Boudaries of Obediance and Migram’s oft repeated experiment.

A few nights ago one of the older ones was flicking through channels on the TV when he caught a part of a programme where Milgram’s experiment was being repeated. We didn’t see why the experiment was being done but the results were very disturbing. You see, over all, the results were much the same as the ones Milgram got back in the 1960’s.

One woman in the new experiment already knew about Milgram and so pulled out- knowing what would be asked of her.

None of the other subjects had heard of this very famous and very important experiment made in the wake of the Nuremberg Trials.

There are vast amounts of knowledge and events out there that we can teach our children about, or they can learn on their own. But it seems to me there are some thing they need to know. Even schools recognise that World War II was an historical event that should be taught.  Sadly what they teach is often far to narrow and wishy washy. But how the concentration camps came to happen is surely a good question, and if someone has a good answer that forewarns, surely we need to know about it.

The experiment consists of  subjects who are called “teacher” and two actors who are “the learner” and the “Guy in the white coat in charge of the experiment.” The Learner is put in another room and the Teacher is told that he or she is to give electric shocks to the learner whenever they get an answer wrong. The shocks range from 15 volts which is sharp to 450 volts which kills. The panel is clearly labelled.

The subject-teacher could not see the learner but could hear him screaming. Even though many subjects became more and more uncomfortable with the process if the man in the white coat said they had to continue they did.

I really think that if we understand Milgram’s experiment it will help us step back in times when we might be pressured by someone whose authority is not necessarily valid, and make sure we are in fact doing what is right.

Of course that means getting rid of all the “how does it feel for you, follow your heart, it’s all relative” rubbish and actually accept that some things are right, and some things – such as electrocuting people is by its nature wrong.

I’ve written a lesson for older children on Milgram’s experiment (opens pdf). It probably needs a follow on about genuine authority and obedience. 

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3 responses to “Boudaries of Obediance and Migram’s oft repeated experiment.

  1. Quite unsettling, Mum6kids. Good to share it with the kids at their level.

  2. I’d also recommend Philip Zimbardo’s book, the Lucifer Effect: Zimbardo performed the equally infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, and was a high school classmate of Milgram. Both struggled, as a psychological question, of how people who think of themselves as good could perform heinous acts, both went into their experiments thinking that they would find out that there was an identifiable “evil” personality type, both found that all that was necessary was a layer of authority that either requested (Milgram) or tacitly condoned (Zimbardo) dehumanizing behaviour.

    • Yes, the Stanford Prison exp was on my mind when I wrote the lesson. I couldn’t remember which prison though. Thanks for the reminder 🙂
      I’ve never read The Lucifer Effect though I know it’s a good book from others. In many ways the Prison experiment is more disturbing because the violence comes from the “guards” themselves and not from external pressure.
      We had that one during training to remind us that no matter how voilent or obnoxious the patients might be sometimes we must never use our supposed position of “power” to bully them.
      I don’t think the new traiming (in Uni) offers this as I saw some disturbing events from trained nurses in their handling of violent patients at times. I had to see some nurses individually about it.
      I do think those of us who were forewarned, were better armed against a tendancy to grasp as power and be violent and obnoxious ourselves.

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