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The Milgram experiment-Why People do Horrible Things

The Milgram experiment was a scientific experiment of social psychology described by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram in his 1974 book Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View. It was intended to measure the willingness of a subject to obey an authority who instructs the subject to do something that may conflict with the subject's personal conscience.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment

The method of one experiment was as follows:

The subject and an actor pretending to be another subject are told by the experimenter that they were going to participate in an experiment to test the effectiveness of punishment on learning behavior. Two slips of paper marked "teacher" are handed to the subject and actor, and the actor claims that his says "learner", so the subject believed that his role has been chosen randomly. Both are then given a sample 45-volt electric shock from an apparatus attached to a chair into which the actor is strapped. The "teacher" is then given simple memory tasks to give to the "learner" and instructed to administer a shock by pressing a button each time the learner makes a mistake.

The "teacher" is then told that the voltage is to be raised by 15 volts after each mistake. He is not told that there are no actual shocks being given to the actor, who feigns discomfort. At "150 volts", the actor requests that the experiment end, and is told by the experimenter "The experiment requires that you continue. Please go on." or similar words. He continues, and the actor feigns greater discomfort, considerable pain, and concerns for his own safety as the shocks continue. If the teacher subject becomes reluctant, he is instructed that the experimenter takes all responsibility for the results of the experiment and the safety of the learner, and that the experiment requires that he continue.

Before the experiment was conducted Milgram polled fellow psychiatrists as to what the results would be. They unanimously believed that all but a few sadists would refuse to give the maximum voltage.

In Milgram's first set of experiments, 65% of experimental subjects administered the experiment's final "450-volt shock", though many were quite uncomfortable in doing so. No subject stopped before the "300 volt" level. The experiment has been repeated by other psychologists around the world with similar results. Variations have been performed to test for variables in the experimental setup. For example, subjects are much more likely to be obedient when the experimenter is physically present than when the instructions are given over telephone.

The experiment raised questions about the ethics of scientific experimentation itself because of the extreme emotional stress suffered by the subjects (even though it was brought on by their own free actions). Most modern scientists would consider the experiment unethical today, though it resulted in valuable insights into human psychology.

In Milgram's defense, given the choice between "positive", "neutral" and "negative", 84% of former subjects contacted later rated their role in the experiments as a positive experience and 15% chose neutral. Many wrote later expressing thanks.

Why so many former subjects reported they were "glad" to have been involved despite the apparent levels of stress, one subject explained to Milgram in correspondence six years after he participated in the experiment:

While I was a subject in 1964, though I believed that I was hurting someone, I was totally unaware of why I was doing so. Few people ever realize when they are acting according to their own beliefs and when they are meekly submitting to authority. ... To permit myself to be drafted with the understanding that I am submitting to authority's demand to do something very wrong would make me frightened of myself. ... I am fully prepared to go to jail if I am not granted Conscientious Objector status. Indeed, it is the only course I could take to be faithful to what I believe. My only hope is that members of my board act equally according to their conscience...

Milgram summed up in the article "The Perils of Obedience" (Milgram 1974), writing:

"The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of enormous import, but they say very little about how most people behave in concrete situations. I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects' strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects' ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation."

The experiments began in July 1961, a year after the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. Milgram devised the experiment to answer the question "Could it be that Eichmann, and his million accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders? Could we call them all accomplices?" (Milgram, 1974)

Thomas Blass of the University of Maryland writes in Psychology Today (March/April 2002) that he has collected results from repeats of the experiment done at various times since, in the US and elsewhere, and found that the percentage of subjects who are prepared to inflict fatal voltages remains remarkably constant, between 61% and 66%, regardless of time or location. The full results were published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology (see reference below).

A documentary was made showing the experiment and its results. It is now very hard to find copies of it, but it is a very informative and chilling viewing.

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But there's more to what's going on today 12.May.2004 10:50

reader

The work of Milgram and the Stanford prisoner and guard studies are great to know about, but the things happening today are more complex than that. Why? Because although those experiments were unethical, the researchers had no interest in manipulating public opinon around a war.

If you didn't already notice, the beheading eclipsed a $170 BILLION tax credit that was handed to corporations like Halliburton, PG&E and Enron at virtually the same time.

It's nice to wonder why people abuse power, but the goal of those who really retain the power is to keep you busy with that wondering and images of heads being severed and not make a phone call to your congress person about their vote on bills that essentially trash this country and being us one step closer to institutionalized slavery, not get in the streets, not write letters, not take action.

Maybe that's something more important to wonder about - capitalist slavery - rather than why the people on the bottom are acting out. Like when kids act out, generally you can trace it back to how the parents are treating them, or what abuses they themselves are experiencing.

Berg's Family Firm Was On Right-Wing FReeper 'Enemies' List 12.May.2004 13:32

"why"? I wonder . . . WHO ___BENEFITS___.

12 May 2004

Beheaded Man's Firm Was On Right-Wing 'Enemies' List

The family firm of beheaded American Nick Berg, was named by a conservative website in a list of 'enemies' of the Iraq occupation. That could explain his arrest by Iraqi police --a detention which fatally delayed his planned return from Iraq and may have led directly to his death.

Nick Berg, 26 disappeared into incommunicado detention after his arrest by Iraqi police in March, 2004. He vanished again after his release 13 days later. His body was found last Saturday in Baghdad, and a video of his beheading --supposedly by a radical Islamic group-- was posted on the Internet on Tuesday.

The official story of his gruesome murder has many dubious aspects, not least the real reason why Iraqi police detained the young man at a checkpoint. New research by BreakForNews has uncovered a plausible explanation.


The FreeRepublic.com web site and forum has a reputation for right-wing views, often fanatical Republican and relentless pro-war activism.

On 7th March, 2004, just three weeks before the first anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, an 'enemies' list of anti-war groups and individuals was posted on the Free Republic forum.

It began: "Here you are, FReepers. Here is the enemy."

The list had been copied from publicly available endorsements of a call to action for an imminent anniversary antiwar protest on 20th March, 2004. The protest was being organized under the banner of the A.N.S.W.E.R Coalition (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism).

Among those listed as having endorsed the call to action was this entry: "Michael S. Berg, Teacher, Prometheus Methods Tower Service, Inc."

That's Nick Berg's father, Michael who acts as business manager for his son in their family radio communications firm, Prometheus Methods Tower Service.

Both father and son cared deeply about Iraq. But they were on opposite sides of opinion  http://www.centredaily.com/mld/centredaily/sports/horse_racing/kentucky_derby/8638882.htm on the occupation --though you would never know that from reading the New York Times.  http://www.centredaily.com/mld/centredaily/sports/horse_racing/kentucky_derby/8638882.htm on the occupation --though you would never know that from reading the New York Times.  link to www.nytimes.com


Why People do Horrible Things 12.May.2004 22:09

Theodor Adorno

One of the reasons people do horrible things is that their thought processes have been so crippled by the school system that they think a description of what happens is an explanation.

Milgram discovered no explanations. He discovered behaviour. And he published.

The knowledge was so dangerous and suppressed so thoroughly that from time to time later researchers begin to repeat similar experiments, not knowing they had been done by Milgram and by Adorno before him and they had been declared 'unethical'.

The SOA manuals suggest that the US government not only remembered the experiments but elaborated on them, learning to enhance the 'following orders' effect, to induce it stealthily, and to use it to cement 'loyalty' to 'special' units.