The obedience studies originally conducted by Stanley Milgram (sometimes referred to as the Milgram Shock studies or the Milgram obedience studies) have been replicated in a university setting. Will people obey an authority figure and give a stranger a dangerous shock? Or have things changed such that people will be more willing to be disobedient to authority?
Resources on the Milgram Obedience Study
- Replicating Milgram: Researcher Finds Most Will Administer Shocks to Others When Prodded by ‘Authority Figure’
- Interesting interview with Dr. Thomas Blass, Milgram’s biographer, on NPR.
- Interesting article that appeared in the New York Times about the Milgram study.
- The Milgram Studies page on Wikipedia
- One of my “virtual colleagues”, Dr. Christopher Green, professor of psychology at York University, allowed me to share this observation he sent to me via email:
The key to the Milgram effect, as you mentioned, is gradualism. The Nazis didn’t come to power declaring immediately that they would kill all the Jews. First, they gassed the “insane” and “defective” (in a time when (1) eugenics had just passed the height of its popularity in Europe and North America, (2) mental illness and disability was still widely believed to be hereditary, and (3) when the German economy was in collapse and could no longer sustain major social institutions like asylums). In short, in that context, it seemed to many to be a defensible, if distasteful, solution to an apprehended problem, and there was little reaction from the population. Then they gassed homosexuals, a group that was easily conflated in the public mind with the “insane” but who were, by contrast, functioning members of society. Again, little public reaction. Then they gassed the “Gypsies” (Roma), the only “racial” group that was even more despised (for its alleged inherent criminality) by the general population than the Jews, but much larger and more “normal”apparently than either of the previous two groups (a little bit more gradualism). Still, no major public reaction. Only then did Hitler announce the “final solution” for the Jews. For most (non-insane, non-homosexual, non-Gypsy, non-Jewish) Germans, they had been led along this gradual path, and behavioral consistency (not to mention the SS) demanded compliance (and years of this on smaller scales had begun to “normalize” this kind of “solution”). What public opposition there was could be easily dismissed or crushed. And it has happened again and again and again in the decades since: Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur, and, on a much smaller scale, at Abu Graib (and many other prisons and similarly “closed” institutions about which we know little).