Studying the Dark side of Nice People: The Milgram Experiment
Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted the “Milgram experiment” in the 1960s. The experiments began three months after German Nazi criminal, Adolf Eichmann stood on trial in Jerusalem to answer for his active participation in the Holocaust. This experiment measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to conduct acts that conflict with their human conscience.
The experiment constituted of three individuals:
- Teacher: The subjects of the experiment
- Learner: The confederate of the experimenter
- Experimenter: The authority figure
The teacher and the learner were led to believe that he is taking part in a study on memory and learning. But in reality, the subject of the study was obedience to authority. Participants were led to believe that they would administer electric shocks when the learner answers a question incorrectly. In case the learner gets a question wrong, they administer a mild 15v electric shock. However, the shocks weren’t real; the learner was just an actor simulating being electrocuted. The study further attempted to gradually increase these fake electric shocks when the learner gives more incorrect answers. The experimenter in the lab coat also told the participants to make sure that the learner would not escape in order to ensure his authority.
The learner began to make protests upon administering such high voltage shocks. The teacher was found to feel guilty for torturing them and doesn’t wish to shock the learner. In case the teacher desired to stop the experiment, the experimenter gave verbal prods that included:
- Please continue or please go on
- You have no choice, you must go on
- The experiment requires that you continue
- It is absolutely important that you continue
The study found that 65 percent of the experiment participants administered 450v shock. Subjects were uncomfortable in torturing the learners and displayed varying degrees of tension and stress. It was found that they continued with the experiment since an authority figure in a white coat told them to follow through.
Milgram first described his study in a 1963 article in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. Later he published his findings in Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View in 1974. The results were an eye-opener. It demonstrated that normal and nice people are conditioned to obey authority figures despite being reluctant.
The Truth about the Dark Side of Nice People
The fact that a complete stranger can administer electric shocks to a person is appalling. Nice people are often not as nice which is why the Nazis could march millions of innocent Jews to the gas chambers in Auschwitz, Dachau, Lublin, and other concentration camps. Nice people are just people who are obedient and secure. They are more likely to sacrifice their authenticity for authority. The dark side of nice people may be shocking. However, the key to being a “nice person” without the dark side is to actually identify the consequences of your actions and understanding your motives behind them