If an authority figure told you to harm another person by administering 450v-shocks, would you do it? I hear you say NO. In the light of the nazi regime and it’s horrifying tales, Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram set out to find just how much we obey autority figures. In his now classic experiment, he told 40 male participants that they were conducting a study on learning. Each participant took on the role of a teacher. Individually, they asked a ‘student’ (a confederate of the experimenter), who is in another room, a series of questions. If the student fails to give the correct answer, the teachers must administer electric shocks, which increased in intensity as the study progressed. The participants were not aware that the shocks were fake and that the students were only pretending to be hurt.
The students begged to be released once the 300v mark was reached. When the participants asked if they could stop, the ‘experimenter’ (another confederate, wearing a white lab coat who is standing next to the participants), gave these commands:
- Please continue
- The experiment requires that you continue
- It is absolutely essential that you continue
- You have no other choice. You must continue.
Milgram’s findings showed that 26 out of 40 administered the maximum shock, whilst 14 stopped before reaching the highest levels. These findings led Milgram to suggest that most of us are likely to obey any orders due to the presence of an authoritative figure.