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Milgram experiment on obedience

The Milgram studies tested how far people would go to obey authority, even when it meant hurting others. The researchers deceived participants into thinking they were shocking learners for giving wrong answers. Most participants continued to shock, despite the learners' screams and pleas. The studies showed how ordinary people can do terrible things when ordered by an authority. Created by Brooke Miller.

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  • blobby green style avatar for user Aden Thompson
    money may have been part of the obedience problem.
    (21 votes)
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  • leafers ultimate style avatar for user ff142
    Sometimes people may even comply with an authority's orders to harm themselves, e.g. a patient getting a harmful surgery she initially did not want to get because doctors kept telling her to get the surgery.
    So maybe sometimes it's not that people don't care about others, it's that they're unknowledgeable/unsure/diffident so they just do what the authority tells them to do.
    (16 votes)
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  • starky sapling style avatar for user CelestialTakke
    So they tortured people for some sick experiment and made the participants' lab hamsters in their will to push the limit of their natural desire to treat everyone with respect only to use the experiments as a result for some people to get worked over it to call the authorities psychopaths leading to casualties in the crowd that protested against it? WOULDNT THAT START WORLD WAR III!? Edit: 100 Volts is the bare maximum of when people can survive the electric shock.
    "you have no choice, you must go on". This is way too crazy.
    (9 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user alexander.camano
      The source you have may be incorrect, or talking about a CONTINUOUS flow. By what I am seeing, a good rule of thumb is that when a shock is at or above 2,700 volts, the person often dies or experiences severe injury, but over 11,000 the human body would most likely die. 450 volts is enough to give tons of pain, but not death. Hope this helps!
      (3 votes)
  • sneak peak green style avatar for user Ben
    That sums us up, crazy americans willing to do anything for powerful people
    (7 votes)
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  • leafers tree style avatar for user L. E.
    I'm sure we all really think we would refuse and stop once the "learner" started screaming. But in reality? Apparently 2/3 of us wouldn't.

    We wonder how we can commit acts of terrorism and torture and genocide.

    This is how.

    We are trained our entire lives to unquestioningly take and obey orders from our authorities. Why need we think of the consequences of those orders? The thinking has already been done for us.

    We see ourselves victims of circumstance, hating the commands we know are wrong but ultimately believing the blame lies with the authority that gave us those commands.

    Clearly it's wrong, yet still we create an illusion of victim mentality and refuse responsibility for our own cruelty, whether in 1940s Germany, 1960s America, or the world today.

    The Milgram study is an illustrative, if depressing, study of humanity: we are not inherently good.

    Were the 2/3 of people sadists? Or were they simply ordinary human beings who didn't take their responsibilities to their beliefs strongly enough to act upon them once the screaming started?
    (6 votes)
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    • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user 💜PURPLE4VICTORY💜
      What thought-provoking (I don't know if it's rhetorical) question(s)! I definitely appreciate and agree with most of what you say; however my only criticism is your thoughts about how the Milgram study reflects that humanity is "not inherently good." I don't think that most circumstances or people can be defined as "good" or "bad," because it is ultimately up to the person's morals and their point of view, along with how that affects their response to a particular situation. You pointed out that many people who "create an illusion of victim mentality" follow through with disagreable commands and blame the authority in the end for what you believe to be the "victims'" fault. However, illusions of "victim mentality" are not the only thing stopping people from not following authority. What if a person's family is being threatened, or what if they are enslaved with no possible solution out? In that case, they are surviving for the benefit of themselves or others, and when that occurs, you cannot put a label on humanity for being "bad" just because a person (or many people) would not act upon the screaming. These are just my thoughts, and as always, I appreciate the thoughts, answers, and help you contribute to Khan Academy. :)
      (6 votes)
  • female robot amelia style avatar for user Mikaela Matrille
    that was beyond sad
    (6 votes)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Ye EnD nAy JuG
    Isn't it disturbing that we would be willing to do this? And not just sadists, but average people.
    (7 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Lillian Henderson
    a correction on , phsycopaths do not enjoy other peoples pain. i think she meant a sadist. [also part of the dark tetrad] luckily they make up a very small portion of society.
    (6 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user KayleeK
    I think its because an emotional wound the thing is though how would you treat an emotional wound caused by stress and anxiety
    (5 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user dripykidwithcookies
    Ya'll she said that the learner never really got shocked and was in on the experiment so why would it be illegal
    (3 votes)
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Video transcript

- [Voiceover] The Milgram studies were conducted in order to study the willingness of participants, average everyday Americans, to obey authority figures who instructed them to perform behaviors that conflicted with their personal beliefs and morals, and as you can probably imagine, it might be hard to recruit participants when that's what you're trying to study. And so in order to keep the participants from finding out what he was actually trying to look at, Milgram used deception. He started by posting ads looking for people to participate in a study about learning and memory, and I actually have an image of the original flyer here. And you can see that they really tried to make it a point to recruit average, everyday people. When they arrived at the lab, they were told that they were going to be participating in a study that was trying to look at the effects of punishment on learning. So do people learn best after they've been punished for making a mistake? And there were two participants involved in the study, and they randomly decided by picking out of a hat, who was going to play the role of teacher and who was going to play the role of the learner. In reality, one of the participants was actually a confederate, meaning that they were working with the experimenter and were secretly in on the point of the study. And choosing the roles out of a hat wasn't actually random in this case because it was rigged in such a way that the actual participant always got the teacher role and the confederates always got the learner role. While the teacher was watching, the experimenter hooked the learner up to a number of electrodes, and they were both told that the teacher was going to teach the learner a number of word pairs, and that the learner would be shocked whenever they gave the wrong answer. In some versions of the study, the person playing the learner noted that they were worried about the experiment because they had a heart condition, so they were worried about the shocks, at which point the experimenter would explain to them not to worry, that the shocks would be painful but not dangerous. The teacher was then taken to a different room where they couldn't see the learner. They had no visual contact with them. And they were sat in front of a box of switches that they were told was a shock box. The first switch was labeled 15 volts, and the switches increased at 15 volt increments until it reached 450 volts. Along with an indication of voltage, there were also labels that went along with the switches. And I wrote a number of them down here, but they went from slight shock to moderate shock to strong shock and then things like very strong shock and intense shock and extremely intense shock, and then kind of troublingly, a label that noted that the switches would give a severe shock and the warning of danger XXX. The teacher was instructed to read a long list of word pairs to the learner, and then when they were finished, to go back and read the first word of each pair and then offer four possible pair words. Of those possible four pair words, the learner would indicate what they thought the answer was by pressing a button and this was displayed on a screen to the teacher. And whenever they made an error, the teacher was instructed to give them a shock at increasing increments. So the first wrong answer got a shock of 15 volts, the second one 30 volts, etcetera. And just so you're aware, even though the teacher thought that they were giving the learner shocks, no actual shocks were given. But of course it was really important that the teacher really thought that the punishment was being administered. After giving a number of correct answers, the participants seemingly started giving incorrect ones. And of course, the pattern of correct and incorrect answers that the learner was given was determined by the experimenter well before hand. And the first couple of shocks really didn't elicit that much of a reaction. The learner would kind of gasp when they happened, but nothing more than that, however after several increasing shocks, the learner would start to pound on the wall and cry out in pain. And eventually, they would start to complain about their heart condition, saying things like "let me out, my heart is "bothering me, let me out." And as the shocks increased, they would continue to yell and scream that they wanted to quit. And after this, after a certain point, all responses from the learner would cease and there would only be silence from the other room. If at any point during the study, the participant playing the role of the teacher wanted to check on the other participant, or stop the experiment, or even just looked back at the experimenter for guidance to see what they should do, they were told things like "please continue" and "the experiment requires that you continue." And even "you have no other choice, you must go on." The experiment came to an end after either four verbal protests from the teacher, from the participant, or after they had given the final shock of 450 volts to the silent learner three times. Before he started his experiment, Milgram had asked a number of professors and psychology students and clinical psychologists whether or not people would obey the commands of the experimenter, and they overwhelmingly said that people would not, that most of them would stop when the learner protested, and that very very few people would shock all the way, and that those that did were probably psychopaths. And so when the results of the study came out, they were actually really disturbing because 65% of participants shocked all the way. 65%. And to be clear, those participants didn't do so without feeling. They had protested and they were sweating, and they were trembling, but they still obeyed the commands of the experimenter and shocked to 450 volts. And in the versions of the experiment where the learner claimed to have a heart condition, and specifically claimed that the shocks were hurting their heart, full compliance did drop, but not by much. It dropped to 63%. And again, these were everyday, average Americans who heard the cries of people they were tomenting and continued with the task. And I want to end with a quote from Milgram, and it's kind of a long quote, and I've written it out here. But I think that it's really important and really sums up the results of the study. He wrote, "I set up a simple experiment at Yale "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 length on the command of an authority "constitutes the chief finding of the study "and the fact most urgently demanding explanation. "Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, "and without any particular hostility on their parts, "can become agents in a terrible destructive process. "Moreover, even when the destructive effects "of their work became patently clear, "and they were asked to carry out actions "incompatible with fundamental standards "of morality, relatively few people have "the resources needed to resist authority."