The Essence of Milgram Experiment

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Milgram announced in the newspaper a job offer inviting them to be part of a ‘memory and learning’ experiment, recruiting a total of 40 participants, who would be paid four dollars per share.

They were informed that the experiment consists of three people: the researcher, a teacher, and a student. The volunteers were assigned the role of teacher, while the role of the student would be an accomplice of Milgram.

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The teacher and the student were separated into different rooms where they could be heard because they did not see each other. In one of the rooms, there was an electric 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 electric 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.

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. The task of the teacher was to communicate pairs of words to the student and, if he made a mistake, they would sanction him by applying an electric shock, which increased linearly as he made more failures, 15 volts more potent after each error.

The student never received real downloads, although, to create a realistic environment and introduce the teacher to reality, after pressing the switch of the electric machine, a recording was activated in which he simulated the pain of the discharge applied by the teacher, which with each switch it increased and became more shuddering. The researcher had five predefined answers in case the teacher came to him to stop the experiment; ‘Please continue,’ ‘Please follow,’ ‘the experiment requires you to follow,’ ‘it is absolutely crucial that you continue,’ ‘you have no other choice, you must proceed.’ Starting with the softest response and moving towards the more authoritarian ones as the subject addressed the researcher.

When the subjects asked who was responsible for the experiment in case the apprentice had injuries, the researcher answered: ‘I am responsible.’ This relieved the subjects, and so many continued.

During the experiment, many of the subjects showed symptoms; these signs were a tremor, stuttering, moans, and some seizures when they heard the screams of the students, which were apparently provoked by the electric shocks. Each participant stopped the procedure at least once to question it with the investigator. However, once he responds with authority, the subjects continued with the procedure. Although some said, they would reimburse the money they were paid to participate. Despite the tension in the room due to the subject’s sub-subjectivity, the forty subjects obeyed until they reached 300 volts, and 65% of the teachers continued to apply discharges without delay until the maximum level of 450 volts.

This shows that 25 of the 40 subjects reached the end, even when in some cases the subject complained of having heart problems. The experimenter concluded the experiment after three 450 volt discharges.

These results showed that ordinary people, under the command of a figure with only a little authority, can comply with their orders and act with cruelty.

Obedience is in ideological submission, that is, interpreting reality from the perspective of authority. To this is added the fact that the person stops feeling responsible for his actions when he is obeying and, as a consequence, free of guilt. The essence of the obedience process is that a subject becomes an agent of another’s orders.

Obedience has been embedded in the consciousness since we need, from the family, environment of authority, and continuing in school, which educates in submission. Later, in the labor world, where the reward system perpetuates the hierarchical structure. It is an absolute reality that obedience is rewarded and disobedience is punished. 

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