in ,

50 years later, one of the most controversial experiments in the world still gets results

Psychologists have reproduced Stanley Milgram’s famous experiment of electric shocks, which was one of the most controversial experiences of the past fifty years. So, obey or resist? The results are still the same half a century later.

To how far can you manipulate a man? The psychological experiment carried out by Stanley Milgram between the years of 1960 to 1963 at Yale University, USA, was to discover, how far will a man go in obeying an order that goes against their morals. The goal was to explain how could civilized and intelligent men be pushed to commit terrible acts and willingly obey without question, orders from their superiors during the Second World War.

During this experiment, Milgram invited subjects in groups of two. Chosen at random, one would be placed in the role of the master and the other would be the student. The aim of this experiment was to learn by what psychological process, normal people can be led to torture their fellows by naturally disengaging themselves from their responsibility, due to pressure from a superior authority. The person who had the role of “master” taught the “student” to memorize words in front of an examiner. They would then zap their student with electronic shocks when they made mistakes. Everytime they made a mistake, they master would gradually increase the electronic force, starting from 15 all the way to 450 volts

In reality the person playing the role of student was actually an actor and the electric charges were fake. During the experiment, the actor would pretend to make faces experiencing terrible pain and would let out loud screams. The master would believe them and continue to administer the torture of electronic volts as well as increasing the levels of voltage, which in real life would have killed them. The experiment showed that 63% of test subjects obeyed their superiors orders by administering up to 450 volts to their “victims”. When they were debriefed a month later to explain and justify their actions, the majority admitted that they ignored their instincts and trusted the scientific superior.

This experiment, proving that the majority of people are prepared to inflict pain to innocent people under the instructions of a superior, has long been controversial. Some stated that the results would have been different in countries that have never been tototalitarian (such as the United States) and in countries that are still in the throes of totalitarianism (such as Poland). In an attempt to verify the experiment, Tomasz Grzyb and his colleague from the SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Poland recruited 80 test subjects. All were a variety of ages between 18 to 69 and half men and half women. 

Just like the tests performed by Milfram, the volunteers were encouraged by the scientist to shock someone sat in another room everytime they gave a wrong answer. The researchers found that 90% of the test subjects followed the order to inflict pain to the highest level, a result which is very similar to the findings of Milfram. “Upon learning about Milgram’s experiments, a vast majority of people claim that ‘I would never behave in such a manner”, says Tomasz Gryzyb. “Our study has, yet again, illustrated the tremendous power of the situation the subjects are confronted with and how easily they can agree to things which they find unpleasant.”

Half a century after the original experiments of Milgram on obeying authority, the majority of people are still prepared to electrocute someone who cannot defend themselves.