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Milgram Experiment – Obedience to Authority

Milgram’s experiments are known as experiments on the norm of authority or the norm of obedience.
40 subjects of male sex, of different ages and different socio-professional levels were recruited (deceit) to participate in a study on the evaluation of punishment for learning purposes.
In the laboratory there were two subjects: an accomplice and the naive subject.

The naive subject was assigned “by lot” the function of teacher who had to read a series of pairs of words while the accomplice, the student, had to answer using 4 buttons. For each mistake the subject had to punish using electric discharges of increasing intensity: 30 levers ranging from 15 volts to 450 volts. To give the subject an idea, a 45 volts shock was given!
Milgram’s goal was to observe to what extent the teacher would agree to administer electric shocks to the student even when the latter expressed a desire to end the pain.
On the generator there were written indications such as:
“Light” – “moderate” – “strong” – “intense” – “extremely intense” – “with danger of death”
The accomplice, in another room, made a voluntary mistake and the subject was urged to press a lever:
The accomplice in the other room …
At 75 V he was starting to moan;
At 120 V he said he felt pain;
At 135 V he screamed;
At 150 V he said he didn’t want to continue;
At 180 V he can’t do it anymore;
At 270 V he uttered a cry of anguish;
At 300 V he gasped and no longer answered questions.
The experimenter said that non-response should be interpreted as an error and therefore punished. To get the teacher to continue, the experimenter uses four verbal prompts such as:
“Continue, please” – “Please continue” – “It is absolutely essential to continue” – “The experiment requires that we continue”.
An internal conflict begins to grow in the subject, the STATE OF ANXIETY increases (he trembles, sweats, stammers protests, bites his lip …) but HE FEELS A DUTY TO OBEY THE AUTHORITY.

There were some surprising results

  • Maximum average shock inflicted by the subjects: 360 V
  • 62.5% of subjects (2 out of 3) had obeyed until the last shock (450 V).

Variation 1

We are now in the presence of 3 “masters”: 2 accomplices and 1 naive subject

  • At 150 V the first accomplice withdraws
  • At 210 V the second accomplice withdraws

The disobedience of colleagues

Variation 2

The experimenter received a fake phone call asking him to leave the laboratory. Now the subject decides the intensity of the shock and the substitute measures the reaction time of the subject. In this variation, 80% of the teachers refused to continue.
There is no longer the figure of the expert who gives commands and there is therefore a decline in obedience.

Variation 3

There are 2 experimenters.

  • At 150 V the two experimenters disagree on the continuation.

All subjects refused to continue.
There was more disobedience in the standard version.

Why these results?

  • Subjects find it difficult to abandon the rule of obedience to authority and feel fear and restlessness at the idea of ​​disobeying a legitimate authority
    -The experiment was very fast
    Difficulty in understanding that the rule was no longer adequate
    -The tremors were increased in small doses
  • The emotional distance from the victim.

The authorities are responsible for his acts, he only carries out orders
The milgram experiment was replicated in Holland, Germany, Spain, Italy, Australia and Jordan as it was assumed that the place where the experiment was conducted, ie Yale University, could affect the results but the results were similar everywhere.
Miller (1986): “The anxiety exhibited by the subjects during the experiment made the extraordinary impact of authority appear clearly: a sample of supposedly normal subjects, of” good people “, had been induced to go against their own principles, raging with a victim who complained, only to carry out an order that came from the authority ”.

This example gives us a negative view of conformity. In reality, conformity can also be constructive. The firefighters who rushed into the burning towers of the World Trade Center were brave but they were also obeying the orders of their superiors by conforming to group loyalty.


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