Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Milgram Goes to Poland and Shows Obedience Still Plays - Science

The Milgram Experiment wasn't much important to me during early stages of my education which were much more focused on the developmental aspects in Psychology via Piaget, etc.  The Milgram uses adult subjects and tests their willingness to inflict pain on someone the subject believes to be another subject in another room and concealed.  The result of the experiment was revelation of the astonishing willingness of subjects to do this.

If you're looking for an explanation of the death camp guard stereotype, join the party.  That's precisely what they try to understand and it's not just NAZIs but any willingness to inflict pain on another on order from an authority.

The modern version of the experiment was conducted it in Poland.  (Science Daily:  Conducting the Milgram experiment in Poland, psychologists show people still obey)

The title is direct, "Would you deliver an electric shock in 2015?" and the answer, according to the results of this replication study, is yes. Social psychologists from SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Poland replicated a modern version of the Milgram experiment and found results similar to studies conducted 50 years earlier.

- SD

There you see it is alive and well, unchanged from previous times.

"Our objective was to examine how high a level of obedience we would encounter among residents of Poland," write the authors. "It should be emphasized that tests in the Milgram paradigm have never been conducted in Central Europe. The unique history of the countries in the region made the issue of obedience towards authority seem exceptionally interesting to us."

- SD

I don't like how coy they're being about it.  The willingness to inflict pain is universal and not just NAZIs so I want to know why.

For those unfamiliar with the Milgram experiment, it tested people's willingness to deliverer electric shocks to another person when encouraged by an experimenter. While no shocks were actually delivered in any of the experiments, the participants believed them to be real. The Milgram experiments demonstrated that under certain conditions of pressure from authority, people are willing to carry out commands even when it may harm someone else.

"Upon learning about Milgram's experiments, a vast majority of people claim that 'I would never behave in such a manner,' says Tomasz Grzyb, a social psychologist involved in the research. "Our study has, yet again, illustrated the tremendous power of the situation the subjects are confronted with and how easily they can agree to things which they find unpleasant."

While ethical considerations prevented a full replication of the experiments, researchers created a similar set-up with lower "shock" levels to test the level of obedience of participants.

- SD

In the first version with American subjects, they not only knew they were inflicting pain but could hear the reaction to it which went up to extremes (seemingly) but the level of pain did not much deter the subject.  In that experiment, alone, they proved you don't need NAZIs for this behavior so I regret their allusion to them in the first part without a corresponding reference to the engagement with Americans in the experiment.

The researchers recruited 80 participants (40 men and 40 women), with an age range from 18 to 69, for the study. Participants had up to 10 buttons to press, each a higher "shock" level. The results show that the level of participants' obedience towards instructions is similarly high to that of the original Milgram studies.

They found that 90% of the people were willing to go to the highest level in the experiment. In terms of differences between peoples willingness to deliver shock to a man versus a woman, "It is worth remarking," write the authors, "that although the number of people refusing to carry out the commands of the experimenter was three times greater when the student [the person receiving the "shock"] was a woman, the small sample size does not allow us to draw strong conclusions."

In terms of how society has changed, Grzyb notes, "half a century after Milgram's original research into obedience to authority, a striking majority of subjects are still willing to electrocute a helpless individual."

- SD

We're not going to get the why of it but the confirmation of the existence of the effect is important.  However, I am deeply disappointed to see there is no emphasis on the universality of the behavior.  Any thinking it's limited to this group or not that one is not only misguided but, I believe, it's dangerous.

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