Milgram (1963) claimed that destructive obedience is not a consequence of moral weakness or an evil character; rather it is a response to a particular set of situational factors. Evaluate this statement.
In order to evaluate this statement it is important to first understand what Milgram meant. This essay will first consider what is meant by destructive obedience and briefly look at Milgram’s work. It will then look at what is inferred by situational factors, focusing on conformity, socialisation, obedience to authority and group dynamics and what Milgram termed the agentic state. The essay will consider the work of Asch and Zimbardo to cross reference and build on Milgram’s work. In conclusion it will evaluate the statement and why Milgram’s work and statement has been disregarded by other social psychologists.
Stanley Milgram was a social psychologist who after critiquing Asch’s work (1951) into conformity, researched what made a person obey. His work was inspired by the trial of Adolf Eichmann; a Nazi official charged with planning and instigating Hitler’s Final Solution. Milgram’s research aimed to answer why a person may act in this way, whether it was inherent evil or if it was simply obedience to authority. His work investigated under what circumstances ordinary people would act on instructions which would potentially harm others (Hogg and Vaughan 2010). In this situation destructive obedience can be seen as the instance when the outcome of obedience has the potential to harm others.
Milgram’s experiment created a test situation whereby a person would act as a teacher and question a pupil on word association, for every wrong answer given the teacher would administer a level of electric shock. The level of shock was clearly labelled as such and increased for each wrong answer given: