U.S. social psychologist Stanley Milgram performed a controversial but important experiment in human behavior beginning in the early 1960s—his famous “obedience to authority” experiments (the Milgram Experiments). Now, in the 2000s, the experiment is repeated.
Dr. Milgram found that a majority of people will blindly obey an authority figure even when it comes to hurting other people.
While at Yale University, Milgram conducted a series of experiments starting in 1961 under the guise of testing punishment and learning.
Milgram used three groups of people, one group he called the “teachers” (participants) and the others he named as the “learners” (victims) and the “authority figures” (experimenters).
The learners and the authority figure knew of the real intent of the experiment but the teachers did not.
The authority figures were played by a biology teacher, or other such professional, wearing a white laboratory coat. The learners were trained to play their role, such as crying out in pain.
The teachers were told by the authority figures to give electric shocks to learners using a large and imposing “shock-generator machine” whenever the learners made a mistake.
Page two continues with the Milgram study.
The Milgram exeriment continued: The teachers were told by the authority figure to increase the strength of the shocks when the learners did not learn—which in effect they were told would test the effect of punishment on learning.
Their cries of pain were faked; however, the teachers were unaware of this situation. They thought they were imposing real pain onto the learners (fellow human beings)
The authority figures urged the teachers to continue the electric shocks even though the teachers heard the painful cries of pain from the learners.
When supposedly 150 volts of electricity was subjected on the learners they began to cry out.
However, Milgram found that 82.5% of the teachers continued to administer the shocks, while hearing the painful cries of these people.
Of those 82.5% of the teachers that continued the shocks, 79% continued the (supposed) shocks up to 450 volts, the maximum voltage (supposedly) used.
Page three talks about the new Burger study, based on the Milgram study.
U.S. psychologist Jerry M. Burger , a professor at Santa Clara University in California, decided to see if people had changed in forty or so years.
Burger aded, "The haunting images of participants administering electric shocks and the implications of the findings for understanding seemingly inexplicable events such as the Holocaust and Abu Ghraib have kept the research alive for more than four decades.” [Time: “Why We're OK With Hurting Strangers ”]
The Burger experiments were performed in response to the Holocaust of Jews and other groups by the German Nazis.
Abu Ghraib is a city in Iraq known for prisons and prisoner abuse and torture.
In the abstract to his paper, Burger stated, “We conducted a partial replication of Milgram’s (1963, 1965, 1974) obedience studies that allowed for useful comparisons with the original investigations while protecting the well-being of participants.”
Twenty-nine men and forty-one women were found from advertisements placed in newspapers, the Internet, and fliers at various public places around a community. The average age of the subjects was 43 years, with 54% of them white and 40% of them holding a college education. For participating in two 45-minute sessions, they were told they would receive $50.
Page four continues with the Burger study.
In the 2000s, Dr. Burger discovered that the rates that teachers complied with the demands from the authority figure were only slightly lower than those found by Dr. Milgram in the 1960s.
Specifically, Burger found that 70% of the teachers continued past the 150-volt mark. Milgram had a 82.5% of teachers go past. A difference that Burger says is statistically insignificant.
The abstract stated, “Seventy adults participated in a replication of Milgram’s Experiment 5 up to the point at which they first heard the learner’s verbal protest (150 volts). Because 79% of Milgram’s participants who went past this point continued to the end of the shock generator, we could make reasonable estimates about what our participants would have done if allowed to continue. We found obedience rates in 2006 only slightly lower than what Milgram found 45 years earlier.”
And, “Contrary to expectation, participants who saw a confederate refuse the experimenter’s instructions obeyed as often as those who saw no model. Men and women did not differ in their rate of obedience, but we found some evidence that individual differences in empathic concern and desire for control affected participants’ responses.”
Burger stated, “But what I found is the same situational factors that affected obedience in Milgram's experiments still operate today.” [ScienceDaily.com]
He added, "Nearly four out of five of Milgram's participants who continued after 150 volts went all the way to the end of the shock generator. Because of this pattern, knowing how participants react at the 150-volt juncture allows us to make a reasonable guess about what they would have done if we had continued with the complete procedure." [ScienceDaily.com]
Conclusions are found on page five.
The results of the Burger study will be reported in the January 2009 issue of American Psychologist, a journal of the American Psychological Association (“Replicating Milgram: Would People Still Obey Today?” American Psychologist, Vol. 64, No. 1).
The paper “Replicating Milgram: Would People Still Obey Today?”, by Dr. Burger, is found now on the Santa Clara University website.
Although there are differences between the Milgram study of the 1960s and 1970s and the Burger study of the 2000s, both studies show that humans are willing to inflict pain onto others if prodded by an authority figure, a leader, or someone in power.
For all of the people out there in the world that are willing to fight to correct a wrong, there are also many people that seemingly will blindly obey any commands (such as evil and dangerous commands) of someone in power.
We still see that today in the twenty-first century, as we did in the twentieth century.
No doubt our descendents will see the same in the twenty-second century, unless we all begin to think for ourselves and question authority if it seems to be wrong--ethically and morally.