The Stanley Milgram Example

I guess my first blog will be about blogs. How original! I must be feeling somewhat ironic since it is originality I seek.

It seems odd to me that someone who would go to the trouble of writing about a specific subject would have nothing new to say. Just a regurgitation of the same slant. Very rarely do I encounter original slant on an old topic. Or a new topic, for that matter.

I always kind of knew that this was the case. That people don't really do much deep thinking. But it was only when I was trying to improve my Japanese that I was struck by this: people don't even do shallow thinking. The views they provide are the same as what everyone else provides.

For my little Japanese Self-Improvement regime, I wanted to focus on a specific subject that I thought would have a lot written about it AND contain many different opinions, thoughts, new takes, etc. Thus, I could get the basic structure. Know at least some of what was written in Japanese. But also have enough differences to keep me on my toes. I did a lot of "translate page to Japanese" stuff. Anyway, my topic was the Stanley Milgrim Experiment. You know, the experiment. The one that basically showed that people will do just about anything if there told to do so by some authority figure. Yes, the electric shock one. And what made it seem an excellent choice was it had steps. Incremental electric shock therapy for my kanji.

But I get easily distracted. First off, I was surprised it took place in the early 60s. I'd had always thought it was much earlier. The experiment, in my imagination, it is definitely in the black and white category. Maybe the late forties. Ya know, so we could rationalize much of the behavior of the German people during the war.

I'm something of a contrarian so I was somewhat surprised to find that I had no issue with the way the experiment was run. Especially since Stanley had a mere 50 or so subjects for his experiment. All he did was run a simple ad in one of the local newspapers. Obviously, people who read want ads in newspapers and are willing to invest their energies for what is promised to be only one day's pay may skew the population sample. I mean, who knows. And maybe that newspaper had a skewed readership to begin with. I don't know. Either way, I do know that the whole thing was hardly conclusive. Only some 60 percent of the these job seekers actually followed Milgram to the bitter end.

It's odd, but know I'm sort of fixated on those subjects. I mean readers who don't mind a little temp work from time. But some of them were school teachers. So it must have taken place in the summer, no? But there was also a shrink there as well. He must not have had any appointments that day. I don't know. It just seems odd that you can find people who would go to all sorts of trouble - and radically change their daily route all for a day's pay. It impresses me more than it depresses me. They must be the highly industrious type. Maybe they are more clever than the average folk and some of these subjects were on to the gag from the start - at least, the 30 plus percent. It's quite possible. That maybe a person who can sniff out a easy gig for decent money - and be content with the time-limitation - are a bit more sophisticated about things in this world. AND/OR a little more naïve and prone to follow orders with scarcely a complaint made.

But, in the end, I think it was reasonableness of Stanley that made me appreciate his little experiment. It was actually quite appropriate to have such a small sample. I mean, he didn't want to make it some sort of grand discovery. You could read about this experiment and still take it with a grain of salt. That is, until the experiment was rerun by other experimenters. Plus, I actually DO think Stanley was surprised and even DISAPPOINTED at the result. (He claimed that he was surprised.)

First, Stanley or one of his henchmen - with a sexy nurse by their side, of course - would zap the temp worker so that the person who was about to start doing the zapping got a taste of what they were going to be dishing out. Then, they had them sit in front of this daunting and twisted looking machine with all these switches and such. Then the lab coat guy -seated in a chair behind him- would simply ask the guine-pig in the other room a question. It was a memory quiz. (The reasoning behind the experiment was to test what happens to memory adding the threat of punishment - like, to see if sticks better in the mind after being wrong and zapped. Interesting experiment, no? ) If the person gave a wrong answer, which was not always the case, of course, then the zap was to be administered. (Actually, I wonder...the man might have been read the correct answer and then zapped...Like when did the shock take place. I either have forgotten or it didn't go into such detail.

Anyway, the electric shock was increase by 15 volts. It started at 45 and ended at 480. Or something near there. But it was 30 steps. Imagine. Thirty times there was a choice. Thirty. That's a lot of chances to give someone to more than voice their concerns, but to take a stand. And what was that stand. Well, in accord with the experiment, if they (the authority figure) failed to get the subject to follow orders after three attempts, that was it. So it was not really much of a stand after all. How many of those subjects actually were hugely relieved when they heard that the experiment was over. A huge sigh of relief. Like, the person had himself been so mentally shocked at what he was doing that he needed to pause to catch his breath. Catching his breath to continue...but the guy in the white lab coat stopped it. Just sitting there, stone cold quiet and not moving was enough. This, you'd think would happen to everyone if there is a man pleading for his life. Pleading to simply stop shocking him! .

And of course, there were no threats. The authority figure merely had to voice disappointment for the majority who continued to the end. Some didn't even need to be scolded. They just did what they were told. No complaints.

Here is a thought I had. Above and beyond my other thoughts. My claim that Milgram was possibly disappointed with the result is based on the number of steps. 30. 30, if you have taken a statistics class probably know, is considered something of a "magic number". With that number you should have a good idea if there is some sort of pattern underlying the data. In other words, by that time you should have a pretty good looking "bell-curve". One that can give pretty good stats such as standard deviation. Yes, the samples were the people who responded to the ad - or rather the number of times the experiment run. True. But I think he liked the idea of having small increments to get a really nice and solid statistical model. The place on that 30 steps where people cried uncle and pleaded for their lives for a days pay

Actually. I'd actually like to go back to the experiment and see where the subject supposedly being zapped would make a personal and desperate appeal to the subject directly. Maybe that was where Stanley had wanted most people to stop. But they didn't. At least the majority. And you can't make any sense out of that ---- as a human and a statistician.

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