Milgram reveals how he created the ‘strongest obedience situation’

Stanley Milgram is famous for the shocking results of his experiments when he demonstrated how easy it is, under orders from an authority,  for most people to inflict pain on others.  This is particularly relevant for understanding how medical researchers have been able to carry out obviously unethical experiments on people such as the infamous Tuskegee experiment with syphilis.

This link published on The British Psychological Society’s webite provides some of the specific techniques Milgram used based on his research notes. 

It was during Milgram’s extensive pilot work that he discovered the remarkable willingness for participants to obey instructions, without the need for group coercion, thus changing the direction of his project. The focus shifted to lone participants and Milgram began a process of trial and error pilot work to identify the perfect conditions for inducing obedience – what he described as ‘the strongest obedience situation’.

Early on, Milgram recognised the need for an acceptable rationale for harming another and so he invented the cover story that the experiment was about using punishment to improve learning. To counter participants’ reluctance to harm an innocent person, Milgram also devised several other ‘strain resolving mechanisms’. This included replacing the final shock level label ‘LETHAL’ with the more ambiguous ‘XXX’; removing a Nazi-sounding ‘pledge to obey’ from the experiment instructions; and creating physical distance between the participants and the innocent, to-be-electrocuted learner.

more via BPS Research Digest: Milgram’s personal archive reveals how he created the ‘strongest obedience situation’.


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