The Psychology of EvilHow far will people go in the name of obedience?
Are Germans different? In the beginning, Stanley Milgram was worried about the Nazi problem. He doesn’t worry about that anymore, he worried about you and me. Stanley Milgram was a social psychologist at Yale University in 1960. His research aim was to provide evidence for the “Germans are different” hypothesis
“Germans are different” hypothesis The hypothesis has been used by historians to explain the systematic destruction of the Jews by the Third Reich. Milgram set out to test whether Germans have a basic character flaw which is a readiness to obey authority without question, no matter what outrageous acts the authority commands.
Milgram’s research into obedience Milgram developed a laboratory experiment which provided a systematic way to measure obedience. His decision to study obedience was tempered by his own Jewish cultural background. His plan was to test the hypothesis on the population of New Haven on Americans and then go to Germany and test the German population.
Milgram’s experimental design Milgram recruited participants using a newspaper advert (see copy in your pack). The participants arrived at The Yale Interaction Laboratory and were met by the experimenter, Jack Williams, a man dressed in a laboratory coat. The participants meet another man, a man in his 50s. The experimenter explains the experiment to both of them: “It is about learning. Science does not know much about negative reinforcement on learning. Negative reinforcement is getting punished when you get something wrong. In this case, it will be an electric shock.”
Milgram’s experimental design The experimenter takes two pieces of paper and places them in a hat. One piece of paper is supposed to say “Teacher”, the other “Learner”. Pick one – and you find out which you will be. You look at yours, it says “Teacher”. The experimenter beckons the “Learner”. “Want to step right in here and take a seat, please? You can leave your coat on the back of that chair…. Roll up your right sleeve, please. Now what I want you to do is strap down your arms to avoid excessive movement on your part during the experiment. This electrode is connected to the shock generator in the next room.”
Would Milgram’s participants obey? Do you think the American participants would obey the experimenter and deliver electric shocks to another human being? What % of participants do you think would deliver the full (and fatal) 450volt shock? Write your percentage estimate and compare with a neighbour.
Milgram’s result 65% of Milgram’s participants delivered the full (and fatal) 450volt shock. Even though the learner gave out an agonised scream at 285 volts, a refusal to answer at 315 volts and only ominous silence after that. So why did the participants obey? Most participants groaned, protested, fidgeted, argued and in some cases, were seized by fits of nervous, agitated giggling.
An explanation for obedience? Milgram suggested: “They are somehow engaged in something from which they cannot liberate themselves. They are locked into a structure, and they do not have the skills or inner resources to The Goebbels family – Frau Goebbels disengage themselves.” poisoned all six of her children in the final days of the war. Josef Goebbels shot his wife dead and then shot himself.
Killing in the name of….Gas ovens atAuschwitz-Birkenau Rwandan genocide Vietcong dead
Were the Germans different? The answer is “No”. Milgram’s experimental results in 1963 provide evidence that atrocities can happen ANYWHERE. He argued that there are two reasons why people obey.
Theory of conformism The theory of conformism is based on Solomon Aschs work, describing the fundamental relationship between the group of reference and the individual person "A subject who has neither ability nor expertise to make decisions, especially in a crisis, will leave decision making to the group and its hierarchy. The group is the persons behavioural model." So, the SS troops followed the orders of the officers.Reichsfuhrer of the SS: Heinrich Himmler.
Agentic State theory Agentic state theory, according to Milgram,• “The essence of obedience consists in the fact that a person comes to view himself as the instrument for carrying out another persons wishes, and he therefore no longer sees himself as responsible for his actions. Once this critical shift of viewpoint has occurred in the person, all of the essential Holocaust Memorial features of obedience follow."
Milgram’s reflections “The social psychology of this century reveals a major lesson: often it is not so much the kind of person a man is as the kind of situation in which he finds himself that determines how he will act." (1974) “Some people are psychologically incapable of disengaging themselves. But that doesn’t relieve them of the moral responsibility.” (1970)