Milgram’s experiment

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We learn from the Milgram’s experiment that: Most People, regardless of their sex, class, education, or religious backgrounds will perform acts of destructive obedience if they are placed in a situation where it is demanded of them.

Do you think the results are surprising or counter-intuitive? Please quote from the textbook (chapter 6). What percentage of subjects obeyed orders? Why?

Can you think of contemporary instances of over-conformity?

I don’t have the textbook but I will post an examples about this assignment. Please don’t copy and paste but you can use the page numbers and the information.


Stanley Milgram, a sociologist from Yale university, was looking for explanations for acts of genocide conducted by the Germans under Hitler’s authoritative commandduring WWII. How could Germans possibly obey and execute millions of people?

He conducted an experiment, where volunteers were asked to release a discharge if their “learner”, the person they were paired with, didn’t answer correctly to the questions. Surprisingly, the experiment has shown that 65% of the participants shocked to the maximum 450 volts. From his results, he came with 2 theories; the agentic state meaning that people allow others to direct their actions and give them responsibility for the consequences, and the autonomous state, people direct their own actions, and they take responsibility for the results of those actions.

To my mind, those results are surprising. Even under pressure, those actions cannot be justified. I don’t understand how we can keep releasing those discharges knowing someone is receiving and suffering from it. However, I came with the theory of the group size that must have influenced a lot. Indeed, the power of peer pressure can result from it. As stated in the book, there is an idea of ‘conformity’ with our peers mixed with the power of authority. It can lead to ‘group thinking’; “they become convinced that there is only one “right” viewpoint and a single course of action to follow” (p169), the decision to execute. But this group thinking has critical consequences over decisions. As also mentioned, “the group is so powerful that most people are willing to say things that they know are not true”. Linking this to the experiment, it highlights that under pressure and especially the one imposed by people in white blouse (aura of authority) people are willing to obey no matter what. I still do not agree or justify any sort of actions like this. As Sartre said, we are free in our decisions, even making no decision still is a decision. Those people could have refused to order to the researches, no one forced them to do it over and over and push the button harder. Yes, some of them said that it was inhuman but still they ordered under the pressure and authority. Finally, is it the idea of sanction that made the Germans lose their consciousness about the horrific executions? Plato highlighted this in the myth of Gyges. Humans behave because they are afraid of sanctions. So, is it because Germans knew they would be executed if they didn’t follow Hitler’s orders that made them do it?

Today, one relevant example of contemporary instances of over-conformity is the deforestation due to the high demand of palm oil by the countries of the First World. The companies looking for monetary profits, hire people to destroy the existent environment and eco system (plants, trees, animals), and replace it by palm oil trees. As a consequence, the local population (tribes) living in those forest not only lose their territory but also lose their survival means and culture. This is even more unethical when we know that those corporations don’t have any authorization and thus do it illegally. They abuse of their authority and money to bribe the local authorities to close one’s eyes.

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