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This is a corker.

Stanley Milgram, a scientist at Yale University arranged a series of tests to see how punishment affected learning. It was a very clever set up.

A subject would volunteer for the experiment. He/she enters a room divided by a wall. On the other side is another volunteer. They are briefed beforehand and are told to assume roles; one is a 'teacher', the other a 'learner'. There was also a supervisor - a mean looking guy in a lab coat, sat at the back to oversee the test. The teacher would then start asking questions to the learner and if he/she got any of them wrong, the teacher would administer an electric shock. Each wrong question, the higher the voltage.

The learner (in agonising pain) would yell out to stop the experiment. But the lab-coated supervisor would refuse saying the experiment would continue and he would also tell the teacher to carry on! They knew what they had signed up for after all.

Of course the blood curdling screams (caused each time by the teacher activating the electric shock machine) would start to worry the teacher at which point the teacher would throw in the towel and say to the supervisor ENOUGH!

But the annoyed mean-looking supervisor would simply order the teacher to continue. Each electric shock would get more and more intense to the point of 300 volts! And beyond that, boys and girls is enough to kill someone...


In reality, Milgram actually wanted to test people to see how keen they were to inflict pain on others. The learner was just an actor who was in on the secret. There was no electric shock. The actor would in fact be screaming on a cued audiotape. The conditions were in fact faked and only really existed in the mind of the teacher/subject.

This was a study into obedience, with the figure in the lab coat being the motivation to continue, in other words, the effect authority has upon us. Sixty per cent of the volunteers obediently administered up to 450 volts.

The experiments of course, caused an ethical and legal row, and are used in debates about the Nazis; was the holocaust due to people simply following orders?

Told you it was a corker.

Ref: Obedience to Authority - An Experimental View (1974)