2019 Nov 16, 12:22am
44 views 0 comments
It’s surprising how often Milgram’s 24 different variations are wrongly conflated into this single statistic. The 65% result was made famous because it was the first variation that Milgram reported in his first journal article, yet few noted that it was an experiment that involved just 40 subjects.By examining records of the experiment held at Yale, I found that in over half of the 24 variations, 60% of people disobeyed the instructions of the authority and refused to continue.Then there are the methodological problems with the experiment. The highly controlled laboratory study that Milgram described actually involved a large degree of improvisation and variation not just between conditions but from one subject to another. You’d expect this to happen in the pilot phase of a study when the protocol is still being refined, but not once a study has begun....In listening to the original recordings of the experiments, it’s clear that Milgram’s experimenter John Williams deviated significantly from the script in his interactions with subjects. Williams – with Milgram’s approval – improvised in all manner of ways to exert pressure on subjects to keep administering shocks.He left the lab to “check” on the learner, returning to reassure the teacher that the learner was OK. Instead of sticking to the standard four verbal commands described in accounts of the experimental protocol, Williams often abandoned the script and commanded some subjects 25 times and more to keep going. Teachers were blocked in their efforts to swap places with the learner or to check on him themselves.The slavish obedience to authority we have come to associate with Milgram’s experiments comes to sound much more like bullying and coercion when you listen to these recordings.
Subjects wrote to Milgram or called him afterwards to describe what had made them suspicious. Some commented on how the learner’s cries seemed to be coming from a speaker in the corner of the room, suggesting it was a tape recording. Others noticed the check given to the learner looked dog-eared and worn, an indication that it had been handed over many times before. The experimenter’s lack of concern for the learner and failure to respond to the learner’s complaints suggested there was nothing to worry about. Some subjects described how they had surreptitiously pressed switches of lower voltage but still the learner’s cries intensified.