Despite almost everything else having changed in the past 50 years, one fact remains, according to science. While replicating a famously controversial psych experiment, scientists found that most people are ok with electrocuting the innocent if they were told to.
The title of the study is pretty direct, “Would You Deliver an Electric Shock in 2015?”, and sadly, 90% of its participants answered with a resounding yes. The original study, which took place in 1961 at Yale University was called the Milgrim Experiment. The title was due to the author of the study, Stanley Milgrim who put out an advertisement in the New Haven Register stating, “We will pay you $4 for one hour of your time,” it read, asking for “500 New Haven men to help us complete a scientific study of memory and learning.”
However, only part of his advertisement held true. While hundreds of people traveled to his lab for a learning and memory study, they were met with something much darker and more disturbing. During the study, the volunteer, called ‘the teacher’ would read sentences to his partner, or ‘the learner.’ The learner would then be hooked to an electroshock machine in an adjacent room.
Each time the learner made a mistake, the teacher was told to deliver shocks that were as high as 450 volts (‘Danger: severe shock). While some would quickly become disturbed with the order and leave, many remained, despite hearing their adjacent learner screaming in agony. Thankfully, the shocks weren’t real, but participants didn’t know that until after the fact.
The study was conducted to test the general population’s obedience to authority. The interest that sparked the entire study was based on Nazi claims during the Nuremberg Trials that they had only killed because of German orders. It made Milgrim wonder if they were truly evil, or if they were truly only following orders.
The point of the study was to find out how long participants would continue to shock ‘the learner’ before dropping out. And while many would believe that most would think twice before shocking an innocent person, the results were pretty scary. In the new study, which was published in the Journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, 90% of participants went the distance.
Unfortunately, this study only proves how obedient people are willing to be towards authoritarian regimes, and as we are seeing a rise in this sort of governing, we should most definitely be concerned. Exactly how far would a person go, on the simple basis that they were told to do so? Sadly, we can only hope that we would see a variation in this shocking trend under the right circumstances.