Milgram experiment. Would you deliver a 440v electrical shot?

Are you familiar with the Milgram Experiment?

2011 saw some serious rioting across London.  Naturally, I’m on the side of the victims of these crimes.

I fully understand the necessity of consequences for the perpetrators but I find myself being reminded of the Milgram experiment. If someone of authority ordered you to riot, you wouldn’t think you would follow their orders, would you?

So if someone of authority ordered you to deliver a 400-volt electrical shock to another person, would you follow orders? Most people would say no. But Stanley Milgram in the 1960′s at Yale University carried out some interesting social psychological experiments that proved otherwise.

What this experiment showed, was that people could be easily coerced by authority figures, into doing things that were against their own social conscience and moral code.

Paid male volunteers were recruited to the role of teacher by an ad in a newspaper and actors were hired for the role of students. 

Milgram developed a shock generator which started at 30 volts all the way up to 450 volts ( more than enough to kill an elephant, let alone a human being). Each of the settings of the shock generator was labelled with terms from “slight shock” up to “ominous shock”.

The teachers (volunteers) were told to administer shocks to their students (actors) every time a wrong answer was given to a series of questions.  The teachers genuinely believed that they were administering shocks for wrong answers (although the students as actors were actually only pretending). The teachers and students were in separate rooms and could only be heard.

As the experiment progressed the teachers heard their students pleading with them to stop, or even complain about their heart condition, as they worked their way up through the different voltage settings on the generator.

Most of the teachers sort the guidance of the experimenter, asking them whether they should continue or not, as it didn’t seem right.  In response to this question they would be commanded to continue by the experimenter until the maximum voltage setting was triggered.

In Milgram’s first set of experiments, a whopping 65% of participants administered the experiment’s final massive 450- volt shock ( which theoretically could have killed their students) even though many were uncomfortable doing so and questioned the authority figure.

As a society we are taught to be obedient from an early age, obedience is part of the essential infrastructure of society. If you aren’t obedient, and don’t follow rules, then there will be concequences for you. So it’s possible to imagine that an authority person, can actually be anyone, who at the moment at time, chooses to put themselves in a position of authority.  So a persuasive friend, a neighbour, a gang leader, a slightly older person can all be seen as people in authority.

So it’s then maybe possible to understand how people might be coerced into doing things that are actually against their moral code, especially if they are put under pressure to do so. So being invited to riot by social media ( an accepted invisible higher authority)  might also be possible.

As a  hypnotherapist, I am familiar with how easy it us for us to make the wrong decisions and do things to ourselves that cause us harm. The reason why we start smoking is usually in response to something that happens during adolescence, such as the desire to fit in socially with our peers.

I am fully aware of how teenagers brains do not fully develop until the early to middle twenties. This is because of the frontal lobes which do not fully connect during teenage years. The frontal lobes are the part of the brain that once fully developed, enable us to rationalise whether something is a good idea or not, or the consequences.

I don’t have the answers, I just have an understanding of how people’s behaviours can change in response to their environment, and how some people can make the wrong decisions depending on circumstances.


1 Comment

  1. Lesley Zinser says:

    Very interesting topic, thank you for posting.

Leave a Reply