Stanley Milgram's obedience experiment
1st June, 2003
In the 1960s psychologist Stanley Milgram tested a cross section of ordinary Americans to see if they’d administer potentially lethal electric shocks to a mild-mannered little man, sitting in an electric chair. The findings stunned the world.
Yale University professor Stanley Milgram’s 1960s’ experiments were perhaps the most important ever performed in psychology. He was interested in ‘the dilemma of obedience’, in how ordinary people could be induced to abandon their moral instincts by malevolent authority. While Milgram was specifically motivated by a desire to understand the Nazis, his findings may just as easily explain our complacency about the injustices of the global economy.
The participants in Milgram’s tests were recruited via a newspaper advertisement for ‘an experiment on learning and memory’ that promised $4.50 for one hour’s work. In the waiting room of Yale’s psychology department they met, on separate occasions, another ‘volunteer’ (actually an actor) – a small, friendly, middle-aged man with glasses. Then the stern-looking experimenter would arrive and ‘randomly’ choose the actor to be the ‘learner’ and the real volunteer to be the ‘teacher’. The experimenter would tell the teacher that the experiment concerned the use of punishment on memory; electric shocks would be delivered to the learner every time he answered a question...
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