Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • Let's start with the obvious: bad things happen.

  • When they do, it's often in our best interest to have an open discussion about why they

  • happened.

  • But, some things are so bad that mainstream culture deems them unspeakable.

  • These are the acts that you don't even want to imagine doing.

  • Maybe, you don't believe your capable of doing them.

  • These acts are what one might call evil.

  • I wouldn't be surprised if you thought that evil was only the product of psychopaths and

  • sadists.

  • But, unfortunately, this just isn't so.

  • The world witnessed evil during WW2 and, more specifically, the Holocaust.

  • When Adolf Eichmann - one of the main figures responsible for organizing the systematic

  • killing of millions - was put on trial, he said that he was just following orders: this

  • thought is frightening.

  • This statement makes you rethink the idea of evil.

  • It transforms evil from being the work of a small minority to a product of the vast

  • majority.

  • Perhaps, evil is what happens when people stop thinking for themselves and just obey

  • the orders of others.

  • If so, the capacity for evil lies within all of us.

  • This is the context in which Stanley Milgram conducted his renowned experiment on obedience;

  • it's a chilling experiment that reminds us that with the ability for great good comes

  • the ability for great evil.

  • To really understand the Milgram experiments, it helps to split it into two tests: the fake

  • one and the real one.

  • Let's start with the fake one.

  • There are 3 participants: the experimenter, a teacher, and a learner.

  • The subject that Milgram was studying was always given the role of teacher.

  • The learner was an actor that was in on the experiment.

  • The actual study was disguised as a fake study that was said to be testing the effects of

  • punishment on learning.

  • Specifically, they were testing the effects of administering electric shocks on a learner's

  • ability to memorize a list of word-pairs.

  • For example, green-flower or couch-potato.

  • The subject was tasked with teaching the learner this list.

  • The subject would go through the list once and then read off one of the words in a pair.

  • If the learner guessed the word correctly, the subject would move on to the next pair.

  • However, if they guessed incorrectly, the subject was supposed to administer an electric

  • shock.

  • Shocks went up in 15V increments all the way up until 450V.

  • There were also corresponding labels indicating the intensity of shocks ranging from slight

  • shock to simply XXX.

  • The real test underlying this fake one was to see how far subjects would be willing to

  • go in administering shocks before they stopped.

  • At the shock level of 300V, the subject would hear the learner pounding on the wall and

  • begin refusing to answer.

  • A second pound was heard at 315V.

  • This test was designed to put the subject in a tug of war between obeying their own

  • morals and obeying an authority figure.

  • If the subject began hesitating, the experimenter used 1 of 4 prods to get him to continue.

  • They ranged in intensity from simple requests to orders.

  • The results of the test were shocking: 65% of participants administered the maximum level

  • of shocks.

  • All participants obeyed until 300V.

  • Various forms of Milgram's experiment have been replicated several times and continue

  • to produce similar results.

  • Although, modifying different conditions seems to produce varying levels of obedience.

  • After going through a lot of the literature, the question isn't do we obey, but when

  • and why ?

  • I think the best place to start is with Milgram's interpretation of the experiment.

  • But, before you can understand it, you have to understand his view of obedience as a natural

  • phenomenon.

  • Milgram believed that humans evolved the capacity to organize into social hierarchies because

  • it was a huge survival advantage.

  • Instead of competing as individuals, we could work together as a powerful group.

  • In order to create these hierarchies, humans must be capable of giving up control to an

  • external source: this could be another person or an idea.

  • If two independent people give up control to a third person, the third person can coordinate

  • the entire group.

  • For example, imagine a group of cars giving up control to the commands of a traffic cop.

  • By giving up their personal autonomy, traffic can flow in a more coordinated fashion.

  • However, if they all act on their own, traffic will flow less efficiently and accidents are

  • more likely to happen.

  • There are social hierarchies all around you.

  • When you enter a hierarchy, Milgram believed that you'd undergo a critical shift in mindset

  • from that of an autonomous individual to that of an agent.

  • When you enter a hierarchy and become an agent, you no longer feel responsible for your actions

  • but responsible to the one above you.

  • This new mindset is known as the agentic state.

  • To understand this state, it helps to separate it into a few components: the capacity for

  • agency, why we become an agent, the features of an agent, and what keeps us from exiting

  • the agentic state.

  • Milgram argues that the agentic state has been socialized in us through family, school,

  • and work because these environments value obedience, reward us for it and punish us

  • for disobedience.

  • So, why would you choose to become an agent?

  • Imagine that you're taking part in this experiment.

  • You walk into the room.

  • What do you do?

  • If you want to the experiment to run effectively, you need to cooperate with the group.

  • Recall that one of the most effective ways to coordinate a group is to designate a leader.

  • Someone has to be in charge, right?

  • Since this is a new hierarchy that you're entering into, you know that you're not

  • in charge.

  • You assign that role to the experimenter because you perceive them to be a “legitimate authority”.

  • You willingly enter this hierarchy because it has a guiding ideology that you believe

  • in and would be willing to further: progress & science.

  • Lastly, the experimenter makes demands of you that are appropriate for the hierarchy

  • that you're in.

  • He makes demands with regards to the experiment and not unrelated things.

  • He doesn't tell you what you eat for dinner.

  • All of these factors combined allow you to willingly accept the role of an agent.

  • Now that we have become an agent, what does this shift in mindset entail?

  • When we are in the hierarchy we tend to value the word of our superiors more than our inferiors.

  • Continuing our example, you're not going to take advice from the learner on how to

  • conduct the experiment.

  • That's because you see him at an equal or lower position on the hierarchy.

  • We also reinterpret our actions with regards to the mission of the hierarchy - for example,

  • scientific progress.

  • Keep in mind that we have willingly entered this hierarchy as an agent with a belief in

  • its guiding mission.

  • This leads to the most important feature of being an agent: we no longer feel responsible

  • for our actions but responsible to carrying out the wishes of the one above us.

  • However, once we've entered the agentic state, what keeps us there?

  • If we hear the pounding and feel we are doing something morally wrong, why can't we leave?

  • Milgram's first reason is consistency.

  • To admit that our current action is wrong would mean that we have to admit that all

  • of our actions leading up to this point were wrong.

  • That is a very tough pill to swallow and most people would rather not do it.

  • The second reason is that we feel an obligation to the experimenter.

  • We already made a commitment to help him and we want to uphold it.

  • The third reason is that all participants entered and began this experiment under a

  • specific situational definition: we acknowledged that the authority was legitimate, knew what

  • he was doing, and deserved to be higher up in the hierarchy than us.

  • Violating this, or any, socially agreed upon situational definition produces feelings of

  • awkwardness and discomfort because we are disrupting the social order.

  • Lastly, there are feelings of anxiety associated with disobeying an authority figure.

  • We have been socialized to respect authority figures and anticipating that we may have

  • to disobey and disrupt the social order makes us anxious.

  • However, alternative studies shine light on different aspects of Milgram's studies.

  • Some studies suggest something along the lines of a trusted expert that motivates subjects

  • to continue obeying.

  • They believed that they could trust that the scientist knew more about the experiment than

  • they did or that they could trust that a scientist would act responsibly.

  • Based on an individuals life experience, these would be reasonable beliefs to hold.

  • The experimenter had even told participants that the shocks werepainful but not dangerous”.

  • So, the real reason they continued was because they didn't believe that the learner was

  • actually in any real danger.

  • Other studies suggest that participants continued to obey because they believed that they were

  • agents of a worthy ideology.

  • Specifically, one study found that of the four prods that Milgram used, the one most

  • resembling an order was the least effective and the one most resembling an appeal to science

  • was the most effective.

  • In this case, it would seem that subjects are actually motivated by the belief that

  • their actions were for the benefit of science.

  • In both alternative explanations, participants would believe that they were doing the right

  • thing.

  • Alternatively, some people believe that Milgram's experiments were nothing but theatre and invalid

  • as a scientific experiment.

  • On the otherhand, many believe that Milgram did stumble upon something significant but

  • there isn't universal agreement over exactly what that is.

  • We can't make a jump from Milgram's results to explaining the actions of those involved

  • in the Holocaust.

  • The experiment itself was conducted in a lab setting and so we have to be careful about

  • interpreting those results with regards to real life.

  • However, it does provide us with a lot of food for thought about how different situations

  • can affect the actions we take.

  • Milgram's experiments serve as a critical reminder that a potential monster lies deep

  • within each of us and it would be in our best interest to be mindful of that.

  • But, let me know your thoughts.

  • Why do you

  • think we obey?

Let's start with the obvious: bad things happen.

Subtitles and vocabulary

Operation of videos Adjust the video here to display the subtitles

B1 experiment hierarchy learner agent evil subject

Why Do We Obey Authority? - The Milgram Experiments

  • 0 0
    Summer posted on 2021/04/16
Video vocabulary