More on Milgram

A reader responds to my reference to the Milgram experiment … after the jump:

I read your article on obedience to authority and enjoyed your writing. I met Dr. Milgram when I was a grad student getting my PhD in Social Psychology at the Ohio State University. There was a lot of interest in his work. For instance, he wondered about “authority” necessary to have someone violate moral tenants. Initially, no one believed that anyone would shock to the end. Many were surprised at the 70% or so who would. Yes, it happened with the authority of Yale. But Dr. Milgram conducted other studies above a garage in downtown New Haven without the prestigious “Yale” name and still got the same type of result. What he didn’t get to do and what might have helped was conduct studies to show how obedience worked. He did not initially ask people to kill their partner. They gave mild shocks which were gradually increased. Research on the number who would have refused if initially asked to give a more and more harmful shock (i.e. starting at 100 volts, or 50 volts rather than 15 or so) wasn’t done. But the idea was that as you steal a paperclip, then a stapler, then a ream of paper, then the printer; or cave in a little moral area and then a little more and then a little more, you are trained to ignore your own internal sense of right and wrong.
As I recall it, there were other interesting results from his research. International studies showed that Germans (his studies were in the 60’s so WWII Nazi memories were still with us) were about as obedient to authority as were Americans while the French were significantly less likely to give in to authority. Looking for factors that the 30% who didn’t give in had in common didn’t show effects of social class, education, religious affiliation, church attendance or any other broad cultural effect. The only consistency as I remember it was that those who helped had a significant mentor father/mother, coach/priest who talked ethical behavior and exhibited that same behavior. Talked the talk and walked the walk.
The implications seem to be that we have to ask questions of even simple and obvious things and be encouraged to question. Most people in authority whether church, school or state are not comfortable with this idea and thus we end up where we are.
I enjoyed the article on your work. Thanks for the effort and stimulation.

Thanks for the additional information … You can see why my latest book is oriented around ten questions.