Posted: August 12th, 2013
After the world war, many atrocities had been committed and many people dead. Someone had to be accountable for the evil that was created. For all those brought to trial, many used authority as their defense where many cited that they were only following orders. This meant that only those at the highest rank would be charged while they did not commit all the atrocities. Thus, Stanley Milgram in his 1963 article, “Behavioral Study of Obedience,” published in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology sought to understand the effect of authority and obedience on the behavior of people. The main question was whether a person would commit actions that are against his or her conscience because of orders from an authority figure. The results showed that many went ahead to obey against their will, but tension was exhibited (Milgram, 1963).
The study was conducted through an experiment in which the participants were supposed to administer shock to another person under instructions from an authority figure. The study tried as much as possible to replicate the situation in which the people committing atrocities faced then while committing the crimes. Although the experiment did not require anybody to kill a person, the fact that the action was sadistic was good enough to produce results that would show the relationship between authority and obedience. The research showed that a significant number of the participants continued with the experiment and administered the highest shock after experimenter probed them to continue (Milgram, 1963). However, they showed extreme signs of tension. The experiments proved that people would carry out actions that hurt others in such a situation although critics argued that the participants were not in the same situation as those who committed the Second World War atrocities.
The study aimed at finding out on the level of obedience to authority. The fact that majority, 65% of the participants administered the highest shock that would deliver extreme pain proved that people would do things against their conscience if authority demands so (Milgram, 1963). This implies that those who committed atrocities in the Second World War were influenced by the orders coming from authority figures. However, some situations made it possible for the participants to administer the highest level of shock despite knowing they were quite painful. The first situation was the presence of the authority where many had to comply. In the war, many of the people issuing authority were not present but had authority figures down the line that followed and issued orders issued to them. The second was because the experiment was conducted by a trusted institution, which made the participants believe it was not dangerous. Thirdly, the participants were only informed that the shock was painful but not dangerous. This was not the case however in the Second World War considering the people in the Second World War were killing innocent people and torturing them as well. Additionally, they were aware of the results of their actions that posed extreme inhumanity. For the experiment, the participants could only hear the person but did not see them agonizing in pain, which made it easier for them to administer the last shock.
This does replicate a significant number of situations that people find in themselves. Many people will have no means to defy orders from an authority figure. Considering the military tradition of following orders, many would not defy orders from their authority. When people are following orders, they always know they cannot be held accountable of the results. This drives many to commit actions that go against their principles. For instance, many people within the work environment will engage in acts they would not at their own will. Additionally, the participants knew this was an experiment and knew the experimenter would not be planning to hurt anybody. With this in mind, many were able to carry on the experiment to the end. However, at some extreme cases people show signs of rebellion. Despite the study being an experiment, all the participants showed high levels of tension and nervousness. In the high levels of shock, the participants showed the highest levels of tension that were not usual in experiments. This was proving that there is a high level of obedience to authority. This proved that among those committing atrocities in the war were obeying instructions against their will.
The study presents the results in a statistical manner that makes it quite easy for the reader to follow and connect with the conclusion. Statistical data gives and verifies the qualitative analysis of the results. Further, the methodology used in the experiment is quite original and replicates many real situations that people face. Further, the article provides a discussion of the results and conclusion. The article is quite clear and makes the experiment quite replicable in other experiments with different variables.
One of the critics to the article is that participants were not informed the real danger of the shocks administered. The participants should have been informed of the angers of such shock in order to find out whether they could have obeyed when they knew the repercussions of the action. This could have helped in replicating further the situation that was faced by those who committed atrocities in the Second World War. Those that committed the atrocities were aware of their actions and their results but went ahead. Thus, knowing that the victim would be severely hurt would replicate a near situation to the one the experiment was conducted for, the Second World War.
The study by Milgram manages to prove that people are quite obedient to authority, proving that many would commit actions that go beyond their principles and consent (Milgram, 1963). In many cases especially in the army, many people cite they were following orders as a defense. As the experiment suggests, many people would suffer psychological and emotional issues from committing some of the action. This is evident in the army where many come back with psychological disturbances and require professional help from all the actions that happen. Thus, the study presents a situation that is a reality within different settings in the society.
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