Bizarre Experiments: The Milgram Experiment

When it comes to horrifying, strange or surprising experiments, medical ones usually take the cake. World War II itself is enough evidence of that. However, psychology has its fair share of surprising experiments with questionable ethics. One of these is Stanley Milgram's experiments regarding authority, which he conducted at Yale in 1961. While not as frightening as the Stanford Prison Experiment on the surface, I think you will find that it only takes a little thought to see how the results of the research was equally appalling.

The experiment began with Milgram seeking out 500 men between the ages of 20 and 50 in the New Haven, Connecticut area. When the subjects arrived for their sessions, they would see one other "subject" that was actually what we would call a confederate. This means there really was only one subject per session. The other participant was working with Milgram, who was also present as the authority figure in these experiments.

The subject was given the role of "teacher" and led to believe this was an arbitrary assignment, but really all subjects were teachers and all confederates played the role of "student." The student was kept in a room separate from the teacher, who could hear the student, but not see him. The teacher was told that the student was attached to a device that would zap him when the teacher told it to. Milgram even demonstrated this with a small electric shock to the subject. However, there really was no current going to the student during the session.

The entire experiment took the guise of a test. The teacher would ask the student a question. If the student got it wrong, the teacher would zap him. The kicker is that he would also have to turn up the machine every time, so every subsequent wrong answer was more painful, or so he thought. As the test progressed, the student would begin to complain saying things like, "I don't want to do this anymore." and expressing pain. What is interesting is that 65% of the subjects continued the experiment until the machine was at maximum power with just a little gentle coaxing from Milgram. In other words, their hands did not need to be forced. Milgram merely had to state that it was part of the experiment and to continue and the majority of the subjects did as they were told.

Milgram's experiment is easily duplicated and has been a number of times. Different variables have been thrown in to see just how pervasive this behavior is. Apparently, certain things, such as conducting the experiment outside of the school, showing another subject dissenting and being able to see the student, made the subjects less likely to follow through. The moral of the story, kids, is that saying no to an authority figure that wants you to do something immoral is not only okay, but it will also make it more likely for others to dissent. Furthermore, just because you cannot see a person does not mean you are not hurting him. Imagine what the world would be like if more of us learned this lesson, as the subjects of Milgram's experiment did.