how far would we go to obey?

A few weeks back, we were talking about social influence in Social Psychology class. We touched on the topic of obedience where my TA talked about an experiment devised a long time ago by Milgram. It was an experiment where a volunteer was assigned the teacher role and the other person was assigned the learner role. The teacher and learner sat in separate rooms. The teacher was supposed to “teach” the learner a set of words. The learner was supposed to remember those words and responded to the teacher’s questions. If the learner answered incorrectly, the teacher administered an electric shock and increased the voltage each time. The voltage ranged from 0-450mv. Of course, 450mv was fatal. What the teacher didn’t know was that he/she wasn’t really administering any electric shocks. He/she would hear recorded groans and screams. Whenever the teacher felt uncomfortable and wanted to stop the experiment, the experimenter would not say “no,” but would say that the experiment required the volunteer to continue. What the experimenters wanted to know was the level of obedience to authority of the volunteer in the face of evil. The volunteer “knew” that the electric shocks were fatal. The experimenter did not disallow the volunteer to stop the experiment, he merely said that the experiment required the volunteer to continue. Shockingly, 65% of the volunteers continued all the way to the fatal 450mv. This experiment was later disallowed and labeled as unethical. However, it was done again in 2009. This is only the first part of the full clip. To watch the full clip, go to YouTube.

The end of the clip has the most impact as the experimenter talks about the experiment. I swear that if you ever did something like this (whether you’re the experimenter or volunteer), you’ll just become disillusioned with life and people. I also think the level of obedience depends on the age of the volunteer and how much it differs with the experimenter. The younger the volunteer and the larger the age gap, the more obedient the volunteer is. That scares me a lot as this would be true for all kids in school. Although they have the knowledge of right and wrong, they also fear and respect their elders which would often trump their knowledge in these situations.

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