How Nasty Are We?

Ethical Problems - The Milgram Experiment

Have you ever heard of the Milgram shock experiment?

From 1961 to 1963 at Yale, Dr. Milgram experimented to see how far ordinary people would go to obey authority ( Participants were told they had to give electric shocks to a “learner” every time he gave a wrong answer, and to increase the intensity of the shock with each wrong answer. (It was all make-believe, but they didn’t know that.) The shocks went up to 375 volts (“severe”) to 450 (XXX).

65% of the “teachers” took the voltage all the way up to 450.

100% went as high as 300.

No one refused to administer electric shocks.

In one of the variations of the experiment, obedience to the “order” to administer shocks declined sharply when the “scientific authority” (actor in a lab coat) wasn’t present.

What does this tell us about ordinary people and perceived authority? Dr. Milgram said his purpose was to explore why the insane “orders” of Nazi war criminals were carried out by supposedly normal people.

It seems “ordinary people” are not as nice as they should be.

If we truly believed God’s authority was supreme over all others, then would we not refuse to harm others, despite “orders” to hurt them? Would tyrants have the power that they have, if no one would carry out their orders?

But I remember grade school, and the teacher saving herself work by having us grade each other’s spelling quizzes. Boy, do kids like to mark down other kids! And just give some child the “authority” to hand out detention to others, and see what happens. So the Milgram experiment held no surprises for me. Because I remember school.

3 comments on “How Nasty Are We?

  1. There’s been similar experiments; the Standford prison experiment, The Third Wave experiment. It seems people are capable of doing anything under the right circumstances.

  2. ‘Total depravity’. We have it within us to do the worst and the most terrible. It is God’s grace that holds the entire world back from turning into hell on earth.

Leave a Reply