Milgram, Stanley (experiments) 3035

explained that both men were about to take part
in a study that explored the effect of punish
ment on memory. One man would assume the
role of a teacher who would read a series of
word pairings (e.g., nice day, blue box), which
the other (the learner) was supposed to mem
orize. Subsequently, the teacher would read the
first word of the pair with the learner having to
select the correct second word from a list. Every
mistake by the learner would be punished with
an electric shock. It was further made clear that,
although the shocks would be painful, they
would not do any permanent harm.
Following this explanation, the experimen
ter assigned both men to the roles. Because
the procedure was rigged, the unsuspecting
research participant always was assigned to the
role of teacher. As first order of business, the
learner was seated in an armchair in an adjoin
ing room such that he would be separated
by a wall from the teacher, but would other
wise be able to hear him from the main room.
Electrodes were affixed to the learners arms,
who was subsequently strapped to the chair
apparently to make sure that improper move
ments would not endanger the success of the
In the main room, the teacher was told that he
would have to apply electric shocks every time
the learner made a mistake. For this purpose,
the learner was seated in front of an electric
generator with various dials. The experimenter
instructed the teacher to steadily increase the
voltage of the shock each time the learner made
a new mistake. The shock generator showed a
row of levers ranging from 15 volts on the left to
450 volts on the right, with each lever in
between delivering a shock 15 volts higher than
its neighbor on the left. Milgram labeled the
voltage level, left to right, from Slight Shock
to Danger: Severe Shock, with the last two
switches being marked XXX. The teacher
was told that he simply should work his way
from the left to the right without using any lever
twice. To give the teacher an idea of the electric
current he would deliver to the learner, he
received a sample shock of 45 volts, which most
research participants found surprisingly painful.
However, despite its appearance, in reality the
generator never emitted any electric shocks. It
was merely a device that allowed Milgram
to examine how far the teacher would go in
harming another person based on the experi
menters say so.
As learning trials started, the teacher applied
electric shocks to the learner. The learners
responses were scripted such that he apparently
made many mistakes, requiring the teacher to
increase shock levels by 15 volts with every new
mistake. As the strength of electric shocks
increased, occasional grunts and moans of pain
were heard from the learner. At 120 volts the
learner started complaining about the pain. At
150 volts, the learner demanded to be released
on account of a heart condition, and the protest
continued until the shocks reached 300 volts
and the learner started pounding on the wall.
At 315 volts the learner stopped responding
As the complaints by the learner started, the
teacher would often turn to the experimenter,
who was seated at a nearby desk, wondering
whether and how to proceed. The experimen
ter, instead of terminating the experiment,
replied with a scripted succession of prods:

Prod 1: Please continue.
Prod 2: The experiment requires that you
Prod 3: It is absolutely necessary to continue.
Prod 4: You have no other choice: you must
go on.

These prods were successful in coaxing
many teachers into continuing to apply electric
shocks even when the learner no longer
responded to the word memory questions.
Indeed, in the first of Milgrams experiments,
a stunning 65 percent of all participants con
tinued all the way to 450 volts, and not a single
participant refused to continue the shocks
before they reached the 300 volt level! The high
levels of compliance illustrate the powerful
effect of the social structure that participants
had entered. By accepting the role of teacher in
the experiment in exchange for the payment of
a nominal fee, participants had agreed to accept
the authority of the experimenter and carry
out his instructions. In other words, just as
Milgram suspected, the social forces of hierar
chy and obedience could push normal and well
adjusted individuals into harming others.
The overall level of obedience, however,
does not reveal the tremendous amount of