What Milgram's experiment proved

In 1963, psychologist Stanley Milgram of Yale University set out to clarify the question of how German citizens during the Nazi years could participate in the extermination of millions of innocent people in concentration camps. For this, he set up a series of experiments to study the phenomenon of destructive submission.

The purpose of the experiments was to find out: how much suffering are ordinary people willing to inflict on other, completely innocent people, if such infliction of pain is included in their work duties? It demonstrated the inability of the subjects to openly confront the "boss" even in the event of deliberate harm to another person on his orders.

This experiment was presented to the participants as a study of the effect of pain on memory. The experiment involved an experimenter, a subject, and an actor who played the role of another subject. It was stated that one of the participants ("student") must memorize pairs of words from a long list until he remembers each pair, and the other ("teacher") - check the memory of the first one and punish him for every mistake with an ever stronger electric shock.

At the beginning of the experiment, the roles of teacher and student were distributed between the subject and the actor “by lot” using folded sheets of paper with the words “teacher” and “student”, and the subject was always assigned the role of teacher. After that, the "student" was tied to a chair with electrodes. Both the "student" and the "teacher" received a "demonstration" blow with a voltage of 45 V.

The “teacher” would go to another room, start giving the “student” simple memorization tasks, and at every mistake of the “student” he pressed a button, supposedly punishing the “student” with an electric shock. Starting at 45 V, the "teacher" with each new error had to increase the voltage by 15 V up to 450 V. In reality, the "student" did not receive any shocks, but only pretended to.

At “150 volts, ” the “student” actor began to demand that the experiment be stopped, but the experimenter said to the “teacher”: “The experiment must be continued. Please continue. " As the tension increased, the actor acted out more and more discomfort, then severe pain, and finally yelled to stop the experiment. If the subject showed hesitation, the experimenter assured him that he took full responsibility for both the experiment and the safety of the "student" and that the experiment should be continued. At the same time, however, the experimenter did not threaten the doubting "teachers" in any way and did not promise any reward for participating in this experiment.

The results obtained amazed everyone involved in the experiment, even Milgram himself. In one series of experiments, 26 out of 40 subjects, instead of taking pity on the victim, continued to increase the voltage (up to 450 V) until the researcher gave the order to end the experiment. Even more alarming was the fact that almost none of the 40 participants in the experiment refused to play the role of teacher when the "student" was just beginning to demand release. They did not do this even later, when the victim began to beg for mercy. Moreover, even when the "student" responded to each electrical discharge with a desperate scream, the "teacher" subjects continued to press the button. One subject stopped at a voltage of 300 V, when the victim began to shout in despair: "I can no longer answer questions!", And those who stopped after that were in a clear minority. The overall result was as follows: one subject stopped at 300 V, five refused to obey after this level, four after 315 V, two after 330 V, one after 345 V, one after 360 V and one after 375 V; the remaining 26 out of 40 reached the end of the scale.

The conducted research and suggestive conclusions generated a storm of emotions and accusations from the opponents of the scientist, therefore, in order to exclude all accompanying factors and make sure that the experiments were pure, some changes were made in the course of the experiments, as a result of which it turned out that:

The results did not depend on the authority of the university

Milgram repeated the experiment, renting a space in Bridgeport, Connecticut under the guise of the Bridgeport Research Association and discarding any reference to Yale. The Bridgeport Research Association was represented by a commercial organization. The results did not change much: 48% of the subjects agreed to reach the end of the scale.

Subject's gender did not affect the results

Another experiment showed that the subject's gender was not critical; The female “teachers” behaved in exactly the same way as the men in Milgram's first experiment. This dispelled the myth of the kindness of women.

People were aware of the danger of electric shock to the "student"

Another experiment examined the assumption that the subjects underestimated the potential physical harm they caused to the victim. Before the start of the additional experiment, the "student" was instructed to declare that he had a bad heart and could not withstand strong electric shocks. During the experiment, the "student" began to shout: "That's it! Let me out of here! I told you that I have a bad heart. My heart is starting to bother me! I refuse to continue! Let me out! " However, the behavior of the "teachers" has not changed; 65% of the subjects conscientiously performed their duties, bringing the stress to the maximum.

Subjects did not have any mental disorders

The assumption that the subjects were mentally disturbed was also rejected as groundless. People who responded to Milgram's announcement and expressed a desire to take part in an experiment to study the effect of punishment on memory, by age, profession and educational level, were average citizens. Moreover, the answers of the subjects to the questions of special tests that allow assessing the personality showed that these people were quite normal and had a fairly stable psyche.

The assumption that the subjects enjoyed the victim's suffering has been disproved by several experiments. When the experimenter left, and his "assistant" remained in the room, only 20% agreed to continue the experiment. When the subject was given the right to choose the voltage himself, 95% remained within 150 volts. When instructions were given over the phone, obedience decreased dramatically (down to 20%). At the same time, many subjects pretended to continue the experiments. If the subject found himself in front of two researchers, one of whom ordered to stop, and the other insisted on continuing the experiment, the subject stopped the experiment.

According to Milgram, the findings indicate an interesting phenomenon: "This study showed an extremely pronounced willingness of normal adults to go unknown how far, following the directions of authority."

Interestingly, after debugging his experimental techniques in the United States, Milgram planned to travel with them to Germany, whose inhabitants, he believed, were highly obedient. However, after his very first experiment in New Haven, Connecticut, it became clear that there was no need for a trip to Germany and that one could continue to engage in scientific research near home. "I have found so much obedience, " Milgram said, "that I see no need to conduct this experiment in Germany." Subsequently, Milgram's experiment was nevertheless repeated in Holland, Germany, Spain, Italy, Austria and Jordan, and the results were the same as in America.