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The Perils Of Obedience Essay

Philip Zimbardo and Stanley Milgram conducted controversial experiments that had to deal with obedience. Zimbardo conducted an experiment in a mock prison that showed the roles of the guards and prisoners. Milgram conducted an experiment that tested how much pain a teacher would inflict on someone else at the command of an experimenter. The experiments that they conducted have been called wrong and unethical. Although the experiments vary from each other, they both changed the way the world looks at obedience and Authority. Zimbardo wrote the Article over “The Stanford Prison Experiment”.

He set up an experiment that would test how subjects conformed to roles they were given. He started the experiment by picking out subjects through the newspaper. Zimbardo got seventy-five males interested in completing the experiment. Then the subjects went through interviews to show that they were normal and average men. The college students had to be healthy, emotionally stable, law abiding, and mature. Then, Zimbardo selected twenty-one out of the seventy-five responses and divided them into prisoner and guard by the flip of a coin. Zimbardo had the police arrest the students to begin the experiment.

They were searched, fingerprinted, read their constitutional rights, and were isolated in a detention cell. Then, the prisoners were blindfolded and transferred to the Stanford County Prison, which was the basement of the school. They were stripped naked and searched again. Then, the prisoners were issued their uniforms, soap, and bedding. The warden of the experiment was Zimbardo himself. He told the prisoners that they could not function in the real world and the guards will help them learn their responsibilities as citizens. Zimbardo said their was sixteen rules the prisoners had to memorize.

The rules took the identity away from the prisoner’s because they had to call each other by their ID number. Also, the prisoners wore the same smocks and nylon caps, which made them indispensable to the viewers. The guards were supposed to do a count every shift. In the counts, the guards made all the prisoners line up. Then, the guards called on individual prisoners to recite specific rules. At the beginning of the experiment, the counts lasted ten minutes. Throughout the experiment, the counts lasted hours. The guards were bored and they amused them with these counts.

They really enjoyed the power they had to ridicule the prisoners. The focus of the experiment was on the guards just as much as it was on the prisoners. The guards were also deindividualized. They had identical uniforms, reflector sunglasses, billy clubs, whistles, and handcuffs. The guards received no training on how to be guards, but they were told they must maintain law and order. They also had room to improvise their tactics as guards. As the experiment went on, the guards became more aggressive and the prisoners became passive. The first day of the experiment went well. The second day came as a surprise to everyone.

The prisoners barricaded the cell doors with their beds, and ripped off their ID numbers. The guards then met force with force. They sprayed the prisoners with the fire extinguisher and broke back into the cells. Then, the guards put the leaders in solitary confinement. The guards created a privilege cell to put down any more unification between prisoners. They keep rotating prisoners in and out of different cells and the prisoners did not trust each other. The guards started to abuse their power. They made the prisoners obey petty and inconsistent rules. The guards made them laugh and smile on command.

Also, the prisoners had to humiliate each other in front of everyone. The first prisoner was sent home in the first thirty-six hours because he was very depressed and crying uncontrollably. Then, the next three days a prisoner was sent home for the same reasons. The value of this experiment was how healthy young men can be transformed to such a degree in less than a week. Their actions can not be traced to personality differences because of the selection process the subjects went through. The guards said they learn how to deal with problem in a more moral way from this experiment.

Now they can handle situation better moving forward with their life This experiment conducted by Zimbardo, showed the world a new side of obedience and authority they had not seen before. In less than a week, an average college student turned into a abusive prison guard. No one could have imagined the results of the experiment. A guard said “I didn’t believe it was me doing it” (Zimbardo 631). That showed the people of the world that anybody can conform to a role and become destructive. The other side of this experiment showed what happened to oppressed.

The prisoners tried to rebel at the beginning, but the guards shut it down. So the prisoners just became fully obedient to the guards. The prisoners were very obedient and they even laughed and quit laughing at the command of the guard. The prisoners became more passive as the experiment went on. For example, in the Middle Ages, the lords had full control over the peasant and serf population. The serfs did not rebel out of fear and did whatever the lords told them too. The lord is like the guard and the serfs are like the prisoners, where there is full obedience from the serfs to the lord.

The Perils of Obedience” was written by Stanley Milgram and it talks about the experiment he performed and the results. His article was first published in 1974. The experiment was design to see how much pain a person would inflict on another person at the command of the experimenter. For the experiment, they selected an ordinary person as the teacher and an actor as the learner. The experimenter explained to the teacher that they were studying the effects of learning with punishment. The learner was then put into an electric chair. The teacher was given a list that had word pairs on it.

The teacher was supposed to read the first word and the learner was supposed to recall the second word. When the learner got the word incorrect, he was shocked with increasing intensity. The real focus of the experiment was the teacher and the learner was an actor who never received any shocks. The teacher sat in front of a shock generator, which had thirty switches on it. The switches were labeled 15-450 volts. There were subcategories labeled on the switches and it went from “Slight Shock” to “Dangerous: Severe Shock”. (Milgram 579-581) The machine looked very authentic with working lights and gauges.

To show the teacher that the machine worked, the teacher was shocked with forty-five volts. The learner has different responses at different voltages, at seventy-five volts, he grunts, at 120 volts, he grunts loudly, at 150 volts, he demands to be released from the experiment. The responses become more and more emotional and at 285 volts, it is just an agonizing scream. Then, the learner quits responding after the 285 volt shock.

For the experiment to stop, the teachers have to make a clear break that they do not want to continue. The experimenter stopped the experiment once the teacher shock the learner with 450 volts, three times. Milgram 579-581) One man in the experiment expressed his emotions through uncontrollable laughter. He tried to hide his laughter from the experimenter, but he could not. The man was very relaxed during his interview and said he was interested in science, so he went through the entire experiment. He explained he did not usually behave like this and he was appalled about how obedient he was.

The man said he did not like the fact that he had no power to help the learner, so he expressed weird emotions. On a positive note, he said he learned to deal with situations in the future, more effectively. Milgram 585-586) Milgram asked many people from all types of backgrounds to predict an outcome of this experiment. The polls said most of the subjects would not go over 150 volts. Also, the people predicted that only 4 percent of the subjects would go over 300 volts and “that only a pathological fringe of one in a thousand would administer the highest shock on the board”(Milgram 582). The first test had forty subjects involved, in which twenty-five teachers went all the way to 450 volts. Some of the teachers were very calm and relaxed and some were very tense and upset at the end of the experiment.

There have been many variations of this experiment subsequent to the initial test. For example, in one variation the teacher was free to choose the shock level, and thirty-eight of the forty subjects did not go above 150 volts. Another example was when the experimenter gave the instructions by telephone. Only one-third of the subjects were obedient in that version of the experime The subjects found it easier to disobey when they were not faceto-face with the experimenter. Thirty percent of the subjects were obedient to the end of the experiment when they had to physically push the learner’s hand on the electrodes.

Milgram 587-588) The weakness of the article that Milgram wrote are that he never had a theory when he began his experiment. That makes it difficult to design an experiment that show the results they want without any variables getting in the way. Also, it is hard to focus on one part of the experiment to learn from because a changing variable may get into the way. Having no theory also makes it difficult to pinpoint what is making the subjects act the way they are. The strengths of the article are his results are shocking. Two-Thirds of the subjects went all the way to the end and gave the 450 volt shock, three times.

Milgram caused something extraordinary to occur but did not know what to do with. He added lots of detail on how the teachers reacted and how the subject could not control their laughter. The weird way the subjects expressed their emotions made his finding that much more shocking. After these experiments were conducted, it gave the world a new view on obedience that they have never had before. For example, Milgram’s experiment could have possibly gave a part of an explanation for why the holocaust happened. The teacher was inflicting pain on the learner just like Eichmann did on a larger scale when he was in charge of the death camps.

After these experiments, the new question is were they evil people or just following orders? The experiment that Zimbardo conducted showed the world that humans can be destructive when they are given positions of authority. This also could be another explanation of why the Holocaust occurred. The people put in authority may have abused their power because they could. A guard in Zimbardo’s experiment said “I practically considered the prisoners cattle” (Zimbardo 625). This man was given a position of authority and he automatically started looking down upon the people under him.

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