Mil gram’s Experiment on Obedience : Obedience refers to situations in which the agent has the legitimate right to influence the Focal Person (FP) and the FP has the obligation to obey. Such reciprocal role relationships are most clearly demonstrated when the agent has a higher status than the FP and the roles are part of a social system in which a higher status clearly defines influence over a lower status, such as ranks in the military.
Subject of Mil gram’s experiments were men who responded to newspaper ads and were paid $4.50 for coming to the laboratory. The situation was described as a learning experiment in which one person, the teacher, would shock another person, the learner, after each mistake while learning a list of paired words.
On the basis of a rigged drawing, the subject was always assigned the role of teacher, while male confederate of the experimenter was assigned the role of learner.
The learner was strapped into an electric chair, while the real subject was taken into another room where the electric shock apparatus was located. Actually, no shocks were administered, but the elaborate equipment led the subject to believe he would be administering painful shocks to the learner. The shock apparatus contained 30 switches indicating levels of shock from 15 to 450 volts, with labels such as Single shock, Moderate shock, danger, severe shock, and finally ‘XXX’. The teacher was to shock the learner for each mistake made in learning, and the level of shock was to increase one increment with each error. As the experiment progressed, the learner responded appropriately, with occasional mistakes.
At several points as the shock level increased, the learner would cry out because of the shock was getting painful, or he could be heard kicking the wall. At 300 volts, he stopped giving answers, while the teacher was instructed by the experimenter to continue increasing the level of shock. If the subject showed any reluctance, the experimenter prodded him to continue, saying it was necessary or required by the experiment. Obedience was measured by the amount of shock the subject was willing to administer to the learner.
Before conducting this experiment, Mil gram described it to several groups of people, all of whom predicted that very few, if any, of the subjects would follow the experimenter’s commands and give shocks up to 450 volts. Contrary to expectations, however, 26 of his 40 subjects (65 percent) continued to give shocks up to the 450 volt level, even though they believed they were hurting another person and showed signs of a great deal of tension-trembling, stuttering, nervous laughter. ’
Why do people show high levels of obedience in these laboratory studies because in many tragic real-life situations too several factors seem to play a role. First, the experimenter began by explaining that he is not the participant, would be responsible for the learner’s well-being. Second, the experimenter possessed clear signs of authority; and in most societies, individuals learn that persons holding authority are to be obeyed (Bushman, 1984, 1988) Third, the experimenters commands were gradual in nature.
He did not request that participants jump to the 450 volt shock immediately; rather he moved towards this request one step at a time. In sum, several factors probably contributed to the high levels of obedience observed in Mil gram’s research and related studies. To gather, these factors produced a powerful force – one that most persons found difficult to resist.
This does not imply that the commands of authority figures cannot be defied. Important factors include clear evidence that the persons in authority are pursuing purely selfish goals (saks, 1992), feelings of increased person responsible for the outcome produced on the part on the part of those who disobey (Hamilton, 1978) and exposure to disobedient models – persons who led others by taking the first, dangerous steps (e.g. Rochat and Modigliani, 1995). When such conditions exist, persons in authority may lose their capacity to command, and may quickly find themselves on the outside looking in.