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Just Following Orders: It Is Shockingly Easy to Get People to Do Bad Things

In the early 1960s, social psychologist Stanley Milgram shocked the world when he presented the results of his experiments on obedience to authority. Here’s the history of his research, newer findings, and what it all means for us.

Controlling the Herd

Just Following Orders: It Is Shockingly Easy to Get People to Do Bad Things


The essence in obedience consists in the fact that a person comes to view himself as an instrument for carrying out another person’s wishes and he therefore no longer regards himself as responsible for his actions. – Stanley Milgram

Imagine this scenario: you sign up to participate in a scientific study on memory and learning at a major university.

Your role is that of “Teacher,” and an “Experimenter” in a lab coat introduces you to your “Learner.”

You are then placed in front of an electric shock generator. Your Learner is seated in an adjacent room, where he is hooked up to electrodes. You can hear your Learner, but you cannot see him.

The Experimenter instructs you to provide your Learner with a series of word pairs. You are to test the Learner by naming a word and asking him to recall its partner/pair from a list of four possible choices.

If and when your Learner answers incorrectly, you are to administer a remote-controlled electric shock. The severity of the shocks increase with each subsequent wrong answer.

Your Learner answers the first few questions correctly, but then begins to falter. As he continues to provide incorrect answers, you are instructed to administer shocks of increasing  intensity. The Learner begins to object to the jolts and shouts out in pain.

The Experimenter orders you to continue with the test and shocks and assures you that while the shocks may be painful, the Learner will suffer no permanent tissue damage.

Would you continue, or would you stop the experiment?


That is the question the late social psychologist Stanley Milgram set out to answer when he conducted the experiment described above.

His findings were surprising and disturbing: the tendency to obey authority figures is strong, no matter how harmful their orders are.

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Contributed by Jake’s Health Solutions of Jake’s Health Solutions.


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