so (Banyard, 2010).
Changing our way of looking at history
Organisations such as police and armies could not function without obedience to authority, so in many situations it is essential. Christopher Browning (1992) used Milgram’s findings to explain the terrible actions of Reserve Police battalion 101, a German killing unit in the Second World War. Milgram’s research has also shaped the views of historians (Banyard, 2010).
Further studies and virtual worlds
Milgram’s work has encouraged many further studies in obedience. Charles Hofling et al. (1966) tested real-life nurses to see if they would obey a doctor’s request to administer a fatal dose of medication. Nearly all followed the instruction though it was breaking hospital procedures (Banyard, 2010). Modern technology has allowed his experiments to be repeated, but in a more ethical and creative way. Mel Slater and colleagues (2006) used a ‘virtual’ computer generated character in place of a human ‘learner’ to perform an obedience experiment. The results were similar to the findings of Milgram’s. This has led us to question the effects virtual people and worlds may have on us all as they become more apparent through computer games and the internet (Banyard,...