A now-infamous 1961 study by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram showed how quickly ordinary people, when pressed by an authority figure, would wilfully torture others with powerful electric shocks. However, a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate student has re-examined Milgram’s records and, in a new study in the British Journal of Social Psychology, has suggested that Milgram’s analysis cloaked what really happened.
Milgram’s original analysis divided his subjects into just two categories: obedient or disobedient. But after reviewing detailed transcripts of 117 of the original sessions from Milgram’s study, Matthew Hollander discovered that many of the participants, even ones that complied to administering apparent torture, engaged in many and varied forms of resistance along the way.
“The majority did cave, and follow the experimenter’s orders,” Hollander said in a press release. “But a good number of people resisted, and I’ve found particular ways they did that, including ways of resisting that they share with the people who ultimately complied.”
Hollander found study subjects “resorting to silence and hesitation, groaning and sighing to display the effort it took to comply,” and stalling with “(typically uncomfortable) laughter.” Some people stalled by “talking to the recipient of the shocks and by addressing their concerns to the experimenter.” And many, even among the obedient, did at times stop and refuse to continue at least temporarily.
Hollander suggested Milgram had painted a picture that lacked “nuance,” and these findings could be used to help understand how to strengthen methods of resistance to authority in people.
(Abstract) The repertoire of resistance: Non-compliance with directives in Milgram’s ‘obedience’ experiments (Hollander, M. British Journal of Social Psychology. Published online early January 9, 2015. DOI: 10.1111/bjso.12099)