People are just as blindly obedient now as they were 50 years ago, willing to subject others to electric shocks simply because they were told to.
A study in Social Psychological and Personality Science replicated an experiment from the famous psychologist Stanley Milgram in which subjects were made to believe that they were delivering shocks of increasing intensity to others. In the original experiment, the people with their hands on the switch were supposed to deliver the shocks when their partner, called a learner but really a hired actor who was not getting shocked at all, answered questions incorrectly. The subjects could hear the actor’s screams and cries for mercy, growing in intensity with the alleged volts of electricity, and were also being pressured by the person guiding them in the experiment, also an actor, to press on. The majority of people continued delivering “shocks” through the experiment — a finding that told psychologists a lot about human behavior, particularly conformity and authority.
“These experiments are still considered a turning point in our thinking about the role of the situation in human behavior,” the study said.
This time around, the scientists in Poland did not put as much pressure and anxiety onto the subjects, for ethical reasons, and was the first time the test was tried out in Central Europe. But the experiment, conducted in 2015 but released only recently, had similar results to the one from years ago — 90 percent of the subjects advanced to the highest voltage levels.
Although the subjects were more likely to relent when the person “receiving” the shocks was a woman, the small sample size of 80 subjects prevents a “strong conclusion” on the role of gender in the experiment.
“Upon learning about Milgram’s experiments, a vast majority of people claim that ‘I would never behave in such a manner,’” social psychologist Tomasz Grzyb said in a statement from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. He was one of the team from the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Poland to work on the project. “Our study has, yet again, illustrated the tremendous power of the situation the subjects are confronted with and how easily they can agree to things which they find unpleasant.”