In July 1961, at Yale University, the Milgram experiment began. It is well-known by psychologists and a good portion of the general public today: an experiment testing people for their obedience factor.
Stanley Milgram, a psychologist from Yale, organized the experiment where three people were involved: the teacher, the learner, and the experimenter. The teacher was the person who was being studied, and his task was to ask questions to the learner and administer an electric shock if the learner answered incorrectly or didn’t answer at all. The shocks began at 15 volts, but they eventually progressed to a dangerous 450 volts. The experimenter was the person who ordered the teacher to continue the entire process, especially when the learner displayed obvious signs of distress or pain.
According to Cari Romm from the Atlantic magazine, other people, upon hearing about the Milgram experiment, claim that “that was back in the ’60s, and somehow how we’re more aware of the problems of blind obedience, and people have changed.”
In response to these claims, Santa Clara University psychologist Jerry Burger conducted a very similar study in 2007. The results ended up about the same as Milgram’s experiment, proving that humanity hasn’t “evolved” on that front since the 1960s.
In the original experiment, the learner was actually an actor and the electric shocks were nonexistent. Even so, the results were surprising. About 65 percent, according to Sam McLeod of Simply Psychology, of the teachers went all the way to the 450 volt shock. All participants continued to 300 volts.
“I wouldn’t believe that anyone would shock another person with 450 volts just because someone else ordered him to,” asserted William Hart High School sophomore Emma Kehl. “But I guess people follow orders, even when those orders go against their moral values.”
The Milgram experiment may help to explain the behavior of lower-level Nazis during the Holocaust. Some people don’t believe that lower-level Nazis could subject the Jews to such conditions unless they were terrible people, but Milgram’s experiments suggest a more complex situation.
“It makes a lot more sense that they [lower-level Nazis] carried out those orders from their authorities now, but I still feel like they should have rejected them out of their own morality,” Kehl said. “This experiment reveals a lot about us, as humans, and should make us all become more understanding toward each other.”