Have you ever heard of the Milgram experiment? Here’s something I found very interesting while researching for my upcoming presentation on Organisational Behaviour.

Reading about this experiment will make you cringe, leave you horrified, yet, get you deep in thought.

A psychologist from Yale University by the name of Stanley Milgram decided to carry out an experiment that tested how obedience to authority works in people. He started it in July 1961, three months after the trial of German Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann began in Jerusalem. Milgram designed his experiment to test the possibility that Eichmann and his countless accomplices were merely following orders.

Here’s how the experiment was carried out. There were public notices put up, calling for volunteers to spare an hour of their time in exchange for $4. Three individuals were involved each time: the person conducting the experiment, the volunteer as the subject, and an assistant pretending to be volunteer.

The study was in the role of a teacher-learner theme. The teacher would be the volunteer and the learner would be the conductor of the experiment, and the assistant would be the moderator. The learner would then be strapped to an electric chair and be separated from the teacher by a screen, making them unseen to each other. The volunteer would then ask a question to of word-pairing to the learner and each time the answer was incorrect, he would raise the electric shocks by 15-volts. This would incite painful pre-recorded outcries from the learner.

Each time the volunteer would be hesitant to inflict further harm on the learner, he would be reassured by the moderator that he would not be held responsible for any consequences. And thus, the experiment continued.

Milgram had initially assumed that only about 1-3% of the volunteers would continue giving shocks, because you would have to be psychotic to continue doing so. But the study showed that 65% of the volunteers did not stop giving shocks. Hence, Milgram concluded that obedience to authority is very strong in people. His hypothesis was “the degree of of pain an individual is willing to inflict upon another individual just because he was ordered by an authority figure.”

This experiment remains as one of the most controversial experiments in the history of psychology till today-even fifty years after it took place.

Pretty dark, huh?


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