Milgram’s Study of Obedience

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People get into different situations and behave accordingly depending on the social group. Psychologists raise questions about why people submit to the opinion and advice of the group. Milgram conducted an experiment in which he analyzed the effect of authority on cognitive functions (mainly behavior). The experiment was part of a study of the behavior of Germans during the occupation in World War II. Milgram tried to explain why people took part in the act of violence, even though they did not want it (Milgram, 1963). The psychologist experimented to determine the pressure factors that affect human behavior.

Milgram’s experiment was simple, and it involved two groups of people: the first asked questions, and the second had to answer them. However, the experimental conditions were unethical and controversial: the second group received an electric shock if they answered incorrectly (Russel, 2017). The purpose of the study was to determine the impact of the decision of the authorities to cause harm. The psychologist tried to understand the reasons for obedience and explain the influence of high status on the person. The main question was, “why do people agree to hurt others if it contradicts their considerations?” (Milgram, 1963, p. 372). The experiment’s methodology was simple and quite reasonable at the time it was conducted, and its results were valuable for social psychology. It is also worth noting that although people did not initially know the terms of the experiment, they found it ethical and agreed with them. In this regard, Milgram raised the problem of justifying actions if there is a potential end goal. The control groups likely believed they contributed to society and therefore acted as ordered.

The experiment results are challenging to interpret unequivocally because the methodology is recognized as unethical. Test groups were subjected to pressure and orders to harm. The excessive psycho-emotional influence probably interfered with the creation of an actual situation (Milgram, 1963). Nevertheless, it was close enough to reality: the Nazis forced German citizens to harm other people and those who refused died with the prisoners. Milgram established that there were virtually no cases of refusal to inflict pain in the asking group. It concluded that authority plays a predominant role in ethical considerations. The psychologist attributed this to a manifestation of human nature, emphasizing the independence of moral affiliation or age. Milgram’s work significantly clarified the view of obedience as part of a person’s personality (Russel, 2017). In addition, it explained the changes in people’s behavior in different situations if there was authority.

As previously stated, the experiment was deemed unethical because the researcher did not explain its terms to the people in advance and indirectly participated in the violence. The control groups did not sign informed consent, had no choice during the experiment, and could not terminate it (Russel, 2017). Other researchers criticize Milgram for violating the experiment’s ethics, and therefore they refuse to acknowledge its results. Nevertheless, they are unique in social psychology and change attitudes toward obedience as quality of personality.

Thus, the Milgram experiment was conducted to explain the reasons for people’s violent behavior in the presence of orders from an authority figure. The study’s methodology was unethical, although many people thought it was correct and thought they were contributing to society. The experiment has been harshly criticized, but despite this, it has shed light on obedience as an individual human quality. Milgram’s work has shown that authority determines people’s behavior in many ways, even if the commands dictated go against their perceptions.

Social psychology encompasses studying human behavioral functions and reactions to various situations. Society is structured in such a way that large and small groups express their opinions. Moscovici tried to explain the influence of the minority on large groups and determine why the majority can change their views (Moscovici, Lage, and Naffechoux, 1969). In addition, he emphasized that small and incorrect positions do not always characterize the minority. On the contrary, he sought to show that sometimes majorities are shaped by the pressure of authority and its false perceptions. The central assumption in Moscovici’s experiments was that any attempt by the minority to change the majority’s opinion is associated with the development of conflict due to unwillingness to compromise.

Moscovici’s research aimed to identify the factors influencing the change of majority opinion under the influence of the minority. For this purpose, the psychologist conducted a series of experiments in which dummy people were added to the control groups, and they tried to change the group’s opinion. Moscovici found that in some cases, people change their opinion to the wrong one because other people said (Moscovici, Lage, and Naffechoux, 1969). He related this to a desire to be accepted in the group, as aloofness and minority are often positioned as something terrible. The experiment results showed that the minority was able to influence the majority, although they did not have a pronounced authority (van Meter, 2017). The experiment concluded that the stability of the minority opinion and its advocacy were the main factors of influence.

The experiment’s methodology was simple enough to allow the interpretation of results unambiguously. People watched a white screen on which blue was broadcast for a while. After that, it was required to name the color, and many people could do this task. However, about 10% called a different color, pointed out by a fake small group. Moscovici noted that the firmness and consistency of minority opinion influenced the change in response (Moscovici, Lage, and Naffechoux, 1969). In addition, he suggested two other factors: conformity and obedience. Conformity appears to integrate minority opinion into the group, while obedience is its suppression without changing the majority opinion (van Meter, 2017). Moscovici believed that majority cohesion also limits external influence. It means that the minority needs to make a much greater effort to be heard. It is also the reason why the minority does not compromise and stays with the position.

The study results were generally unequivocal: the minority can influence the majority. The firmness of beliefs and the ability to defend them far outweigh quantitative characteristics. The ideas that the minority can bring to the larger group will contribute to its development (van Meter, 2017). The clear superiority of a minority opinion is not necessary to change other views. The primary conditions are stability, consistency, and creativity.

Thus, Moscovici’s work was conducted to determine the factors that allow the minority to influence and change the majority’s opinion. The researcher used a simple technique in which people had to name the right color, but a small dummy group forced them to change their answers. Moscovici was able to establish that changing the majority’s opinion occurs with the stability of the minority opinion and the ability to defend it. The study results suggest that the belief in the value of one’s views prevails over the quantitative component of the idea.

Reference List

Milgram, S. (1963) ‘Behavioral study of obedience’, The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67(4), pp. 371-378.

Moscovici, S., Lage, E. and Naffréchoux, M. (1969) ‘Influence of a consistent minority on the responses of a majority in a color perception task’, Sociometry, 32, pp. 365-80.

Russell, N. (2017) ‘An important Milgram-holocaust linkage: Formal rationality’, The Canadian Journal of Sociology / Cahiers Canadiens de Sociologie, 42(3), pp. 261-292.

van Meter, K. M. (2017) ‘Agoramétrie’s trunk questions & Moscovici social representation’s core – more than just similarities’, BMS: Bulletin of Sociological Methodology / Bulletin de Méthodologie Sociologique, 136, pp.53-65.

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PsychologyWriting. "Milgram’s Study of Obedience." December 4, 2022.