"laestadian, apostolic, gay, lgbtq, ex-oalc, ex-llc, llc, oalc, bunner" LEARNING TO LIVE FREE: Milgram Shock Experiment: the Perils of Obedience

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Milgram Shock Experiment: the Perils of Obedience

The Milgram experiment is a 1961 study that measured the willingness of participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience.

Milgram summarized the experiment in his 1974 article, "The Perils of Obedience", writing:

The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of enormous importance, 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' [participants'] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects' [participants'] 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.

Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.

The study and subsequent experiments are worth contemplating, not only for insights into our national crisis of morality in sanctioning and using torture, but into more personal aspects of conformity. What makes us accept authority? What makes us question it?

I look forward to your comments.

1 comment:

  1. I have often wondered those very same thoughts... still do.

    Why did I question even when I was told not to, and even after given severe consequences? (shunned by my family and friends) Was it just the Holy Spirit calling to my heart, or was it because I was willing to listen? How can one hear that soft, persistant whisper? Or make the choice to hear in the midst of others telling you its not really there?

    Also, how does one decide WHOM to allow into a position of utmost authority over oneself? Where is that breaking point? How does the amount of knowledge one has play into it? (If you know differen, or more, than what you are being told?)

    What level of authority do you allow someone else to have over you? What is a good balance? How much is necessary for a society to coexist, or for your "soul to be saved" and how much is misdeed in the name of those things? How to tell the difference?

    I have to take it one situation at a time, and after a lifetime of conditioning into the oalc and having to ask the preachers before I combed my hair a new way, or grew any facial hair, or went cloths shopping, or bought a car... well its a long process out of that :p A process that requires a lot of praying and seeking knowledge and not trusting anyone to define my reality ever again...

    I do trust people, Im not Completely jaded :p but I am definately more careful. I really, really want to know the 'authority figure's' motivation, and still want to check out thier means to the end, and Im a big fan of lots of information and research... evil can flourish even with good intentions.

    So if Luther was considered a heritic and damned during his time, by his leaders, how long did it take for others to realize he may be on to something? That his concerns about problems within the church just might be valid? (being so far off from where they should be) How long before any of us who have chosen to speak out, will be listened to and given a second thought by our previous leaders? Its funny that I can see a parallel there, its just that we are not preachers or writers to effect history on such a mass scale. For now :)