Following authority even if it’s wrong: The Milgram Experiment

Introduction:

Stanley Milgram’s experiments were to discover why Nazi soldiers followed orders to kill millions of innocent Jewish people. Milgram’s discovery was that 65% of ordinary people willingly followed instructions of authority without question. Seemingly beyond the limits of tolerance of the actor on the other side, out of view via lethal electric shock. The victims were actors/confederates in the experiment, and no one was harmed.

How much was Milgram’s experiment likened to the holocaust? Some participants were concerned about the victim that they were inflicting pain. But were persuaded into continuing with inflicting pain when an authoritative figure told them it was fine, as detailed in the following YouTube video.

Actual footage of the experiment in progress.

Experiment Summary:

Forty male participants aged between 20-50 years selected from newspaper advertisements for a study on memory. Participants were paired with a confederate. Participants were always the ‘teacher’ and confederate was always the ‘leaner’. The actor was pretending to be the experimenter, who was dressed in a white lab coat to enforce the idea of in having legitimate authority.

The confederate would consistently give the wrong answer, then cry out when the ‘electric shock’ was given. If the participant were asked advice, the actor used a series of predetermined ‘verbal prods’ to encourage them to continue. No participants stopped below 300 v, 12.5% stopped AT 300 v, 65% shocked all the way up to 450%. Three participants had stress induced seizures, and the rest showed signs of sweating and trembling.

Conversation

How is this applicable in the era of social media?

It is easier to find people online in the era of social media, with quick access to people looking to belong to something. With hate groups on the rise of misinformation, we are fighting an invisible battle against hate and harm.

With social media and Google Scholar at our fingertips, we have access to many forms of information. On social media we have hate groups who want to persecute groups with recruiters targeting weak individuals. These individuals follow blindly as they view the recruiter as an authority.

People with low self-esteem, depression, or just need someone to blame get caught up in these groups. Forming an obedience to their new master. Committing crimes of obedience for a cause that is hateful.

emotionless young lady with smears on painted face looking away in studio
Photo by Dids on Pexels.com

How applicable is the science within corporate culture?

Following unethical guidelines within the corporate world can sometimes appear to be grey. Some managers use the term, “It’s just business!” in some form to justify immoral behaviours.

Manipulation of authority as moral blindness in organisations presents risk to society and local communities. The harm from this is financial, environmental and mental health of those with ethics and morals who were involved in the actions.

Conclusion

In everyday life, we face decisions to follow or not to follow. How we determine how far we go is usually determined by ignorance, fear or rewards. Making ethical and moral decisions at the moment and the nature of conforming to pressure within a situation.

Stop, think and react, think emotional intelligence before being a willing participant in an unethical situation. Avoid being a willing participant by saying no, it’s up to you, avoid thinking someone else will do it anyway. Be your own moral compass and stop adding to your mental health problems.

Sources

Understanding Willing Participants

Contesting the “Nature” Of Conformity: What Milgram and Zimbardo’s Studies Really Show

Risk Management, Banality of Evil and Moral Blindness in Organizations and Corporations

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