Friday, November 4, 2016

Milgram's Obedience Experiments

Male student: I'm getting a little tired of this.
Dr Peter Venkman: You volunteered, didn't you? We're paying you, aren't we?
Male student: Yeah, but I didn't know that you were gonna be giving me electric shocks! What are you trying to prove here, anyway?
Dr Peter Venkman: I'm studying the effect of negative reinforcement on ESP ability.
Male student: Effect? I'll tell you what the effect is. It's pissing me off!

In the early 1960s, social psychologist Stanley Milgram of Yale University ran a series of famous experiments aimed at studying 'destructive obedience.' The gist of the experiments (Milgram, 1963) was that most subjects would deliver excruciating electric shocks, perhaps even sometimes debilitating or lethal, to innocent people when the experimenter told them to do so.

When subsequently explaining his findings in the popular press, Milgram (1973) suggested that one reason why people go along with malevolent authority is that they feel arrogant, uncoorperative, and rude if they do not obey. Commitment to politeness overwhelms commitment to basic moral decency.

Milgram's research helps explain the political correctness movement, unwillingness to testify, party loyalty under conditions of political corruption, and other collectivist phenomena.


Milgram, S. (1963). "Behavioral study of obedience." Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67(4): 371-378.

Milgram, S. "The perils of obedience." Harper's, December, 1973, pp. 68-77.

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