Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Milgram Experiment and Human Nature: Nothing New Under the Sun

Stanley Milgram wrote these words about his famous "shock" experiment:

"This is, perhaps, the most fundamental lesson of our study: ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work became patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority."

Milgram conducted his experiment back in the 1960s. He found that at least 60% of those participating as subjects of the experiment were willing to shock people (administering up to 450 volts), if they could be persuaded that the experimenter (the one conducting the experiment) would take full responsibility for what happened to those who were purportedly being shocked.

Milgram's work was undertaken some 40 years ago. I wonder how most people would respond if they participated in similar experiments today. Would 60-85% of people living in our time be willing to shock their fellow humans if an authority figure commanded them to carry out the action? Certain secular studies have asserted that the human race is getting better in terms of social values, moral practices and aggressive tendencies (e.g., Stephen Pinker). I wonder if a new Milgram study would refute or support these claims. My guess based on the Bible, scientific studies, and personal experience is that "nothing don't change much." Or as Qoheleth said in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

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