Shocking Study Reveals How Anyone Can Become Evil

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The year is 1942, and across Europe various
German concentration camps have been established. Most of these are slave labor facilities,
where Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally retarded, and various other undesirables are
forced to work on behalf of the Reich. A few though have a much darker, more sinister
purpose. These don’t have factories, mines or quarries
to be worked, and in fact only exist for one purpose: mass murder on an industrial scale. No different than cattle to the slaughter,
over six million people are herded into gas chambers and killed, the guards overseeing
one of the worst crimes against humanity in history, simply going about their job like
it was a regular nine to five. But why did tens of thousands of German guards
just idly obey commands to help kill millions of people? Hello and welcome to another episode of The
Infographics Show- today we’re taking a look at the infamous Stanley Milgram psychological
study that proved people were perfectly willing to obey orders and shock others to death. When World War II ended many former Nazis
found themselves dragged up before international tribunals to answer for their heinous war
crimes. Time and again the men and women on trial
offered a single excuse: I was just following orders. They didn’t deny knowledge of what their actions
were helping facilitate, and they didn’t sugarcoat what they did- they simply excused their part
in one of the greatest genocides in history by simply saying, I was told to. The former Allies weren’t buying any of this
blind obedience, and many Nazis found themselves imprisoned or hung on the gallows for their
crimes. But in 1961 a psychologist named Stanley Milgram
grew curious about just how much a role obedience had in the execution of these heinous crimes. After all, no matter the racial prejudice
it was extremely unlikely that any one of the men and women involved would have personally
murdered a concentration camp prisoner. If this were true then our streets would every
day be running in rivers of blood, and yet society continues to function relatively well,
and rather than minorities being executed, they see their social and legal status continually
improved in liberal democracies around the world. Why this paradox then? Why were these thousands of Nazis perfectly
normal and law-abiding citizens before the war, but then turned into mass murderers during
the war? Could simple obedience really be the difference
between genocide and peaceful cohabitation? To help answer this question Milgram developed
an experiment at Yale University and put out an advertisement in the local newspaper asking
for male participants. Each participant would be paired with another
person- secretly an accomplice of Milgram’s that was pretending to be just another normal
participant. The real participant would take on the role
of teacher, and the accomplice would take on the role of learner, although to mask the
deception lots were drawn to determine roles. Naturally the draw was always fixed to ensure
the accomplice was the learner. In all the experiment drew in forty males
aged between twenty and fifty, and who’s jobs ranged from unskilled to professional. The wide variety of test subjects would prove
vital in determining if there was a difference in age or profession as far as obedience to
authority was concerned. As the experiment began, the learner would
be taken to a separate room and have electrodes strapped to their body, with a thin wall separating
the accomplice learner from the teacher who was seated directly on the other side of it. The learner was then given a list of word
pairs to learn, and the teacher was asked to test the learner by naming a word and asking
the learner to recall its partner from a list of four choices. The learner, as an accomplice, purposefully
picked the wrong word most of the time, which prompted the experimenter to deliver an electric
shock every time that the learner made a mistake. Each time that a shock was delivered though,
the voltage was increased so that the next shock would be more painful. The punishment shocks began at 15 volts- or
a particularly strong static shock- to 450 volts- a voltage lethal enough to kill if
its path were to cross the heart. As the experiment continued, the learner would
keep giving wrong answers, and the teacher was prompted to deliver a fresh shock. On the other side of a wall from the learner,
all the teacher heard was the shouts of pain from the learner, and as the shocks grew in
intensity the learner would begin to plead to please not be shocked again, or to be let
go from the experiment. The worse the shocks got, the more pleading
and begging, and the louder the screams of pain became. When the teacher started balking at delivering
another shock, they would be given exactly four prods to continue the experiment, the
first being: Please continue. If the teacher still refused, then they would
be told: the experiment requires you to continue. If that was still not enough, then they would
be told: it is absolutely essential that you continue. Finally, if that didn’t work then they would
be told: you have no other choice but to continue. After the fourth prodding if the teacher refused
to keep going then they would not be asked again and the experiment would end. Each response was carefully crafted to slowly
increase the level of authority projected onto the participant, until at last making
that authority absolute. It’s important to note that the participants
were not restrained or under any legal obligation to continue the experiment, and could have
quit at any time. The results of the experiment were shocking-
pun fully intended. Of the forty individuals who took part, a
full two thirds of them continued the experiment to the highest power level- 450 volts. This is despite the learner on the other side
of the wall begging for the experiment to stop, crying and sobbing, and screaming in
agony. The other third refused to continue the experiment,
though they all made it at least three fourths of the way through, hitting at minimum 300
volts. Milgram’s experiment discovered something
truly terrifying about humanity. As he said himself, “Stark authority was
pitted against the participant’s strongest moral imperatives against hurting others,
and, with the participant’s ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won
more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to
almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study
and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.” Milgram would go on to explain the behavior
exhibited in his experiment, and at Nazi death camps across Europe, by suggesting that every
day people have two distinct states of behavior when in social situations. The autonomous state is where people direct
their own actions and take responsibility for those actions. The agentic state is when people allow others
to direct their actions, and then pass off the consequences of those actions to the person
giving the orders. They are happy to act as agents of the other’s
will, but don’t believe that they themselves bear the responsibility for the consequences. Known as the Agent Theory, Milgram suggested
that in order for a person to enter the agentic state two things must be in place: the person
giving the orders must be perceived as being qualified to direct other people’s behavior. In other words, the person giving orders must
be a valid form of authority, and the person being ordered must be able to believe that
the authority giving the orders will end up accepting responsibility for what happens. The second point was brought to light as the
experiment progressed to higher and higher shocks. Here, some participants were told that they
had responsibility for their own actions- meaning that any harm they were doing to the
other individual, and the consequence of that harm, would be on their own heads. These individuals showed the highest rate
of refusal to continue the experiment, with very few continuing to obey. Others were told that the responsibility for
any harm being done to the other individual would fall directly on the organizers of the
experiment, and of these participants they showed the highest willingness to continue
obeying. Some who balked at continuing even changed
their mind and went on after being told they wouldn’t be responsible for what happened. Milgram would go on to conduct the experiment
again in 18 studies with a variety of different factors in each. In one experiment the experimenter- or the
individual ordering the electric shocks- would wear a gray lab coat, a symbol of authority
and kind of uniform. Then the experimenter would be called out
of the room because of a phone call right as the experiment began, and he would be replaced
by another individual dressed as an ordinary member of the public. In this experiment obedience level dropped
from over 65% to just 20%. In another variation, Milgram changed the
location of the experiment to a set of run down offices instead of the very impressive
and prestigious Yale University. Here, despite the experiment remaining exactly
the same as in Yale, obedience dropped to 47.5%. This suggested that the environment, or the
status of the location also affects obedience- leading credence to the theory that authority
is perceived more than it is learned. In a third variation the participants could
tell an assistant, who was also in on the experiment, to do the shocking for them, rather
than doing it themselves. Incredibly this changed obedience rate to
a whopping 92.5%, proving that as there’s less personal responsibility, obedience to
authority- even if immoral- increases exponentially. In a fourth variation the participant had
to physically force the learner’s hand down onto a shock plate once the learner began
to refuse to take part after reaching 150 volts. Not surprisingly this plummeted obedience
to just 30%, proving that when the participant was not buffered or protected from seeing
the consequence of their actions, many would not choose to continue obeying. In a fifth variation the participant was joined
by two other teachers- who were also in on the experiment. One of the fake teachers would refuse to participate
at 150 volts, and the second would choose to stop at 210 volts. When the real participant saw others disobeying
an authority figure, obedience dropped to just 10%. In a sixth variation the experimenter was
not physically in the room with the participant, and instead relayed his instructions via telephone. When the experimenter instructed the participant
to deliver an electric shock but the participant was not physically in the room with the authority
figure, obedience rate fell to 20.5%. Interestingly, when not directly observed,
many of the participants actually cheated and purposefully missed giving electric shocks
or gave far less voltage than they had been ordered to. This proves that proximity to an authority
figure affects obedience. While Milgram’s study revealed a shocking
disposition to obey authority, even when immoral, there was hefty criticism aimed at it by other
psychologists. One set of criticism alleged that the participants
may not have fully believed the experimental set-up, and did not believe the learner was
actually receiving electric shocks. There are also problems with the sample group
used, as all of the participants were male, which begs the question if females would act
differently. Future studies involving females would disprove
the notion that there is any major difference in obedience to authority between men and
women. However another critical flaw in the study
is that the entire sample population was self-selected- or in other words they had volunteered themselves
for the study. This may point to them having more of a ‘volunteer
personality’ which might directly affect how they react to authority figures overseeing
their behavior in a study that they themselves wanted to be a part of. The Milgram study has been plagued with controversy
almost since its inception, yet seeing the pattern of genocide and mass atrocities committed
by both soldiers and every day men and women across history, there can’t be any denying
the underlying finding: we humans are disturbingly prone to obeying even immoral authority, as
long as we can plausibly shift the blame from ourselves to an authority figure. It’s ok if you round up all the Jews in your
city and march them to a concentration camp, because in truth it’s not really you doing
it, but the system that you’re just a small part of. Even the guilt of mass murder can be easily
discarded, or rather shifted from the self to those giving the orders. Perhaps then the legal defense offered by
thousands of Nazis that they were just following orders should have been a valid one after
all, and we can’t help but wonder just how much of a push do we ourselves need to turn
from law-abiding citizen, to a facilitator of mass murder? Would you have obeyed orders to shock an innocent
person? Why or why not? Also. make sure you check out our other video, would
you survive the stanford prison experiment! And as always if you enjoyed this video don’t
forget to Like, Share, and Subscribe- because we told you to! Do it!

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