(Milgram 1974) Obedience to authority


Milgram, Stanley. Obedience to authority: an experimental view. New York: Harper and Row; 1974. Available from: http://gyanpedia.in/Portals/0/Toys%20from%20Trash/Resources/books/milgram.pdf [main text only; endnotes, bibliography, and some illustrations missing]. Accessed 2012 Mar 4. Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/65vFED0dc.

Milgram reports and analyzes his classic series of experiments on obedience to authority. More than any other book in this annotated bibliography, this is the one that I believe everyone on the Left should read. It is indispensable for understanding the psychology of authoritarianism and fascism, a connection of which Milgram himself was fully aware, and long ago it played a crucial role in my own liberation from the memetic bondage of fundamentalist Christianity. The basic scenario is widely known: a subject who thinks he is participating in an experiment on human learning is confronted with a dilemma when the experimenter orders him to deliver increasing levels of electric shock to another subject (who is actually a confederate of the experimenter and is not really being shocked, but the real subject does not know this). An appallingly high percentage of subjects (well over 50% in the main experimental condition) obey all the way to the maximum shock level. A knowledge of this basic scenario, however, is no substitute for reading the entire book, which includes 18 different experimental conditions that systematically vary a number of factors to determine how they influence the behavior of the subjects. One striking feature of these experiments is the almost total disconnect between what people think someone would do when the experimental scenario is merely described, and what subjects in the experiment actually do. Our pre-theoretical beliefs about how we would respond are essentially worthless, which is why knowledge of the experiment is so important.

 

 

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Last revision: February 24, 2013