Milgram’s Experiment 1963


A decade earlier psychologist Stanley Milgram had also looked at how we respond to Authority. In order to understand how people were induced to obey unjust regimes and participate in atrocities such as the Holocaust, he set up an experiment. Volunteers were told they were taking part in scientific research to improve memory.

— You open up those and tell me which of you is which, please.

— The teacher.

— The learner.

Separated by a screen the teacher would ask the learner questions in a word game and administrator an electric shock when the answer was incorrect. He was told to increase the voltage with each wrong answer.

— Cloud, horse, rock, house.

— Answer!

— Wrong! 150 volts. Answer: horse.

— That’s all. Get me out! Get me out of here, please.

—  Continue, please. It’s all right.

— The experiments requires you to continue. Please continue.

Participants didn’t know that the learner was really an actor and so called shocks harmless.

— You now get a shot under navy volts.

— I can’t stand the pain. Please let me out of here!

— I’m not gonna kill that man out there. I mean who’s going to take the responsibility of what happens with that gentleman?

— I’m responsible for anything that happens here. Continue, please.

— All right. Actual, slow, walk, dance, truck, music.

Two thirds of volunteers were prepared to administer a potentially fatal electric shock when encouraged to so by what they perceived as a legitimate authority figure. In this case a man in a white coat.

— 375 volts.

— I think sometimes that have fallen there. I get no answer. He was hauling of less voltage. Can’t you check and see if he is okay, please.

Milligram’s findings horrified America. They showed that decent American citizens were as capable of committing acts against their conscience as the Germans under the Nazis.