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Due to the deaths numbered after World War II and the Nazi movement, many scientists began to question the willingness to authority, although one of them emphasized, the well-known Stanley Milgram who began to consider if any person would be able to torture and kill accepting the orders of a superior. To prove this, in 1961 he would carry out a series of protocols to study the extent to which the willingness of ordinary people can arrive with a minimum of authorization, modifying their values and their conscience.
In the trials of the war soldiers who murdered numerous civilians, they declared that they were acting under the orders of their superiors and could not be held responsible for their actions.
Milgram announced in the journal a job offer inviting them to be part of a ‘memory and learning’ analysis, recruiting a total of 40 members, who would be paid four dollars per share. There was no other requirement. Yale University represented the jurisdiction and this, in turn, by the researcher, a severe and reserved professor who would be the one to give the guidance to the subjects.
They were informed that the test consists of three people: the researcher, a teacher, and a student. The volunteers have designated the capacity of the teacher, while the position of the student would be an accomplice of Milgram. The professor and the junior were distributed within separate compartments where they could be heard because they did not perceive each other. In one of the compartments, there was an electrified chair where the student would be tied to the electrodes from where he would receive the alleged discharges, while the teacher would be in the room together with the charged shock generator with thirty different switches that increase the intensity in 15 volts, which ranges from 15 volts to 450 volts, supervised by the researcher.
Milgram indicated with labels the intensity of the discharge (moderate, intense, danger: severe discharge and XXX). Although said generator was false, it did not provide any discharge to the student and only produced sound when the switches were pressed. Moreover, the researcher clarified that the discharges could be painful, but in no case could they cause death.
The importance of the experiment fell on the lecturer, whose task was to ask a series of questions to the student and if this failed, the teacher would think the button above the previous one, thus applying a greater shock. However, apparently, the student’s screams were a mere audio simulation, in which each tuning was related to a voltage index of the machine to simulate the reaction caused by the acts of the lecturer. If the lecturer wanted to stop the test, the researcher had a series of predefined answers that encouraged the operation to continue. The answers were: ‘Please continue,’ ‘Please follow,’ ‘the exercise requires you to follow it,’ ‘it is absolutely crucial to continue,’ ‘you have no other choice, you must proceed.’ ranging from a softer tone to the most authoritative as the professor addressed the researcher.
Due to the high tension in the room and the suffering per pupil is evident, many teachers questioned who would be responsible in case the student left with injuries, to which the researcher answered safely: ‘I am responsible,’ This response freed the teachers who continued with the procedure of the experiment.
Many of the lecturers could not stand the pressure to which they were subjected since the agent of authority mentally trapped them. As a result of this, many begin to present nervous symptoms such as trembling, stuttering, moaning when hearing exclamations about the suffering of the students. Because of this, all the lecturers stopped at least once to question the operation. But, it was not enough because once the researcher responded with authority, the vast majority of professors continued with the questions of the applied experiment discharges of higher intensity to such an extent that more than half of the teachers came to apply discharges of up to 450 volts, in which no response was received from the student, who pretended to suffer a cardiovascular attack. These results were enough for the researcher Stanley Milgram to conclude the session.
These results concluded that any ordinary person, who is in charge of an authoritarian person, can become an accomplice of their actions, even acting cruelly.
Obedience is an aspect that has been instilled in us since we were born, through the family, at school obeying teachers and work, in charge of the tasks of the heads. A person feels free of charge by obeying the actions of others, and as a consequence-free from guilt. So a fool with a minimum of authority can conclude dangerous causes. One of the studies that were done to find out if there was any controllable aspect of the work that had a bearing on operator productivity or performance was developed by the Australian psychologist Elton Mayo (1880-1949). He taught logic, philosophy, and ethics until he came to the United States and devoted himself to research in 1922. He studied how rest times during the workday affected workers, noting productivity improvements. However, it was not something well seen by the superiors who in the absence of May returned to the old ways resulting in a fall in richness.
Elton Mayo was the first to investigate the social links of a company that had never before been studied. He wrote three novels on the social and political difficulties of industrial civilization. Which show something in common; If the worker is treated with respect and their needs are resolved, the effects would be beneficial for both the worker and the company since the workers act according to their feelings and emotions.
The investigations were carried out by industrial engineers at the Hawthorne Works plant of the Western Electric Co., located in Cicero, Illinois, designed four experiments to find out what effects it causes on the productivity of workers; an increase in luminosity, the influence of temperature, and humidity, rest periods, and facilities or increase the salary.
The engineers expected that the individual production was directly related to the intensity of the light.
The lighting studies initiated in November 1924, provided the first impression of the critical role of human factors. They formed an experimental group and another one of control with the employees of the factory. The subjects of the experimental group were exposed to different intensities of illumination, while the subjects of the control group worked under a constant light intensity. For this, they were placed in separate enclosures.
The levels of luminosity were changing in successive periods of work. Throughout the experiment, both sets of subjects increased their performance slowly but steadily. Until the lighting in the experimental room was reduced so much that the subjects could barely see what they were doing, and productivity began to diminish.
The experiment indicated the contribution of psychological factors. The lighting was reduced, and even then the efficiency was maintained. Therefore, something more than the level of illumination was affecting productivity.
The results were unexpected, increasing or decreasing the intensity of the light showed that the production increased in both groups. They increased the intensity even more and obtained the same results. Later, they began to lower the intensity and saw that production continued to increase in both groups. The engineers concluded that the level of illumination was not directly related to the productivity of the employees, but they could not explain the results obtained.
The interest and attention shown towards the workers who participated in the experiment were essential factors for the increase in productivity. The purpose of these changes was to recreate a controlled experiment in which only factors such as breaks and work hours vary.
The researchers, having no definite conclusions, made more changes such as; adding rest periods, free lunches, shorter working hours. Production increased by introducing each of them. Although the most surprising result was when all the improvements were eliminated: production increased.
After many studies, the researchers concluded that it could be these involuntary manipulations that made the subjects improve their general productivity and, although Elton Mayo gave the conclusion: the workers did not react to the changes in the lighting, or of any other type, but they were reacting to the fact that someone was paying attention to them, giving rise to what is called the Hawthorne effect.
‘The Hawthorne effect refers to the improvement of the results and the productivity of individuals, which are somehow being observed. Moreover, this is due to the simple fact of being studied and subject to an experiment. ‘
The Hawthorne variables for which controls were used were special attention, knowledge of participation in experiments, and, to a lesser degree, novelty.
Therefore the result of this experimentation. Moreover, it explains how subjects can vary their behavior. They vary their predisposition to any job if they know they are going to be analyzed. It implies the improvement of the results, translated into productivity, by the fact of being under control or surveillance. This becomes, therefore, a variable to be taken into account in the analysis of results. An American citizen psychologist named Philip Zimbardo specialized in Brooklyn University and later obtained his Ph.D. at Yale University in 1959. After a period as a professor, he was a member of his faculty at Stanford University where he did his famous experiment in 1971.
Twenty-four male adolescents were randomly assigned to take on the role of guard or prisoner, in a simulated prison in the basement of the university itself, and the experiment was conducted in the summer period since it would remain empty during the course that Zimbardo had programmed the simulation of a duration of two weeks.
Zimbardo gathered these teenagers through publishing an ad in the newspaper where he offered a paid job in exchange for analyzing the psychological acts of coexistence in prisons. In that announcement, they were provided a salary of fifteen dollars per day in jail. This offer was answered by some seventy people who faced surveys of researchers to discard people with psychological problems, chose a total of twenty-four participants assigning them the roles of prisoners and guards at random.
The experiment began in a very realistic way, Zimbardo had contacted the local police who showed up at the houses of the selected prisoners and arrested them like any other criminal. They were accused of armed robbery and rape, after taking the data from the police station they were transferred to Stanford Prison.
Once in prison, the guards followed the same procedures as in a real jail, the subjects were stripped and inspected, they also received a prisoner’s clothing that included the number assigned to each prisoner, and a woman’s stockings, all this process has a purpose that is to intimidate the prisoner and snatch his identity. By attaching a number, the prisoner loses his primary character, which is his name. When they are undressed, the prisoner is showing his private parts that no one has seen before and as for the stockings, instead of shaving their heads, since, in essence, the whole plot was still part of an experiment, they lost their personality, since the hairstyle of a person shows his character.
As if all this were not enough, their ankles were chained, so at all times, they would unconsciously think that they are imprisoned even while they are asleep since by moving the sound of the chains would awaken them.
The prisoners did not take long to start the rebellion, on the second day of being locked up they refused to follow the orders of the guards blocking the cells and taking off some clothes that humiliated their identity. But these actions were blocked by the guards who responded with force, sprayed extinguishers to disorient the prisoners and to enter the cells.
After this event, the guards began to believe their authority, recreated two cells, one of punishment for those who did not obey their orders and one with privileges for those who followed the rules, but it was not really as it appeared, the purpose was to confuse the prisoners and create hostilities by making them think they had been betrayed. This affected their relationships a lot since they felt that their cellmates had been confidants of the guards.
As time passed, those who had offered to perform a simple experiment began to believe that they were really prisoners and behaving as such, even in the absence of guards.
Zimbardo the experiment got out of hand, the relatives of the prisons came to visit them in a predetermined session, some of the parents did not like the appearance of their children, who had dark circles because of the can that had given the guards of the night shift. Frightened by the safety of their children, some parents decided to go to a lawyer. The prisoners had asked for conditional release.
Bequeathed at this point, Zimbardo canceled the continuity of the experiment after six days, but still, the prisoners continued to obey the orders of the guards since they had wholly internalized the role of prisoners.
Obedience can overcome affective bonds, ethics, and morality. Context can influence the behavior of a subject to dehumanization.
Obeying orders does not exempt us from responsibility. We must question our behavior before executing them and be aware of how power can manipulate our beliefs and our behavior.
We all want to like it, the price to pay for it often means giving up your own opinion, the sense of justice, or the principles in which we believe. We are not aware of the responsibility that comes with becoming amoral in order not to be rejected.