"Very well-researched and delivered in an engaging, breezy, wink-wink tone similar to that of Mark Leyner and Billy Goldberg's Why Do Men Have Nipples?, this will likely be enjoyed equally by science buffs and casual aficionados of the curious. One of the finest science/history bathroom books of all time."
-Kirkus Reviews

Web Hoax Museum

#2: Obedience
imageImagine that you've volunteered for an experiment, but when you show up at the lab you discover the researcher wants you to murder an innocent person. You protest, but the researcher firmly states, "The experiment requires that you do it." Would you acquiesce and kill the person?

When asked what they would do in such a situation, almost everyone replies that of course they would refuse to commit murder. But Stanley Milgram's famous obedience experiment, conducted at Yale University in the early 1960s, revealed that this optimistic belief is wrong. If the request is presented in the right way, almost all of us quite obediently become killers.

Milgram told subjects they were participating in an experiment to determine the effect of punishment on learning. One volunteer (who was, in reality, an actor in cahoots with Milgram) would attempt to memorize a series of word pairs. The other volunteer (the real subject) would read out the word pairs and give the learner an electric shock every time he got an answer wrong. The shocks would increase in intensity by fifteen volts with each wrong answer.

The experiment began. The learner started getting some wrong answers, and pretty soon the shocks had reached 120 volts. At this point the learner started crying out, "Hey, this really hurts." At 150 volts the learner screamed in pain and demanded to be let out. Confused, the volunteers turned around and asked the researcher what they should do. He always calmly replied, "The experiment requires that you continue."

Milgram had no interest in the effect of punishment on learning. What he really wanted to see was how long people would keep pressing the shock button before they refused to participate any further. Would they remain obedient to the authority of the researcher up to the point of killing someone?

To Milgram's surprise, even though volunteers could plainly hear the agonized cries of the learner echoing through the walls of the lab from the neighboring room, two-thirds of them continued to press the shock button all the way up to the end of scale, 450 volts, by which time the learner had fallen into an eerie silence, apparently dead. Milgram's subjects sweated and shook, and some laughed hysterically, but they kept pressing the button. Even more disturbingly, when volunteers could neither see nor hear feedback from the learner, compliance with the order to give ever greater shocks was almost 100%.

Milgram later commented, "I would say, on the basis of having observed a thousand people in the experiment and having my own intuition shaped and informed by these experiments, that if a system of death camps were set up in the United States of the sort we had seen in Nazi Germany, one would be able to find sufficient personnel for those camps in any medium-sized American town."

[On YouTube: See scenes from Milgram's obedience experiment.]

Listed in chronological order. Newest comments at the end.
British mentalist Derren Brown replicated this experiment as part of his show "The Heist". (It's on Google video.)
Posted by outeast  on  Thu Aug 30, 2007  at  03:44 AM
I say again this is a dumb experiment...
Posted by Ozymandias1  on  Sat Sep 01, 2007  at  09:36 AM
Milgram's experiment is awesome, if uncomfortable to comprehend.
Posted by Colette Iris  on  Fri Sep 14, 2007  at  07:30 AM
"the most bizarre experiments of all time
Posted by Divalent  on  Sun Sep 16, 2007  at  10:57 AM
Firstly, they weren't asked to KILL the person, just give gradual shocks that COULD be lethal when they got too high.
Posted by Jess  on  Thu Nov 29, 2007  at  02:05 PM
And where exactly can i get a copy of the documentary ..i would like to hear it cause it sounds interesting ,may get some Dishwasher parts
Posted by corinutza  on  Sat Dec 15, 2007  at  10:00 AM
Youtube removed the videos.

Must let people see for themselves....
Posted by Todd in Cali  on  Wed Jan 09, 2008  at  09:50 AM
Isn't it possible that they just trusted the researcher, and didn't believe he'd really let any harm come to the subjects?
Posted by N.  on  Thu Jan 17, 2008  at  07:55 PM
Well, its probably an easy sell when someone has been reading your blog for a year or so!
Posted by Tina  on  Thu Feb 07, 2008  at  08:12 AM
This is the exact same experiment Derren Brown replicated on UK TV to test his subjects' obedience. He then got the subjects to steal from a bank security van armed with a plastic gun. Good entertainment!
Posted by Dishwashers  on  Thu May 29, 2008  at  11:40 AM
A similar experiment was done at the Univ of Minn in the mid 1960's. It was slightly modified in that one of four "shock voltages" was determined by a draw or "spin the pointer" gadget. I don't recall the specifics but this is how the shock voltage was determined.

I was the "shocker" whereas the "shockee" was an unidentified male behind a wall or partition. I was given a list of questions to read and the correct answers. I was to read the first question and if the answer was right, I did nothing. If it was answered wrong, I was to administer a shock.

There was a button on the table in front of me. There was no predetermined length of time for the shock, just the instruction to "press this button if the answer is wrong".

Being an electronics student, I knew high volts would be dangerous and could be fatal. I think the values were something like 60, 120, 240, and 480 volts. I remember thinking if I "drew" 480 volts I would withdraw from participation. Maybe the selection device was rigged, I don't know.

I drew 240 volts and did participate. I remember I was "uncomfortable" that I had drawn such a high voltage. For whatever reason, I decided to continue. I think this was an experiment where you got paid twenty bucks to participate. Whether that was contingent on completing the experiment I don't remember.

The first few answers to my questions were correct, then the "shockee" started getting them wrong. I pressed the button hesitantly. I pressed the button for a fraction of a second. I knew Morse Code so it was like sending the letter "E", a very short "dit".

I don't recall how many questions were on the page, I'm guessing about 20. I don't recall any of the questions. I went through them all, administering the shock as appropriate, mostly. My discomfort showed because there were several times when I did not press the button even with a wrong answer. The verbal discomfort I was hearing was a strong deterrent.

After the "experiment" was over, I was left in the room to myself. Obviously there were people monitoring my reaction and activity.

I walked around the partition to see where the "shockee" had been sitting. I examined the area for wires or cords that would indicate a connection from my button to the victim. There was absolutely nothing there. I even got on my hands and knees to look at the underside of the table and chair. Nothing.

I haven't thought about this experiment until I came across this article. It's been over 40 years. It must have been a popular experiment for psych departments during those years.
Posted by JRC  on  Wed Jun 04, 2008  at  12:43 PM
If people trust the researchers, it becomes the responsibility of the researcher, that there should be no harm done to the person beleiving in him.The experiment would have been a popular one at that time.Where can i get to read or see more on it.

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Posted by buyu  on  Wed Dec 31, 2008  at  02:55 AM
I walked around the partition to see where the "shockee" had been sitting. I examined the area for wires or cords that would indicate a connection from my button to the victim. There was absolutely nothing there. I even got on my hands and knees to look at the underside of the table and chair. Nothing.
Posted by AsLan  on  Sat Jul 18, 2009  at  05:24 AM
I wonder where internet will go...
Posted by Gadget Reviews  on  Mon Dec 21, 2009  at  03:42 AM
Brilliant post! I know that competitive obedience is a popular sport, and it has been such since the early fifties. I know that it also be studied outside of the Milgram paradigm in fields such as economics or political science. Thanks 😊

Lisa fromshoulder pain and ankle pain!

Posted by Milton Milton  on  Mon Aug 13, 2012  at  03:30 AM

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