MILGRAM

5 June 2011

[Picture of Stanley Milgram]I first came across mention of Stanley Milgrams famous experiment from Peter Gabriel of all people.  I was at a Peter Gabriel concert, and Peter sat at his piano and took time to explain The Milgram 18 Experiment to us.

He told us that this was the meaning behind his song “We Do What We’re Told (Milgram’s 37)” from “So, 1986”, which needed an explanation as the lyrics are very brief!

I remembered this when I did some sociology and criminology modules at Open University.

Pioneering social psychologist, Stanley Milgram, did a very controversial and famous experiment in the 1960s. It was designed to determine just how far ordinary people would go in obeying people in authority. “Following Orders”. Milgram was Jewish and wanted to understand how Germans could have persecuted the Jews and other groups during WWII.

A volunteer was wired up in a room, and in an adjoining room was a device that administered a varying electric shock to the volunteer.  Subjects were asked by researchers to administer the shock each time that the volunteer failed a word association test. The Subjects did not know that the shocks were fake and that the volunteer doing the word association tests was in fact an actor.

Over 65 per cent of the subject followed orders, even to the extent of delivering potentially lethal electric shocks “Carrying Out Orders“.  They simply felt that the moral responsibility did not lie with them, but with the authority figure telling them to do it.

It was all about who had the ultimate responsibility, and that each of us has a far greater capacity to be evil if the circumstances are right, and where there is a recognised hierarchy, or a clear ringleader.

The Milgram Experiment has had a profound effect ever since.  It means that we each have to be watchful of the context in which we act.  I am amazed at how often Milgram crops up in my life.

Not long after Milgram‘s experiment, Philip Zimbardo set up a new experiment where female subjects were asked to monitor a task and to give electric shocks to those who failed, but half of the female subject were dressed in normal clothes, the other half were in a disguise that rendered them anonymous. Those who could not be identified gave stronger and longer shocks.

Zimbardo showed that people are more viscous when masked, in disguise, unidentifiable, in a crowd, in a car, on the telephone, or through the internet. Anonymity is incredibly important, and when mixed with Milgram, such as with the army, or police force, where anonymity and authority / abrogated responsibility come into play, the de-individualisation and dehumanisation is maximised.

 

Ordinary, nice people can carry out acts of violence or cruelty that they would never believe themselves to be capable of.

§

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: