It Hurts!

The Milgram Experiment  of 1961 showed ordinary people were willing to inflict terrible pain on a stranger when ‘following orders’. Stanley Milgram, an American social psychologist, attempted to test social compliance. His inspiration was the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. Eichmann’s defense for arranging the mass killing of Jews was that he was only ‘following orders’.

Derren Brown recreated the experiment in his 2006 documentary The Heist. His findings differed not the whole lot from the Milgram original most subjects would, indeed, harm others, following orders given by persons of authority.

Human nature, surely, must’ve changed in fifty years! We’ve become more independent, less subservient, more defiant, freer thinkers, less willing to obey the authority without questioning its motives. More humane! That’s it. Haven’t we become all of the above?  We must have! Well? What?

Yes. Human nature have changed.  If anything, it has got worse. 

This time, 80 participants were recruited, including women as well as men, and 90 per cent were willing to inflict the highest shock level of 450 volts to a complicit “learner” screaming in agony.

Social psychologist Dr Tomasz Grzyb, from the SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Poland, said: “Upon learning about Milgram’s experiments, a vast majority of people claim that ‘I would never behave in such a manner’.

“Our study has, yet again, illustrated the tremendous power of the situation the subjects are confronted with and how easily they can agree to things which they find unpleasant.”

The participants, aged 18 to 69, were shown an electric generator which was demonstrated by administering a mild shock of 45 volts.

Volunteers were given a series of 10 levers to press, each appearing to send a successively higher shock to the learner – out of sight in a neighbouring room – via electrodes attached to the wrist.

In reality, no electric shocks were delivered, and, as in the original experiment, the learner was playing a role.

After pressing lever number two, “successive impulses of electricity ” resulted in screams of increasing pain from the learner,” the scientists wrote in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

“These screams were recorded and played back at appropriate moments.”

The “teachers” were told they were taking part in research on memory and learning.

Just as in Milgram’s experiment, they were spurred on by prompts from the supervising scientist such as “the experiment requires that you continue”, “it is absolutely essential that you continue”, and “you have no other choice, you must go on”.

Mercy was more apparent when the learner was a woman. In this case, the number of participants refusing to carry out the orders of the experimenter was three times higher than when the person receiving the “shocks” was a man.

Dr Grzyb concluded: “Half a century after Milgram’s original research into obedience to authority, a striking majority of subjects are still willing to electrocute a helpless individual.” 

The above is a quote from the article in The Telegraph with a telling title, Nine in 10 people would electrocute others if ordered, rerun of infamous Milgram Experiment shows.

The article also mentions a recent study conducted at St Andrew’s University. The study suggests that people were happy to inflict pain on others if they believed it was for the greater good. The researchers looked back through records of the original experiment and found that those who took part were not unhappy with their choice.

So much for the humanity, human morals and its spirit, healthy and free. Makes you want to scream, “It hurts!”