Stanley Milgram’s Experiment: Willingness to Bow to Authority

Source: Psypost, Nov 2019

An analysis of previously unpublished data raises serious questions about Stanley Milgram’s landmark obedience experiments.

The findings, which have been published in Social Psychology Quarterly, indicate that many people were willing to engage in seemingly reprehensible behavior because they saw through the researchers’ cover story. Those who believed the cover story, on the other hand, tended to be more defiant.

The Milgram experiment was designed to test people’s willingness to bow to authority — in this case, scientists in lab coats. Subjects were led to believe that they were participating in a study about learning, and were asked to deliver increasingly powerful electric shocks to another subject whenever he got an answer wrong during a memory test.

No shocks were actually delivered, but the other subject (who was actually a research assistant) made increasingly desperate cries of agony and pleas to stop.

An analysis of previously unpublished data raises serious questions about Stanley Milgram’s landmark obedience experiments.

The findings, which have been published in Social Psychology Quarterly, indicate that many people were willing to engage in seemingly reprehensible behavior because they saw through the researchers’ cover story. Those who believed the cover story, on the other hand, tended to be more defiant.

The Milgram experiment was designed to test people’s willingness to bow to authority — in this case, scientists in lab coats. Subjects were led to believe that they were participating in a study about learning, and were asked to deliver increasingly powerful electric shocks to another subject whenever he got an answer wrong during a memory test.

No shocks were actually delivered, but the other subject (who was actually a research assistant) made increasingly desperate cries of agony and pleas to stop.

“The key findings of our study, that obedience to authority is not as unreasoning and automatic as Milgram would have us believe, but was based on commonsense judgements by subjects who were variously convinced and unconvinced by the experimental scenario and responded accordingly, should prompt textbook writers to significantly revise their presentations of the research,” Perry said.

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