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The Milgram Effect

New -- 15 November 2010

The Milgram Effect stems from experiments conducted in 1963 by Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram. The purpose of the experiment -- as explained to the forty volunteers -- was to see how people learned and memorized, when there were rewards and punishments involved. However, this explanation was a dodge (typical psychologist). The real purpose of the experiment was to test just how obedient to authority the average person was. Sneaky, huh? Those clever psychologists.

The con went something like this:

A stern and impassive biology professor in a lab technician’s coat (the “experimenter”) instructed the volunteer (the “teacher”) to deliver increasingly powerful electric shocks to a “learner” each time an incorrect answer was given to a question. The maximum shock administered would be a massive 450 volts. The “teacher,” in a separate room, could observe the “learner’s” reaction to the shock through a glass window.

However, the “learner” (or victim) was a plant, a professional actor, reacting with increasing feigned anguish to the increasingly intense imaginary shocks. Throughout the experiment, the “professor/experimenter” reassured the “teacher” that, despite the violent reactions, no lasting damage was being done. [1]

Surprisingly -- or unsurprisingly, depending upon your experience with the world -- 37 out of 40 of the volunteer "teachers" followed the orders of the "experimenter" all the way to the bitter end: administering 450 volts to the hapless "learner" as a punishment for their failure to give the correct answer. This was in spite of the apparent pain and anguish experienced by the "learner".

These results quickly brought to mind -- particularly among academic psychologists -- of the "just following orders" defense of the WWII Germans at the Nuremberg war trials (in the link, note "Principle IV"). In effect, Americans some twenty years later were doing something eerily similar. In other words, it was not only the “evil” Nazis who were capable of such behavior. As noted by Gerald Celente [1]:

Ordinary people, with no known history of violence, and under no extenuating stressful circumstances, showed themselves willing to inflict apparently terrible pain upon a stranger simply because an authority figure gave them the order. If the results of the experiment were typical, it meant more than 90 percent of “normal” people were no less capable of unprovoked cruelty.

Since 1963, there have been a host of related experiments, with essentially the same results. Often the deciding factor in terms of what percentage of "teachers" inflicted pain and in what degree was the demeanor of the "authority figure", i.e., "the experimenter." Similarly, but distinct in its own very weird manner, a French documentary added peer pressure to the mix, in its TV game show entitled: "The Game of Death". Bruce Crumley, writing in Time Magazine reports that, among other things:

In The Game of Death, "The point was to see how many people would continue following orders to mete out torture. (See the world's most popular TV shows.)"

[There may in fact be a connection between the “most popular TV shows" and a new and innovative method of meting out torture.]

"81% of contestants go all the way by administering more than 20 shocks of up to a maximum of 460 volts.

"Only 16 of the 80 subjects recruited for the fake game show refused the verbal prodding from the host -- and pressure from the audience to keep dishing out the torture like a good sport — though most express misgivings or try to pull out before being persuaded otherwise."

"...the documentary demonstrates how a television-studio setting — with cameras, a pushy host and an audience that erupts at times with shouts of "Punishment!" — may be ideal for robbing individuals of their will."

The conceiver of the show, has said, "'[Future] television can — without possible opposition — organize the death of a person as entertainment, and 8 out of 10 people will submit to that.' (See "Reality TV at 10: How It's Changed Television — and Us.")"

"...media critic Daniel Schneidermann says it would be wrong to limit any conclusions drawn from the show to the impact of television alone. 'The Milgram experiment showed that people will submit to authority no matter what its form: military, political, medical, a boss — or now a television host,' he says, while noting that he has not yet seen the documentary. 'The suggestion that television is the unique or most powerful offender in this manner is just wrong'."

On average, some 80 percent of allegedly "normal” people are willing to follow orders to do things they would ordinarily never sanction. Similarly, 80 percent of people do what they are told and believe what they have been taught. They rarely question the authority figures who give the orders, the teachers who give the lesson, or the priest/preacher who gives the sermon... particularly when each and every communication is often disguised as a “rational argument” or “doing the right thing.” [1]

One might inquire as to how to extract ourselves from such a dilemma... short of leaving the planet on the Starship Enterprise. ("Beam me up, Scottie; there's no intelligent life on this planet.")

Actually, there is a solution. Thinking for oneself might be enormously effective... particularly in the practice of discrimination in which one consciously recognizes any automatic tendency on their part to obey authority... and resists it as necessary. The answer might actually be bumper-sticker simple: Question Authority. Always!

It must also be noted that:

"A crucial consequence of the Milgram-style studies was that after the ordeal of the experiment was over and the participants were let in on its real purpose, they overwhelmingly expressed gratitude for the experience; a life-lesson to the hidden inner-self." [1]

If there is ever to be sufficient progress in the human race, more and more humans must find their own inner guidance, and begin to resist blindly following political, military, and ecclesiastical leaders’ orders to inflict pain and suffering on strangers. Right now, that personality characteristic probably resides in no more than 20 percent of the population (and possibly only in certain, select countries). Somehow, the struggle to reach 51 percent may be a long and difficult road... but then again by taking it one percent at a time, we should arrive just in time for the... ___(fill in the blanks)___olympics.

________________________

References:

[1] "The 20 Percent Solution: The Power of the Minority,” The Trends Journal, Spring 2010, Vol. XVIII, No. 2, page 23.

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