I recently watched the movie Experimenter, a drama based on the real life work of social psychologist Stanley Milgram. One of his most famous studies that still gets talked about today is the Obedience Experiments. If you are not familiar with these experiments, I strongly recommend watching this movie (available on Netflix), or reading the summary of the experiments in this link: http://www.simplypsychology.org/milgram.html
I have always found psychology fascinating because I think understanding the human brain is the single most important factor to unlocking our full potential in the universe. Experiments like Milgram’s help us understand the psychology behind one of the most notable events in world history: The Holocaust. The first question that I think everyone asks themselves after learning about something like the obedience experiments is “What would I do in that situation?” Everyone likes to think that if they were the teacher in this experiment, they would have the autonomy to resist authority and refuse to shock people to the point of serious physical pain. Me personally? It’s really hard to say. I’m not so sure I wouldn’t be part of the 65% that shocked the learner all the way up to 450 volts.
What’s fascinating about these experiments is the justifications that our mind goes through without even realizing it. When we are told to do something by an authoritative figure, our mind transfers the responsibility of our actions to the person giving the orders. “Somebody else told me to do it” becomes a perfectly reasonable explanation if we perceive the person giving orders to have legitimate authority. It’s easy for an outsider to say that someone willingly inflicting harm on another human being because they were told to do so is a bad person, but I think the issue is more complicated than the simple debate of good vs. evil. As mentioned in the film, the situation that a person is has a significant impact on how they view their role in that situation. That’s why it’s important to understand what this experiment indicates about human psychology. Many people, including Milgram himself, were shocked and discouraged by the results, but it is more important to understand what led to these results rather than react immediately to the results.
I strongly recommend anyone whose interested in psychology to watch Experimenter. It goes through several of Milgram’s experiments, not just the obedience studies, and really provides a fascinating insight into how we operate as human beings.
Thanks for reading, and as always feel free to leave feedback or questions in the comments down below.