Analysis of “ The Perils of Obedience” by Stanley Milgram
In his article, “ The Perils of Obedience,” Stanley Milgram suggests that in our society, we tend to obey moral, unjust, and wrong orders just to please authoritative figures. According to him, “[o]bedience is a deeply ingrained behavior tendency, indeed a potent impulse overriding training in ethics, sympathy, and moral conduct” (). He believes that obedience is an important facet of society, and he seeks to prove his claim that when obeying an authoritative figure, morality gets overthrown. Throughout the article, he aims to depict how significantly authoritative figures can influence people to blindly obey. Milgram and his team wanted to test the hypothesis that when obeying unethical orders, the conscience cannot win. He had already literally proven his theory that authority and moral obligation are not the same, by showing that people will go to the extent of inflicting pain on another human being if ordered to do so. He concluded that as long as people do not feel completely responsible for their own actions, they will obey any immoral and unethical order by an authoritative figure.
In this article, Milgram describes the simple psychology experiment that he used to prove his hypothesis. The experiment was conducted at Yale University and comprised of a learner and a teacher. The subject of the experiment is the teacher, who is fooled into believing that the study emphasizes on how learning is affected by punishment. The learner sits in an electric chair and electrodes are fastened to his wrist. The learner has actually been trained to pretend feel pain according to the intensity of the fake shock that the teacher, the subject, will give him. The teacher is asked to read a list of words that apparently meant to test the lender’s thinking capacity and how well he remembers the second word of a word pair whenever the first word is heard again. Whenever the learner answers incorrectly, the teacher is ordered to administer an electric shock to the leaner, who pretends to painfully protest. As the teacher was ordered to continue increasing the intensity of the current with every incorrect answer, the teacher started feeling tensed about inflicting pain on the learner. The experimenter assured the teacher that he would not be responsible for any harm the learner would suffer. Obeying the experimenter’s authority, the teacher continued increasing the intensity of the shock to highest level until the experiment ended.
Milgram himself is astonished by the results of the experiment. Based on Milgram’s experiment, researchers came to the conclusion that 85% of the people around the world are prone to obedience under authority. It signifies that most people will overlook and neglect their own personal morals when obeying authority, as long as they do not have to take responsibility of their own actions. Fred Prozi, a 50-year old unemployed man who was the subject in the first initial experiment, was ordered to administer increasing amounts of voltage every time the learner gave an incorrect answer. As the intensity of the shock increased, Prozi continued to become more and more agitated, stressed, and tensed. It was noted by researchers that the more agitated Prozi became, the more he began giving in to obeying under authority. Prozi remains nervous throughout the experiment; even though the experimenter had assured him that he would not be responsible for any harm the learner sustained, and this caused Prozi to neglect his own ethical morals.
During the second experiment, the subject Gretchen Brandt resisted obedience and refused to continue with the experiment out of concern for the learner’s well-being. Her courteousness and self-control encourages Brandt to leave halfway through the experiment without causing any serious harm to the learner. This leads researchers to the conclusion that people who are calm and relaxed are less likely to obey unethical orders and neglect their own ethical morals. The more calm and relaxed people are, the more control they will be able to maintain over their behaviors, emotions, and thoughts. The second experiment proved that as long as people are in control of their conscience, they will not disregard their own individuality. Through this article, Milgram apparently wanted to warn the public about how dangerous it can be to blindly obey under authority.
In closing, the conclusion that Milgram reaches is that a majority of people will obey any instructions given by a figure of high authority, as long as they do not have to take responsibility of their actions, even if those actions go against their own individual ethics and moral values. Until Milgram’s experiment, there was a misconception that authority could be overthrown by conscience. However, Milgram’s experiment proved that the opposite is true. Throughout his article, Milgram intention was also to suggest that catastrophes such as the Vietnam War and the Second World War were all a result of obedience under authority. Personally, considering Milgram’s claims is not very challenging. We have many examples of where obedience to authority has led to atrocities and massacres, for instance the Holocaust. Thus, this proves that Milgram to quite an extent is right in his claims.
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” Obedience to Authority The experiments by Stanley Milgram.” . N. p.. Web. 17 Mar 2013.
Milgram, Stanley. ” The Perils of Obedience.” Trans. ArrayThe Anteater Reader. John Hollowell. 8th edPearson Custom Publishing, 2005. 255-266. Print.