50 years later, one of the world’s most controversial experiments is still getting results

Psychologists have reproduced Stanley Milgram’s famous electric shock experiment, one of the most controversial experiments of the last fifty years. So, obey or resist? The results are still the same half a century later.

How far can you manipulate a man? The psychology experiment conducted by Stanley Milgram between 1960 and 1963 at Yale University in New Haven, United States, aimed to understand and measure how a man could obey an order contrary to his morals. The purpose was to explain how civilized men had been led to commit despicable acts by obediently obeying the orders of their superiors during the Second World War.

During this experiment, Milgram invited subjects in groups of two. After drawing lots, one was given the role of master and the other that of student. With this experience, the goal was to understand by what psychological process normal people could be led to torture their fellow human beings by naturally releasing themselves from their responsibility by submission to a higher authority. The person adopting the role of “teacher” taught the “student” to memorize words in the presence of an experimenter administering electric shocks in case of error. Each incorrect answer resulted in a discharge of greater and greater power, ranging from 15 to 450 volts (the voltage always higher with each error).

In reality, the student is only an actor here and the electric shocks are artificial. During the exercise, despite the frightening cries and the painful face of the subject, the monitor taken by the game will continue « the torture » until administering to his student doses of voltage which could have caused his death. in reality. The experiment showed that 63% of the subjects were obedient to their « leaders » and administered up to 405 volts to their « victims ». Debriefed a month later to explain and justify their actions, most then confessed to having instinctively obeyed, trusting “scientific” authority.

This experiment proving that the majority of people are willing to harm innocent people at the behest of a superior has long been controversial, with some claiming that this test may lead to different results in countries that have never been totalitarian (such as the United States) and in states still recently in the grip of totalitarianism (such as Poland). In an attempt to verify the experiment, Tomasz Grzyb and colleagues from the SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Poland recruited 80 participants (40 men and 40 women) aged 18 to 69. The results were published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

As with the Milgram tests, the volunteers were encouraged by an examiner to shock someone in another room with increasing intensity each time depending on the wrong answers given. The researchers then found that 90% of the volunteers followed the command to inflict the highest level of shock available, a rate very similar to those observed with the Milgram experiments: When people read about Milgram’s experiment, they always say, « I would never do that.”, says Tomasz Grzyb. “Our study has once again illustrated the phenomenal power of the situation that subjects have to deal with and the ease with which they agree to do things that seem unpleasant to them.

Half-century after the original experiments of Milgram on theobedience toauthority, the majority of people are always ready to electrocute a helpless person.


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