the milgram experiment

29 Oct

listening to: the “here” album by edward sharpe & the magnetic zeros

today our class had a briefing about history and culture and how it affects our military situation. i at once pushed the teachings out of my mind as they seemed a little too much like propaganda for my comfort. but after i got over myself, the presentation moved on and the teachings transformed from emotion-evoking september 11th memories into the importance to understand the cultural climate of different societies and people. which i can appreciate.

one of the examples asked to think of how you react when you are around a police officer. at once my class drove the conversation towards discussions about policemen and women and how they felt in various dealings with them. but i immediately turned to my psychology undergraduate education and chimed in about the famous milgram experiment in 1963. (yes, everyday i am more and more happy with my choice of psychology as a major, especially in a career so people driven) real quick summary: this was the experiment where a volunteer was asked to go through a bunch of questions supposedly testing the memory of a person on the other side of a wall. the volunteer believes that for every wrong answer the person makes that they are actually being shocked at increasing voltages. in the room with the volunteer is a person wearing a lab coat – representing an authority figure. the whole point of the experiment was to test people’s resolve and personal conscience when faced with an authority figure.

one would think, as i did before i studied this experiment, that when faced with potentially giving a person life altering electric shocks, the volunteer would speak out against the treatment and not do it. in milgram’s first round of experiments, 65% of the volunteers administered the largest shock (in reality no one was being hurt, it was an act), although with varying levels of moral discomfort. however, if the “authority figure” was in another room, instead of sitting with the volunteer, only 21% of the volunteers administered the largest shock.

so that’s that.

it always is very eerie to me that such a high percentage of people were willing to do an awful thing that totally against their moral code because a source of authority (simply wearing a lab coat) is in the room. i mean if you’re reading this, i’m sure you’re saying to yourself “oh i wouldn’t do that! never!” but the thing is, i’m sure all of the people before this test would have said the same thing. this similar phenomena is seen in the stanford prison experiment.

so, with this human tendency in mind, i always try my very best to stand up against anything that tinkers with my moral compass. i’ve made it a habit here at sbolc to shut down whatever is going on around me that i think is not moral or ethical or unlike the ladies or gentlemen we are supposed to be in this profession.

if i hear a sexist joke (these are everywhere, and for some reason people really put up with them), something racist against any race, or people acting like children in an adult situation, i’ve begun trying to do something about it. granted, i am only human, and sometimes i find myself protecting friendships and “coolness” instead of taking a stand against toxic behaviors.

after a particular annie-intervention, i was told that i needed to grow thicker skin – especially in a career that is so male dominated. and i explained, this has nothing to do with thick skin – i’m not crying or acting like a little girl. i just want to hold myself and those around me to a higher standard – sorry i believe very much in those around me (just kidding, i’m not sorry at all)! things aren’t going to change if we sit around passively enduring “get in the kitchen and make me a sandwich” jokes or allowing people to make jokes about people’s sexual orientations or appearance or religion.

i want a world where i can have the freedom to do and say as i want without it being credited to my gender or race or background. because those are things that cannot be controlled by the individual bring brought into this world.




One Response to “the milgram experiment”

  1. elockwood October 30, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

    true story. we literally had a lecture on milgram today haha. and ps the entire post is the point of my degree – culture, influence, etc etc etc. is our reality mediated through the lens of a corporate institution (like newpapers, tv, film, fb) etc. good work :)

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