People Are (But Shouldn’t Be) Instruction Followers
The Milgram Experiment
Milgram (Yale University, 1963) wanted to investigate whether Germans were particularly obedient to authority figures as this was a common explanation for the Nazi killings in World War II. Milgram interested how far people would go in obeying an instruction if it involved harming another person.
Volunteers were recruited for a lab experiment investigating “learning” (re: ethics: deception). Participants were 40 males, aged between 20 and 50, whose jobs ranged from unskilled to professional.
At the beginning of the experiment they were introduced to another participant, who was actually a confederate of the experimenter (Milgram). They drew straws to determine their roles – learner or teacher – although this was fixed and the confederate always ended to the learner. There was also an “experimenter” dressed in a white lab coat, played by an actor (not Milgram).
The learner (Mr. Wallace) was strapped to a chair in another room with electrodes. After he has learned a list of word pairs given him to learn, the “teacher” tests him by naming a word and asking the learner to recall its partner/pair from a list of four possible choices.
The teacher is told to administer an electric shock every time the learner makes a mistake, increasing the level of shock each time. There were 30 switches on the shock generator marked from 15 volts (slight shock) to 450 (danger – severe shock).
The learner gave mainly wrong answers (on purpose) and for each of these the teacher gave him an electric shock. When the teacher refused to administer a shock and turned to the experimenter for guidance, he was given the standard instruction /order (consisting of 4 prods):
Prod 1: “Please continue.”
Prod 2: “The experiment requires you to continue.”
Prod 3: “It is absolutely essential that you continue.”
Prod 4: “You have no other choice but to continue.”
65% (two-thirds) of participants (i.e. teachers) continued to the highest level of 450 volts. All the participants continued to 300 volts.
Milgram did more than one experiment – he carried out 18 variations of his study. All he did was alter the situation to see how this affected obedience.
The results are shocking, this means that ordinary people are likely to follow orders given by an authority figure, even to the extent of killing an innocent human being.
Most of the people are instruction follower, which could be very dangerous, because we can harm people, without any remorse. Don't be a sheep.
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