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Stanley Milgrams Experiment on Obediance to Authority

  • Date Submitted: 06/02/2010 11:25 AM
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What can we learn from Stanley Milgram’s experiment on obedience to authority that is of lasting psychological significance?  

Millions of innocent people were slaughtered in Nazi Germany during the Second World War (1935-45) by normal individuals. After the war surviving individuals were put on trial and questioned as to why they thought it was fit to perform the atrocious acts of torture and murder. The chief defense used was they were only following orders from higher up, in this case Adolf Hitler. So what made all these people so obedient in following orders and becoming capable of such monstrous acts? Could it be fear or a defect in their personality? Is this something we are all capable of? However to be capable do we assume that we believe these acts to be legitimate, a concept very disturbing to accept.

Following the holocaust, psychologists set out to investigate the phenomenon of obedience. It was assumed that German culture must be to blame and it must be somewhat different for these acts to have taken place. Obedience can be defined as a form of social influence where an individual acts in response to a direct order from another individual, who is usually an authority figure with power or status. Therefore it can be assumed no one would have been capable of such atrocious acts without Adolf Hitler, leaving him as the only person who could be found guilty. One psychologist in particular, Stanley Milgram, wanted to test the well accepted hypothesis that it was of German character to act like this. Whether they are in fact fundamentally weak characters and more inclined to become obedient under authority. The lasting psychological significance from Milgram’s work will be critically evaluated as well as what made the subjects so obedient to people in authority, hence preventing them from following the dictates of their conscience.


Milgram set up his experiment in laboratory at Yale University. He advertised for volunteers through the...


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