2009-03-31

Presentation: Milgram Experiments



The Milgram experiments were designed by Stanley Milgram and began in 1961. They intended to answer the question as to whether it was possible that Nazi subordinates who killed and tortured were simply following orders. Thus, the experiment examines the effects of an authority figure giving instructions that conflict with individual consciences. The experiment was designed so that there was a teacher, learner and experimenter. The learner and experiment were separated by a wall and unable to see each other. The teacher was to attempt to teach word-pairs to the learner. He would read a list of word-pairs, then state the first word of a pair and give the learner four options. If the learner guessed wrong, the teacher was instructed to electrocute the learner with a shock, which he had sampled earlier. The teacher would hear screams from the learner, who supposedly had a heart condition. In reality, there were no shocks, the screams were pre-recorded, and the learner was always the same person. The voltage level would gradually increase, and the learner would bang on the wall and complain about his heart condition. Eventually, all responses form the learner stopped.

If the teacher ever wanted to stop the experiment, the experimenter would give four verbal prods:
1. Please continue.
2. The experiment requires that you continue.
3. It is absolutely essential that you continue.
4. You have no other choice, you must go on.

If he continued to try to quit after the fourth prompt, he would be allowed to go. Otherwise, the experiment would only end after three maximum-voltage (450 volts) shocks had been administered. 65% of the teachers reached this point. Locations were varied, but the rate of completion remained from 61-66%. Completion was maximized when the experimenter was there in person but not touching the teacher. This experiment raised considerable concerns about experimental ethics, given the undue stress placed on the teachers, but also revealed the ability of a human to inflict pain without consideration, given only an order.
Several theories used to explain the results are:
• The theory of conformism, based on Solomon Asch's work, describing the fundamental relationship between the group of reference and the individual person. A subject who has neither ability nor expertise to make decisions, especially in a crisis, will leave decision making to the group and its hierarchy. The group is the person's behavioral model.
• The agentic state theory, wherein, per Milgram, the essence of obedience consists in the fact that a person comes to view himself as the instrument for carrying out another person's wishes, and he therefore no longer sees himself as responsible for his actions. Once this critical shift of viewpoint has occurred in the person, all of the essential features of obedience follow.

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