Obedience studies revisited

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The obedience studies of Stanley Milgram have long been the topic of discussion among psychologists, perhaps even more today in light of the events at Abu Ghraib prison. For those of you that need reminding the obedience studies, which were conducted in the early 1960’s, tested the behavior of hundred’s of average individuals when being asked to deliver a shock that they believed to be real and increasingly painful to test subjects as a part of what they thought was a “learning experiment.” A couple of new studies, one which will be published in the July issue of the journal Perspectives of Psychological Science and the other which is scheduled to be released soon, bring out more detail on the concepts underlying the obedience studies. The following is an excerpt of an article from the New York Times that discusses these studies:

In one, a statistical analysis to appear in the July issue of the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, a postdoctoral student at Ohio State University verifies a crucial turning point in Milgram’s experiments, the voltage level at which participants were most likely to disobey the experimenter and quit delivering shocks.

The participants usually began with what they thought were 15-volt shocks, and worked upward in 15-volt increments, as the experimenter instructed. At 75 volts, the “learner” in the next room began grunting in apparent pain. At 150 volts he cried out: “Stop, let me out! I don’t want to do this anymore.”

At that point about a third of the participants refused to continue, found Dominic Packer, author of the new paper. “The previous expressions of pain were insufficient,” Dr. Packer said. But at 150 volts, he continued, those who disobeyed decided that the learner’s right to stop trumped the experimenter’s right to continue. Before the end of the experiments, at 450 volts, an additional 10 to 15 percent had dropped out.

Click here to read the rest of this article from the New York Times

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