The Milgram Experiment: Obedience to Authority


Many people would obey any command and do anything if they find themselves in a situation where they feel forced or that they have no responsibility for their actions.

There are many famous experiments in the history of psychology that prove this claim.

One of these experiments is the experiment that Stanley Milgram performed at the university of Yale.

Hello, good day, this is an experiment regarding punishment and we would like to analyze the effect of punishment on memory.

In this experiment some participants become teachers and some others the pupils. Please pick one piece of paper out of the two within this container to see whether you are a teacher or a pupil.

Very well, you are a teacher right now, do me a favor and please sit behind this desk. There is an electrical shock device in front of you. The shocks have been distributed very specifically from 15 to 450 volts by 30 buttons. 

The first button creates 15 volts, the second button 30 volts, the third 45 volts all the way until the last button that creates 450 volts of electricity. The amount of shock produced is written under the voltages.

On the other side of the glass you see a man with his hands tied to a chair. He is your pupil. The end of the two wires coming out of the electro-shock machine, is connected to the two wrists of your pupil.

Your instructions are as such: You are the teacher. Here is a list of words. Read the meanings of the words for him and ask him the multiple-answer questions. Whenever he answered incorrectly give him a shock and increase it each round, meaning that the first wrong answer he gave give him 15 volts, the second 30 volts, the third time 45 volts and so on and so forth. I’m going to go sit behind my own desk. Please start.

The participant in the role of a teacher starts and reads the list of words and then asks his/her pupil, if the pupil answers wrong he/she gives him an electric shock and asks again, if he answers right it’s alright but if he answers wrong they increase the shock by one button.

Up to a shock of 300 volts there is no sound of protest from the student. He just answers the questions. When it gets to 300 volts he thrashes around and yells.

It is said in the article that not one of the participants quit giving the shocks until 300 volts, that means that all the participants gave their pupil at least 300 volts worth of shock.

At this point the participants go to the conductor of the experiment for help, because the pupil is protesting. The instructor uses a four stage method on them. At first he says: Please continue, if they are not convinced he says: It’s essential that you continue, if they still were not convinced he says: It is completely essential for you to continue the experiment and if they were still not convinced he says at the end: You have no other option you have to continue.

And after this stage when the person gives a higher level of shock, the pupil makes no noise and doesn’t react, meaning it is unknown whether he is alive, unconscious or dead.

The result of the experiment:

In actuality there was no shock and the device did not transfer any electrical current. The person receiving the electrical shock was part of the staff and was acting during the experiment, and when asked to pick a piece of paper to see if they are a teacher or student, they both had teacher written on them.

This information was told to the participants at the end of the experiment.

Stanley Milgram, the conductor of this experiment writes in his article:

Subjects have learned from childhood that it is a fundamental breach of moral conduct to hurt another person against his will. Yet, 26 subjects abandon this tenet in following the instructions of an authority who has no special powers to enforce his commands. To disobey would bring no material loss to the subject; no punishment would ensue. It is clear from the remarks and outward behavior of many participants that in punishing the victim they are often acting against their own values. Subjects often expressed deep disapproval of shocking a man in the face of his objections, and others denounced it as stupid and senseless. Yet the majority complied with the experimental commands.


Milgram, S. (1963), Behavioral Study of obedience.