You may not know it by its name, but you’ve probably heard about its shocking results. In 1961, Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram tested the willingness of participants to deliver electric shocks to another person while being encouraged or ordered to by an authority figure. While no actual shocks were administered, the results of the Milgram experiment shocked many people who swore that they would never do such a thing. A new Milgram experiment conducted in Poland proved otherwise and rekindles renewed fears of people “just following orders.”
The original Milgram experiment took on a special significance because it took place three months after the trial of German Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann had begun. Despite his defense that he had no choice but to follow the orders of his superiors, Eichmann was found guilty of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes against Poles, Slovenes and Gypsies.
In the experiment, participants believed they were giving shocks ranging from 15 to a dangerous 450 volts to someone they could not see whenever that person got a question wrong. The person was an actor who screamed in pain as the alleged shocks got higher. If the participant balked, the experimenter told them it was important to the test that they ignore the screams and continue. In the end, 65 percent of the 40 volunteers followed orders and administered the full simulated 450 volts.
While the Milgram experiment has been recreated since 1961, it has never been conducted in Central Europe. According to a new report in journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, that changed in 2015.
Our objective was to examine how high a level of obedience we would encounter among residents of Poland,. The unique history of the countries in the region made the issue of obedience towards authority seem exceptionally interesting to us.
Psychologist Tomasz Grzyb from the SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Poland helped conduct the new experiment. Forty men and 40 women, ranging in ages from 18 to 69, were given the same instructions, encouragements and orders as in the original test, administering high voltage shocks to another human being.
The results? The full 450 volts was administered (in simulation) to the screaming actors by 90% of the participants. One somewhat redeeming find – the number of people who refused to deliver the painful jolts was three times greater when they believed the recipient was a woman.
What have we learned? Grzyb delivers the shocking answer:
Half a century after Milgram’s original research into obedience to authority, a striking majority of subjects are still willing to electrocute a helpless individual.
Subjects living in a country where millions were killed by people following orders.
Are you shocked by the results? What do you think you would do? What WOULD you do?