When Good People Do Bad Things
Is it possible for a good person to turn evil? Do you think you have an inner demon that could be triggered to make you rob a bank, steal from a neighbor or torture another human being?
The Milgram Experiments
Stanley Milgram's classic experiments on Obedience to Authority, begun in 1962 at Yale University and involved more than 1,000 participants, adults ages 20 to 50 from New Haven and Bridgeport, Connecticut. This research included 19 separate experiments (that each varied one aspect of the social situation) leading to the conclusion: Human behavior is often under the influence of external forces in the social context rather than simply a product of one's personality.
A recent summary of these experiments that challenged our view of the nature of human nature is found in the book, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View with a foreward by Philip Zimbardo.
Participants were led to believe that they were to play the role of "teacher" in helping another participant, their "learner," improve memory by shocking errors they made in learning new material. Shocks were apparently delivered by pressing a switch on a large shock generator, starting with only 15 volts and increasing by 15-volt increments along the 30 shock switches " up to the maximum level of 450 volts. The learner-victim began to yell out in pain and to protest continuing in the study after the shock level reached into the 100-volt levels and beyond. The "Authority" in charge, wearing a lab coat, insisted that the teacher continue to the next shock levels, ignoring those complaints, since he (the experimenter-authority) would be responsible for whatever happened to the learner.