How Cruel Can You Be?
Just as we Maldivians were about to start the second week of this February, we were appalled by senseless brutality against a number of Maldivians by those who were supposed to ' serve & protect' us . Among those severely beaten were our former president Mohamed Nasheed and his closest friends and colleagues. The severe and senseless police brutality against this political rally is well documented.
After seeing the photos and videos of this unnecessary violence I remembered reading about an experiment conducted by a certain Professor Stanley Milgram of Yale University. As I had read this almost 30 years ago, I had to refresh my memory with the help of Google’s wizardry.
Professor Stanley Milgram had conducted a series of his very famous experiment aptly named Obedience Experiment in 1961-1962. Milgram recruited subjects for his experiment from various walks in life. Volunteers were told the experiment would study the effects of punishment on learning ability. They were offered a token cash award for participating (will pay $4 for one hour of your time). All volunteers were ‘Teachers’ while the learner was an actor who plays along with the experimenter.
“Teachers’ were requested to administer increasingly severe shocks to the ‘learner’ (here the actor) when questions were answered incorrectly. In reality the only electric shocks delivered in the experiment were single 45-volt shock samples given to each teacher. This was done to give teachers a feeling for the jolts they thought they would be discharging.
What do you think was the average voltage given by teachers before they refused to administer further shock? What percentage of teachers, if any, do you think went up to the maximum voltage of 450?
Results from the experiment; some “teachers” refused to continue with the shocks early on, despite urging from the experimenter. This is the type of response Milgram expected as the norm. But Milgram was shocked to find those who questioned authority were in the minority. 65% of the teachers were willing to progress to the maximum voltage!
1st- Obeyed but justified themselves, this group gave up responsibility for their actions, blaming the experimenter. If anything had happened to the learner, they reasoned, it would have been the experimenter’s fault. Others had transferred the blame to the learner; “He was so stupid and stubborn he deserved to be shocked”
2nd- Obeyed but blamed themselves; this group felt badly about what they had done and were quite harsh on themselves. Members of this group would, perhaps be more likely to challenge authority if confronted with a similar situation in the future.
3rd- Rebelled; Finally, rebellious subjects questioned the authority of the experimenter and argued there was a greater ethical imperative calling for the protection of the ‘learner’ over the needs of the experimenter!
So embedded is obedience in our psyche that it may void personal codes of conduct!
It is not comforting when 65% of people will follow ‘orders’ and hurt you as long as there is someone else to take the responsibility, eh? More discomforting news: the same experiment was conducted 50 years later, and the figures remain almost the same! Scary uh?