Authority and Obedience: The Milgram Experiment

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In common parlance, the word obedience is only really used in relation to dogs and children, but in real terms, the interplay between authority and obedience is a part of our everyday lives. At its most mundane, that interplay is realized every time our boss asks us to perform a task. At its most extreme, it can make soldiers carry out orders that they know are morally wrong, or lead hundreds of people to commit suicide because... well, they were told to.

The Milgram Experiment, Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram’s greatest work, sought to draw conclusions regarding how obedience of authority figures plays out socially, prompted in part by the 1961 trial of the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. Milgram sought to determine whether Eichmann and those like him could have committed the atrocities that they did simply because they were told to. The results were revelatory, controversial, and worrying.

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