Self Help

Obedience to Authority An Experimental Vi - Stanley Milgram

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Matheus Puppe

· 26 min read

Here are the key points about Stanley Milgram’s research on obedience to authority:

  • Milgram conducted experiments in the 1960s to understand how people can act cruelly and commit atrocities like the Holocaust when commanded by authority figures.

  • In the experiments, subjects were instructed by an authority figure (the experimenter) to administer increasingly powerful electric shocks to another participant (who was actually an actor). Despite discomfort, most subjects obeyed and gave the shocks.

  • Milgram argued that people tend to obey orders from authority figures, even if it goes against their conscience. The power of the situation and social pressure can make people act in ways they normally wouldn’t.

  • The obedience experiments revealed the danger of obedience to authority and how easily people’s moral compass can be overridden.

  • The research highlighted the psychology behind atrocities like the Holocaust, showing how situational factors and obedience can make “regular” people commit terrible acts.

  • Though conducted in a laboratory, Milgram argued the findings have relevance to understanding real-world obedience that enables violence, war, and genocide. The essence of obedience is the same.

  • The work remains influential in psychology by demonstrating the power of obedience and conformity pressures. It revealed the tension between obeying authority and one’s own moral agency.

  • The experiment involved participants acting as “teachers” who were instructed to give increasingly powerful electric shocks to “learners” (actors) for wrong answers. The aim was to see how far people would go in obeying orders to harm others.

  • Despite protests and indications of pain from the learners, a substantial proportion of participants continued administering shocks up to the highest levels.

  • This demonstrated an extreme willingness of adults to obey authority figures, even to the point of harming others against their conscience.

  • The tendency to obey cannot be explained as just “monsters” or “sadists”, as the participants were ordinary working professionals.

  • The banality of evil - ordinary people can become agents of terrible acts through obedience, not necessarily personal hostility.

  • Factors like obligation to authority and inability to resist orders inhibit disobedience.

  • It’s easy to condemn from an armchair, but many would likely act similarly when instructions come from a legitimate authority.

  • The study revealed the power of obedience and the ability of ordinary professionals to harm others when commanded, despite moral prescriptions.

The experiment showed that people’s moral values often fail to prevent them from obeying authority figures’ unethical orders. Even though subjects verbally objected, they continued administering intense shocks because the experimenter directed them to do so. To justify their actions, subjects made various rationalizations like attributing responsibility to the experimenter or focusing narrowly on technical aspects of the task rather than its morality. The experiment illustrates how ordinary people can engage in cruel actions through obedience to authority, much like what enabled atrocities in Nazi Germany. Factors like diffusion of responsibility and dehumanization of victims typically accompany obedience and enable harm. The results highlight the gap between people’s moral values and their actions, showing that verbal objection alone is insufficient - moral concerns must be translated into disobedience to prevent immoral outcomes.

  • The study on obedience aimed to understand when people obey or disobey commands. It created a situation where one person ordered another to do something harmful, to see when obedience would occur or fail.

  • Using electric shocks was chosen as it was easy to simulate in a lab and people understand shocks can be graded in intensity. The principle of not harming others was used as a counterforce to create pressure for disobedience.

  • Subjects were recruited from the New Haven community for diversity in age, occupation, education. The lab setting at Yale helped establish legitimacy.

  • The experimenter played the role of authority and the accomplice played the victim. A rigged drawing ensured the real subject was always the teacher administering shocks.

  • A cover story was given about studying learning and punishment. This provided a context to justify the subject shocking the victim when they made mistakes on a memory test.

  • The aim was to observe when subjects obeyed versus disobeyed orders to shock the victim, even when the victim protested and showed discomfort. The point where they refused to continue was considered the act of disobedience.

  • The experiment involved a “teacher” (the subject) and a “learner” (an accomplice). The learner was strapped into an “electric chair” to receive shocks.

  • The teacher was instructed to administer increasingly strong shocks (up to 450 volts) each time the learner gave an incorrect answer on a word pairing task.

  • The shock generator had 30 switches labeled with increasing voltage. The teacher had to move to the next highest voltage switch each time the learner erred.

  • The learner gave predetermined incorrect answers and protests, reacting more strongly as the voltage increased. At some point the learner went silent.

  • The experimenter prodded the teacher to continue even if they were reluctant. The main measure was how far the teacher would go before refusing to continue.

  • Afterwards, subjects were debriefed that no real shocks were given and the learner was fine. The experience was explained and justified to them.

  • An experiment was conducted where subjects were ordered to give increasingly powerful electric shocks to a learner.

  • Before the experiment, 110 respondents (psychiatrists, students, adults) predicted how they or others would behave. Almost all said they would refuse to obey at some point due to empathy, compassion, and justice.

  • In reality, 26 of 40 subjects obeyed fully, shocking the victim to the highest level even as he protested.

  • Obedient subjects showed signs of tension and reluctance but continued on orders.

  • The victim was originally placed in another room, unable to be seen or heard except for pounding on the wall.

  • The experimenters then systematically brought the victim closer to see how this affected obedience levels.

  • Even when the victim was brought into the same room, many subjects continued administering the maximum shocks.

  • The research showed how people’s expectations of defiance can contrast starkly with obedient behavior in practice. Situation and authority pressures outweighed individual values.

  • Obedience diminished as the victim was brought closer and made more salient to the subject.

  • In the Remote condition, the victim seems abstract and the subject can narrow their focus and ignore the victim’s suffering.

  • Proximity provides more empathetic cues that trigger discomfort with harming the victim.

  • With proximity, it is harder for the subject to avoid scrutinizing their actions and the victim can also observe the subject, causing embarrassment/shame.

  • Remote conditions separate the act from its consequences, reducing the unity of the act. Proximity connects the act to its consequences.

  • Proximity allows the subject and victim to form an alliance against the experimenter.

  • Subjects may have learned passive inhibition against harming those who are close but not those distant.

  • Despite moral training, many subjects harmed the victim, acting against their own values. Proximity to the victim increased disobedience of the experimenter’s orders.

  • Bruno Batta was a welder who participated in the Touch-Proximity variation of the obedience experiments. He had a rough appearance and seemed to have limited intelligence.

  • During the experiment, Batta was very obedient and showed complete indifference to the learner’s reactions. He focused solely on following the experimenter’s orders in a rigid, mechanical way.

  • Batta showed no pleasure in shocking the learner, only satisfaction at doing his job properly. He admonished the learner for not cooperating.

  • In the interview after, Batta blamed the learner for bringing punishment on himself. He had trouble grasping the concept of responsibility but eventually assigned it primarily to the experimenter since he was just following orders.

  • Batta’s behavior illustrates the tendency of some obedient subjects to dissociate themselves from the learner and focus solely on pleasing the authority figure. His deferential attitude to the experimenter contrasted sharply with his indifference to the learner’s suffering.

  • The subject in the Old Testament professor experiment balked at continuing after 150 volts, refusing to put the experiment above the learner’s life. He questioned the ethics of the experiment and the emotional impact on the learner. His resistance stemmed from his religious values about moral authority.

  • Jack Washington, the drill press operator, obediently continued to 450 volts, accepting the experimenter’s authority. He felt the experimenter bore the most responsibility, then the learner, and least himself. He would have stopped if given a cue by the experimenter.

  • Jan Rensaleer, the industrial engineer, refused to continue at 255 volts despite the experimenter’s demands. He took full responsibility himself, citing his free will to participate. He regretted not stopping at the first complaint and likened the situation to following orders in the army against one’s wishes.

Here is a summary of the victim’s first protests in the experiment:

The victim started expressing discomfort at 75 volts, saying “Ugh!” This continued at increasing volumes up to 120 volts, when he said “Ugh! Hey this really hurts.” At 135 volts, he said “Ugh! Experimenter! That’s all. Get me out of here. I told you I had heart trouble. My heart’s starting to bother me now. Get me out of here, please. My heart’s starting to bother me. I refuse to go on. Let me out.” His protests continued, becoming more intense and mentioning his heart condition specifically at 150, 195, and 330 volts. He demanded to be let out repeatedly, saying the experimenter had no right to keep him there. His screams became increasingly agonized. At 300 volts he said he absolutely refused to answer anymore, but the experimenter insisted he continue. After 330 volts he had an intense and prolonged scream, hysterically demanding to be let out. Despite these strong protests, many subjects continued to administer shocks.

  • In Experiment 9, a change was made so that the learner explicitly stated he would only participate on the condition that the experiment be stopped when he said so. This was to test the idea that subjects rely on an implicit “social contract” to explain their obedience.

  • After the learner made this statement, the experiment proceeded as usual, with the experimenter instructing the naive subject to continue even when the learner protested at 150 volts.

  • The goal was to see if introducing a sense of betrayal and injustice by having the experimenter ignore the learner’s predefined limits of cooperation would affect obedience levels.

  • The experiment tested whether the “contract” argument used by some subjects to justify their obedience was just a philosophical issue remote from the real forces at work, or if it actually shaped behavior.

  • The experiment was replicated in Bridgeport to see if the institutional context of Yale affected obedience levels.

  • The Bridgeport location appeared to have no official affiliation and was set up to look like an unimpressive, private research firm.

  • Some subjects expressed skepticism about the legitimacy and motives of the Bridgeport experiment.

  • There was no noticeable difference in tension levels compared to Yale.

  • Obedience levels in Bridgeport, while somewhat reduced, were not significantly lower than at Yale - 48% of Bridgeport subjects delivered the maximum shock versus 65% at Yale.

  • This suggests the category of institution as a scientific lab may lend authority, even if the specific institution is unimpressive.

  • The study indicates commands may be perceived as legitimate within some institutional structure, even if not highly reputable.

  • Further research could examine if obedience disappears completely beyond a certain point of denying institutional support.

Here are the key points from the passages:

  • In an experiment, subjects were told to give increasingly powerful electric shocks to a “learner” for wrong answers. Many subjects protested but were told by the experimenter they must continue.

  • When subjects were allowed to choose the shock level themselves, the great majority delivered very low shocks, showing they were not inclined to hurt the learner on their own.

  • The study reveals that when acting under orders, people can engage in harmful actions they would not do of their own accord.

  • Examples are provided of specific subjects’ reactions. One refuses to continue past a certain shock level despite the experimenter insisting he must. Another continues but becomes extremely agitated and wants to check on the learner.

  • The experiments illustrate how obedience to authority can lead people to act against their own values, even potentially harming others. But when allowed to choose freely, people show much greater concern for the learner’s well-being.

Here is a summary of the key points about Elinor Rosenblum:

  • She is a housewife who graduated from the University of Wisconsin over 20 years ago. Her husband attended Dartmouth.

  • She does volunteer work with juvenile delinquents once a week and has been active with Girl Scouts and PTA.

  • She projects herself strongly and makes many references to her social achievements. She is talkative and charming.

  • In the experiment, she tries to appear competent and authoritative but becomes increasingly distressed as the shocks increase. She continues administering shocks up to 450 volts despite her concerns.

  • In the interview, she says the shocks were extremely painful but she continued due to her relationship with the experimenter.

  • She emphasizes her own distress over the learner’s pain. Her comments indicate she is self-centered.

  • She recounts her volunteer work teaching dropouts, claiming she helps them through love and kindness, not punishment.

  • Mrs. Rosenblum carried out the experiment outwardly while expressing doubts and distress inwardly. She failed to stop due to her fragmented psyche and need for approval.

  • Gretchen Brandt was firm and resolute in refusing to continue at 210 volts. She felt the shocks were dangerous and didn’t want responsibility for harm. Her obedience was simple and rational.

  • Pasqual Gino continued shocking the victim to 300 volts when left alone, telephoning the experimenter when the victim complained. He dutifully followed instructions despite protests.

The examples illustrate how personality and background influenced obedience and disobedience. Mrs. Rosenblum’s insecurities led to compliance, Gretchen Brandt’s self-confidence allowed principled refusal, and Pasqual Gino’s sense of duty produced obedience.

Based on the summary, it seems the passage is discussing an experiment where a “learner” is receiving electric shocks from a “subject” at the instruction of an “experimenter”. The key points are:

  • In the initial experiment, the experimenter tells the subject to keep shocking the learner, while the learner protests. The subject obeys the experimenter.

  • In a variation, the roles are reversed - the learner demands to keep being shocked, while the experimenter tells the subject to stop. In this case, the subject always obeys the experimenter and refuses to shock the learner further.

  • The conclusion is that the subject is responding to the authority of the experimenter, not the actual content of the commands. The learner’s demands are irrelevant because the subject has accepted the experimenter’s authority over the situation.

  • This shows how subjects in the experiment readily submit to and embrace the purposes defined by the authority figure rather than the wishes of the learner.

Here is a summary of the authority’s point of view in the passages:

The authority figure believes that obedience stems from the subject’s binding to the authority system, not the wishes of the learner or the impulses of the subject. To test this, the authority figure removes himself from the situation, leaving an “ordinary man” to give the orders. Compliance drops sharply when it is an ordinary man giving orders instead of the authority figure. This suggests that the authority’s status, not just the order itself, is critical for inducing obedience.

When subjects refuse the ordinary man’s orders, they become much more defiant, criticizing and physically restraining him. This contrasts with the deference they show authority figures even when disobeying. It further highlights how critical the authority status is in driving obedience.

To fully isolate the effect of authority status, the experiment is reversed - the authority figure becomes the victim receiving shocks while the ordinary man insists he continue. Despite this inversion of roles, most subjects still refuse to shock the authority figure, underscoring the strong effect of status on obedience separate from role as shocker or victim.

  • An experiment was conducted where a “naive” subject was instructed by an authority figure (the experimenter) to give electric shocks to a learner (a confederate) for making mistakes.

  • The learner protested and demanded to be released as the shocks increased, but the experimenter prodded the subject to continue.

  • When the experimenter demanded to receive the shocks himself to demonstrate they were safe, the subject refused to continue shocking him once he protested, even when the learner insisted the experiment continue.

  • In follow-up experiments, subjects also refused to continue shocking the learner when an ordinary man rather than the authority figure gave the orders.

  • The key finding was that subjects followed the orders due to the authority role of the experimenter, not due to aggression or obedience itself. When the authority figure protested, the subjects stopped administering shocks.

  • A final experiment had two experimenters giving contradictory orders. Subjects were much more likely to refuse to continue shocking when there were contradictory commands from split authorities.

  • The main conclusion was that obedience stems from response to authority rather than the aggression of the act itself. Commands from ordinary men or split authorities were much less likely to be followed.

  • In this experiment, one experimenter played the role of the victim while the other gave orders to continue.

  • When the victim experimenter protested and demanded to be released, the subjects almost always stopped administering shocks completely.

  • The victim experimenter, despite his authority status, had no more influence over the subject’s behavior than an ordinary victim would have.

  • This contrasts with a previous experiment where subjects always obeyed an experimenter’s command to stop, even when ordered by the learner to continue.

  • It shows that authority depends not just on designation but on actual position and role in the situation. The experimenter-victim lost authority by occupying the victim role.

  • Subjects seek to construct clear hierarchies and lines of action. With contradictory commands from equals, action stops. When one gains an edge of authority from the situation, subjects follow that higher authority in all-or-none fashion.

  • Even a small increment of perceived authority in the situation is enough to fully determine the subject’s obedience. Authority systems require consistent hierarchies to function effectively.

  • There is a distinction between obedience and conformity. Obedience involves complying with authority, while conformity involves going along with peers.

  • Obedience occurs in a hierarchical structure, involves explicit demands, and lacks voluntarism. Conformity happens among equals, involves implicit social pressure, and people perceive their behavior as voluntary.

  • People deny conforming but embrace obedience to explain their behavior. Conforming subjects insist on their autonomy, while obedient subjects attribute their actions to authority.

  • Groups can release people from obedience to authority. When confederates rebelled in an experiment, most naive subjects also defied the authority figure, highlighting the power of peers in opposing unjust authority.

  • Seeing peers rebel gave subjects the courage to resist the authority figure themselves. Collective rebellion is often more effective than individual defiance against authority.

Here are the key points from the summary:

  • The confederates in the obedience experiments often justified and minimized the actions of the subjects who continued shocking the victim, saying things like “I thought they were men of good character” and “They were very sympathetic people.”

  • Some subjects acknowledged the importance of the confederates’ defiance in influencing their own decision to stop shocking. The confederates gave them social confirmation that it was wrong and reduced the diffusion of responsibility.

  • Authority figures can reduce strain on participants and increase obedience by placing distance between the subject and the consequences of the destructive act, using intermediaries.

  • Obedience has survival value, allowing humans to form hierarchical social organizations that facilitate goals and reduce internal conflict. We have an innate potential for obedience that interacts with social influences.

  • Authority figures can exploit this human tendency toward obedience through controlling perceptions, diffusing responsibility, and making only the most callous carry out destructive acts directly. Good people can be seduced into performing harsh acts through these manipulations.

In summary, the text analyzes the psychological factors that make people susceptible to obedience, and how those in authority take advantage of these tendencies for harmful ends. But it also shows how resistance can emerge, particularly when others unite in defiance.

  • The essay takes a cybernetic perspective to analyze how autonomous entities evolve into hierarchical systems.

  • Autonomous entities require internal inhibitory mechanisms to prevent them from destroying each other when sharing an environment. This corresponds to the human conscience.

  • When autonomous entities are organized hierarchically, they must cede some local control to a coordinating component for the system to function efficiently.

  • Hierarchical systems are built from modules of superiors and subordinates. The psychology of obedience is similar at all levels except the top leadership.

  • Variability between individual entities necessitates ceding local control to a coordinating component for efficient system functioning. Identical entities can be linked without modifying local control.

  • In hierarchical systems, internal inhibitory controls like conscience must be secondary to directions from higher levels for the system to function properly.

  • The essay argues these cybernetic principles help explain the behavior observed in the obedience experiments, where individuals suppressed their own moral judgments to follow orders.

Here are the key points from the passage:

  • The agentic state occurs when someone sees themselves as an agent for carrying out another’s wishes, rather than acting autonomously. This makes them open to regulation by a higher authority.

  • Antecedent conditions lead someone to enter an agentic state, including upbringing that instills respect for authority and moral injunctions that implicitly demand obedience. Institutional settings like schools also promote obedience to authority.

  • Once in an agentic state, people’s behavior and psychology are altered - they become more compliant, feel less responsible for their actions, and their conscience is bypassed.

  • Binding factors keep people in an agentic state, including the diffuse nature of responsibility in hierarchical structures and gradual increasing demands that fail to trigger resistance.

  • The process of obedience involves these components: antecedent conditions, the shift to an agentic state, altered behaviors/psychology, and binding factors that maintain the state. The agentic state is key to explaining compliant behavior in the experiments.

  • The family is the first system of authority a child experiences. In school, the child learns to function in an organizational framework regulated by teachers who are themselves subject to authority.

  • The first 20 years of life are spent functioning as a subordinate in an authority system. Adults then typically enter jobs or military service where they must submit to superiors, though some dissent is allowed.

  • Modern society requires submitting to impersonal, abstract authorities, unlike more primitive societies where authority figures are personally known. Compliance is rewarded with promotions which provide emotional gratification and perpetuate the hierarchy.

  • Internalizing the social order enables individuals to meet social requirements in novel situations. The chief axiom learned is to obey the person in charge.

  • For the transition to an agentic state, the subject must perceive a legitimate authority relevant to them and voluntarily enter their authority system. The commands must also be reasonably connected to the function of the authority.

  • The laboratory context increases obedience because the experimenter is presumed knowledgeable and issues orders related to the experiment. The subject thus sees compliance as appropriate.

  • Authorities are perceived to have more knowledge than subordinates, even if they do not in reality. Subordinates tend to attend very closely to what authorities say and may not pay as much attention to those of lower status.

  • Subordinates see the authority as defining the meaning and ideology of the situation. They allow the authority to interpret the meaning of their actions rather than deciding for themselves.

  • Subordinates feel responsible to the authority but not for the content of the actions prescribed by the authority. Their morality shifts to focus on obedience rather than the rightness or wrongness of acts.

  • Once in the “agentic state” induced by an authority, subordinates’ self-evaluative processes are absent regarding the commanded actions. The actions don’t stem from their own motives so they don’t impact their self-image.

  • Commands from an authority serve as the triggering mechanism for specific acts of obedience from subordinates already in an agentic state.

  • Various psychological factors bind the subordinate to the authority once in an agentic state, including the hierarchy granting the authority power over rewards/punishments, and the authority defining the ideological meaning of the situation.

  • The experiment puts psychological pressure on the subject to continue shocking the learner, even when they want to stop. There are several forces binding the subject into obedience:

  • The shocks happen sequentially, so continuing seems to justify what has already been done.

  • The subject feels obligated to fulfill their commitment to the experimenter. Refusing would reject the experimenter’s authority and breach the rules of the situation.

  • Anxiety about the disruption obeying would cause inhibits disobedience. The subject fears appearing rude and does not want to upset the experimenter.

  • This anxiety stems from socialization to respect authority. Disobeying induces ego-threatening negative emotions.

  • However, strain builds as the shocks continue. There is tension between the subject’s autonomy and their subordination to authority.

  • When strain becomes too great, the subject disobeys, despite the binding forces and anxiety. Resolving this strain allows them to reassert their autonomy.

In summary, psychological pressure binds the subject to obedience, but increasing strain ultimately leads them to disobey and reassert their autonomy and moral values. The theory illustrates the tension between submission to authority and autonomous moral action.

  • Obedience occurs when binding factors outweigh strain, while disobedience occurs when strain outweighs binding factors.

  • The experience of tension in subjects reveals the weakness of authority, as complete submergence in authority would result in no tension. Tension signifies a failure of authority to fully transform the person.

  • Sources of strain include visceral reactions to inflicting pain, violating moral values, fear of retaliation, incompatible demands from learner vs experimenter, and incompatibility with self-image.

  • Features that reduce closeness between action and consequence (physical distance, buffers like the shock generator) reduce strain.

  • Disobedience is the ultimate way to resolve strain, but avoidance, denial, minimizing harm, and attributing responsibility to the experimenter are also used to reduce strain without overt disobedience.

Here are the key points from the passage:

  • Several psychological mechanisms allow subjects to continue shocking the victim despite moral conflicts, including avoidance, denial, minimal compliance, subterfuge, seeking reassurance, blaming the victim, physical conversion of stress, and dissent. These reduce strain to a tolerable level.

  • Disobedience involves refusing the authority’s commands and reformulating the relationship with authority. It is a difficult path as it creates uncertainty and apprehension.

  • Disobedience requires mobilizing inner resources to move from doubt, to dissent, to threat, to action. It affirms humanistic values but has a psychic cost as subjects feel they have failed the authority.

  • Obedient subjects can shift responsibility to the authority, while disobedient ones accept responsibility for defying the authority and feel they have ruined the experiment. Disobedience carries a burden despite being morally correct.

In summary, the passage analyzes the psychological processes that allow subjects to continue shocking despite moral conflicts, contrasting them with the difficult path to disobedience which has psychic costs but affirms humanistic values.

Here are my thoughts on the key points raised:

  1. Representativeness of subjects
  • The author acknowledges the critique that Yale undergrads may not be representative, but provides evidence that the results held across diverse demographic groups recruited in New Haven.

  • Subsequent replications in other cities and countries found even higher obedience rates, suggesting the original results were not unique to those subjects.

  • The volunteers do not appear to be biased toward authoritarianism.

  1. Belief in administering real shocks
  • Tension and conflict displayed by subjects, captured quantitatively and qualitatively, indicates they believed the shocks were real.

  • All subjects rated the learner’s level of pain as very high.

  • Precautions were taken to make the shocks appear real and subjects were debriefed afterward.

  1. Generalizability
  • The author acknowledges the laboratory setting is simplified and controlled.

  • However, the psychological dynamics observed appear relevant to understanding real-world atrocities.

  • Further research could clarify which situational variables are most important in determining obedience.

In summary, the author provides reasonable evidence that the findings are methodologically valid and offer insight into human behavior, while acknowledging limitations. The key seems to be considering how psychological processes revealed might operate in real-world contexts.

  • In Experiment 5, most obedient subjects indicated the shocks were “extremely painful” on a 14-point scale. Over half used the maximum point on the scale.

  • A few subjects did not think the victim received painful shocks, but this may have been defensive denial rather than true disbelief.

  • Follow-up questionnaires indicated about 3/4 of subjects believed they were administering real shocks. Controlling for subjects who denied the deception only slightly reduced overall obedience rates.

  • An independent replication by Rosenhan found 60% fully accepted the situation as genuine, with 85% of those being fully obedient.

  • The same basic psychological processes of obedience occur in the lab as in real-world situations with authority figures, even if situational details differ.

  • The study examines willingness to obey legitimate authority, not obedience driven solely by coercion. This parallels Eichmann’s obedience within a hierarchical system.

  • There are differences in timescale and morality of orders between the obedience study and Nazi Germany. But a common psychological process of diffused responsibility in the face of authority is centrally involved in both.

  • Obedience in Milgram’s experiments was likely due to short-term compliance to authority, unlike the more deeply internalized obedience of many Germans under Nazism. Longer-term indoctrination strengthens obedience.

  • Resisting Nazism was heroic and risky, unlike defiance in the experiments. The penalties under Nazism were severe, up to death, making obedience more compelling.

  • Milgram’s subjects were told their actions would not seriously harm the learner, but Nazis knew they were perpetrating real destruction and death.

  • While the specifics of Nazism will not recur, the psychological tendency to obey authority persists in society and democracies. Ordinary people can carry out horrible acts by obeying orders.

  • Examples include enslavement, mistreatment of Native Americans, internment of Japanese Americans, use of napalm in Vietnam. Obedience leads ordinary people to commit atrocities.

  • Military training breaks individuality to instill obedience. War definitions portray enemies as less than human and a threat to justify cruelty. Obedience becomes crucial for a unit’s survival.

  • The psychological pressures of authority, indoctrination, and social conformism compel obedience and overwhelm individual conscience. The problem is universal even if Nazism is unique.

Here are the key points from the passage:

  • Soldiers carry out orders and are focused on their duty rather than morality. They see following orders as moral even if the orders are unethical.

  • Soldiers modify language and use euphemisms to avoid the moral implications of their actions.

  • Responsibility shifts upwards to superiors who give the orders. Soldiers repeatedly seek authorization from superiors.

  • Actions are justified as serving noble goals like science or eliminating threats, despite harming innocent people.

  • At My Lai, soldiers killed unarmed civilians including women, children, and babies because they were ordered to. The soldiers justified the massacre as necessary and felt relieved after following the orders.

  • The pattern shows how ordinary people can commit atrocities through organizational indoctrination and diffusion of responsibility up the hierarchy. Individual moral values become subordinated to technical needs of the system.

  • In the obedience experiments, subjects administered increasingly powerful electric shocks to a victim when instructed to do so by an authority figure. This revealed the human capacity to abandon morality and harm others when obeying authority.

  • The subjects did not show aggression or anger, but simply obeyed orders from an authority figure. This merging of the individual into an organizational structure can lead to destructive consequences.

  • Factors like loyalty, discipline, and self-sacrifice contribute to this dangerous obedience. When part of an organization, people become unhindered by individual morality.

  • The experiments attempted to find the limits of such obedience through the victim’s protests, but many subjects continued administering the highest level shocks despite the victim’s pleas to stop.

  • This suggests that human nature may not prevent citizens from acting brutally and inhumanely when directed by malevolent authority. Many people obey commands irrespective of their conscience if they are perceived as coming from a legitimate authority.

  • The results reveal the dangers of unconditional obedience to authority. To avoid inflicting unnecessary harm on others, people must exercise their own moral judgement and not unquestioningly obey immoral orders. Skepticism of authority is important for freedom.

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