“The social psychology of this century reveals a major lesson: often it is not so much the kind of person a man is as the kind of situation in which he finds himself that determines how he will act.” –Stanley Milgram, 1974
One of the most infamous psychological studies of all time was conducted in the early 1960’s by Staley Milgram. Milgram was a student of Solomon E. Asch a Social Psychologist who believed our behaviour is strongly determined by the influence of others. Asch showed with a simple line experiment that an individual can often go against the most obvious of decisions to keep in with the group – this is referred to as majority influence and has implications for all areas of applied psychology including jury decision-making.
Milgram’s work took a slightly different slant rather than conformity as Asch had done, instead interested in the interpersonal interaction caused by an authority figure. Creating a wholly artificial situation for unwitting participants, Milgram created a scenario where participants essentially were instructed to administer electric shocks to an individual (with an apparent heart condition), if they got a question wrong to a simple word pair exercise. Predetermined verbal ‘prods’ were used by the experimenter…..’The experiment requires that you to continue…..’ and ‘Please go on.….’.
Milgram was interested in how many participants would increase the intensity of the shocks – especially as they could hear the cries of pain as they administered the shocks. Milgram conducted research prior to the study asking many groups to predict the level of obedience in such a study.
The responses were highly consistent ‘maybe 1 in 1000’ and ‘only a sadist would complete the task‘. Milgram reported 65% of the participants completed the task – probably the most shocking result of all.
Milgram’s research was deemed to be highly controversial and unethical, however, it was recently (2009) replicated – something that many thought would never occur. In that study 63% of participants obeyed, a result strikingly similar to Milgram’s own. Read the original study here.
Now the story of Milgram’s research has been transformed into a feature film. A must see…..you must watch this…you have no choice….