Sunday, April 18, 2021

Between conscience and obedience - inner struggle in Milgram experiments participants

Excerpts from:
  1. "Obedience to Authority", Stanley Milgram (book, Harper & Row 1974)
  2. "The Perils of Obedience", Stanley Milgram (article, Harper's Magazine, Issue December 1973)

The essence of obedience is that a person comes to view himself as the instrument for carrying out another person's wishes, and he therefore no longer regards himself as responsible for his actions. Once this critical shift of viewpoint has occurred, all of the essential features of obedience follow.

The most far-reaching consequence is that the person feels responsible to the authority directing him, but feels no responsibility for the content of the actions that the authority prescribes. Morality does not disappear - it acquires a radically different focus: the subordinate person feels shame or pride depending on how adequately he has performed the actions called for by authority.

  1. Bruno Batta, Welder
  2. Professor of Old Testament
  3. Jack Washington, Drill Press Operator
  4. Jan Rensaleer, Industrial Engineer
  5. Morris Braverman, Social Worker
  6. Fred Prozi, Unemployed
  7. Karen Dontz, Nurse
  8. Elinor Rosenblum, Housewife
  9. Gretchen Brandt, Medical Technician
  10. Pasqual Gino, Water Inspector


1. Bruno Batta, Welder 

Mr. Batta is a thirty-seven-year-old welder. He was born in New Haven, his parents in Italy. He has a rough-hewn face that conveys a conspicuous lack of alertness. His over-all appearance is somewhat brutish. An observer described him as a "crude mesomorph of obviously limited intelligence." But this is not fully adequate, for he relates to the experimenter with a submissive and deferential sweetness.

He has some difficulty in mastering the experimental procedure and needs to be corrected by the experimenter several times. He shows appreciation for the help and willingness to do what is required. The experiment is the Touch-Proximity variation. After the 150-volt level, Batta has to force the learner's hand down on the shock plate, since the learner himself refuses to touch it.

When the learner first complains, Mr. Batta pays no attention to him. His face remains impassive, as if to dissociate himself from the learner's disruptive behavior. When the experimenter instructs him to force the learner's hand down, he adopts a rigid mechanical procedure. He tests the generator switch. When it fails to function, he immediately forces the learner's hand onto the shock plate. All the while he maintains the same rigid mask. The learner, seated alongside him, begs him to stop, but with robotic impassivity, he continues the procedure. What is extraordinary is his apparent total indifference to the learner; he hardly takes cognizance of him as a human being. Meanwhile, he relates to the experimenter in a submissive and courteous fashion.

At the 330-volt level, the learner refuses not only to touch the shock plate but also to provide any answers. Annoyed, Batta turns to him, and chastises him: "You better answer and get it over with. We can't stay here all night." These are the only words he directs to the learner in the course of the hour. Never again does he speak to him. The scene is brutal and depressing: his hard, impassive face showing total indifference as he subdues the screaming learner and gives him shocks. He seems to derive no pleasure from the act itself, only quiet satisfaction at doing his job properly.

When he administers 450 volts, he turns to the experimenter and asks, "Where do we go from here, Professor?" His tone is deferential and expresses his willingness to be a cooperative subject, in contrast to the learner's obstinacy.

In the postexperimental interview, he gives a jumbled account of the experiment. The experimenter routinely asks him whether the experiment has any other purpose he can think of. He uses the question, without any particular logic, to denigrate the learner, stating, "Well, we have more or less a stubborn person (the learner). If he understood what this here was, he would' a went along without getting the punishment." In his view, the learner brought punishment on himself.

The experimenter asks whether he felt tense or nervous during the experiment. Again, he uses the question to express his feelings toward the learner. "The only time I got a little - I wouldn't say nervous - I got disgusted, is when he wouldn't cooperate." The experimenter has great difficulty in questioning the subject on the issue of responsibility. He does not seem to grasp the concept. The interviewer simplifies the question. Finally the subject assigns major responsibility to the experimenter: "I say your fault for the simple reason that I was paid for doing this. I had to follow orders. That's how I figured it."

Then, assigning all possibilities of initiative to the experimenter, he says, "Now you could have just as soon said, 'Now look, gimme the money back and we'll forget about this thing.' Then we could have made up our own minds." We note that while for many subjects offering to return the payment is regarded as an honorable means of withdrawing from the experiment, this subject can only conceive of the act if initiated by the authority. The experimenter rejoins, "But I told you the money was yours simply for coming, no matter what happened."

"That's right."

At the end of the session, he tells the experimenter how honored he has been to help him, and in a moment of contrition, remarks, "Sir, sorry it couldn't have been a full experiment."

He has done his honest best. It is only the deficient behavior of the learner that has denied the experimenter full satisfaction.

In a questionnaire returned by Mr. Batta several months later, he informs us that he followed the experimenter's instructions to the end, that he fully believed the learner was getting painful shocks, and that the experiment has not bothered him at all. He believes more experiments of this sort should be carried out, and he answers ,;yes" to our question of whether he has learned something of personal value. But he does not tell us what.


2. Professor of Old Testament

A somewhat gaunt, ascetic man, this subject could be taken for a New England minister. In fact, he teaches Old Testament liturgy at a major divinity school. In this Proximity condition, he adjusted his seat to look at the learner while administering shocks. While reading the word pairs, he employs exaggerated precision in his pronunciation, and seems curt and officious in saying, "Correct." Whenever the learner makes an error, he appears almost to be chastising him for his failing. Each time he administers a shock, his lips are drawn back, and he bares his teeth. An excessive fastidiousness characterizes all his actions. After administering 150 volts he balks at going further. The experimenter states that the learner's protests are to be disregarded, and the experiment must continue:

EXPERIMENTER: It's absolutely essential to the experiment that we continue.

SUBJECT: I understand that statement, but I don't understand why the experiment is placed above this person's life.

EXPERIMENTER: There is no permanent tissue damage.

SUBJECT: Well, that's your opinion. If he doesn't want to continue, I'm taking orders from him.

EXPERIMENTER: You have no other choice, sir, you must go on.

SUBJECT: If this were Russia maybe, but not in America.

(The experiment is terminated. )

In his discussion with the experimenter, the subject seems in no way intimidated by the experimenter's status but rather treats him as a dull technician who does not see the full implications of what he is doing. When the experimenter assures him of the safety of the shock generator, the subject, with some exasperation, brings up the question of the emotional rather than physiological effects on the learner.

SUBJECT (spontaneously): Surely you've considered the ethics of this thing. (extremely agitated) Here he doesn't want to go on, and you think that the experiment is more important? Have you examined him? Do you know what his physical state is? Say this man had a weak heart (quivering voice) .

EXPERIMENTER: We know the machine, sir.

SUBJECT: But you don't know the man you're experimenting on. That's very risky (gulping and tremulous). What about the fear that man had? It's impossible for you to determine what effect that has on him . . . the fear that he himself is generating. . . . But go ahead, you ask me questions; I'm not here to question you.

He limits his questioning, first because he asserts he does not have a right to question, but one feels that he considers the experimenter too rigid and limited a technician to engage in intelligent dialogue. One notes further his spontaneous mention of ethics, raised in a didactic manner and deriving from his professional position as teacher of religion. Finally, it is interesting that he initially justified his breaking off the experiment not by asserting disobedience but by asserting that he would then take orders from the victim.

Thus, he speaks of an equivalence between the experimenter's and the learner's orders and does not disobey so much as shifts the person from whom he will take orders.

After explaining the true purpose of the experiment, the experimenter asks, "What in your opinion is the most effective way of strengthening resistance to inhumane authority?"

The subject answers, "If one had as one's ultimate authority God, then it trivializes human authority."

Again, the answer for this man lies not in the repudiation of authority but in the substitution of good-that is, divine-authority for bad.


3. Jack Washington, Drill Press Operator

Jack Washington is a black subject, age thirty-five, who was born in South Carolina. He works as a drill press operator and stresses the fact that although he did not complete high school, he was not a dropout but was drafted into the army before he could get his diploma. He is a soft man, a bit heavy and balding, older-looking than his years. His pace is very slow and his manner impassive; his speech is tinged Southern and black accents.

When the victim's first protests are heard, he turns toward the experimenter, looks sadly at him, then continues reading the word pairs. The experimenter does not have to tell him to continue. Throughout the experiment he shows almost no emotion or bodily movement. He does what the experimenter tells him in a slow, steady pace that is set off sharply against the strident cries of the victim. Throughout, a sad, dejected expression shows on his face. He continues to the 450-volt level, asks the experimenter what he is to do at that point, administers two additional shocks on command, and is relieved of his task.

He explains in the interview that although he feels the shocks were extremely painful, he accepted the experimenter's word that they would cause no permanent damage. He reafirms this belief in a questionnaire answered almost a year after his participation. When asked about responsibility for the victim's suffering, he places the heaviest burden on the experimenter, then on the victim, and assigns the least to himself. Of the learner he says, "He agreed to it, and therefore must accept responsibility." The experimenter has "the biggest share of the responsibility. I merely went on. Because I was following orders . . . I was told to go on. And I did not get a cue to stop."

He becomes enmeshed in this formulation, which he repeats several times. He explains to the experimenter that if he had received a cue from the experimenter, he would have stopped, implying that he would behave in whatever manner the experimenter required. The only dereliction he can conceive of in the situation is that of not obeying the experimenter. ·

He explains in his slow, steady manner, "I know that up to a certain point a shock won't kill you. I had a shock to the point where I was almost knocked down . . . . My whole hand was numb. But it didn't kill me."

Thus, he indicates acceptance of the experimenter's statement that the shocks may be painful but are not dangerous. In all respects he expresses total faith in the experimenter and indeed accepts his authority more easily and with less inner conflict than many subjects.


4. Jan Rensaleer, Industrial Engineer

The subject is a thirty-two-year-old industrial engineer, sporting blond hair and a mustache. He is self-contained and speaks with a trace of a foreign accent. He is neatly dressed. In the interview he tells us that he emigrated from Holland after the Second World War and that he is a member of the Dutch Reformed Church. He is mild-mannered and intelligent.

When the victim complains at the 150-volt level, the subject turns to the experimenter and asks, "What do I do now?"

The experimenter tells him to continue.

The engineer presses his hand to his head and proceeds with the test. He glances more and more often at the experimenter. At 255 volts, he pushes the chair away from the shock generator and turns to the experimenter:

MR. RENSALEER: Oh, I can't continue this way; it's a voluntary program, if the man doesn't want to go on with it.

EXPERIMENTER : Please continue.

(A long pause.)

MR. RENSALEER: No, I can't continue. I'm sorry.

EXPERIMENTER: The experiment requires that you go on.

MR. RENSALEER: The man, he seems to be getting hurt.

EXPERIMENTER: There is no permanent tissue damage.

MR. RENSALEER: Yes, but I know what shocks do to you. I'm an electrical engineer, and I have had shocks . . . and you get real shook up by them-especially if you know the next one is coming. I'm sorry.

EXPERIMENTER : It is absolutely essential that you continue.

MR. RENSALEER: Well, I won't-not with the man screaming to get out.

EXPERIMENTER: You have no other choice.

MR. RENSALEER: I do have a choice. (Incredulous and indignant:) Why don't I have a choice? I came here on my own free will. I thought I could help in a research project. But if I have to hurt somebody to do that, or if I was in his place, too, I wouldn't stay there. I can't continue. I'm very sorry. I think I've gone too far already, probably.

When asked who was responsible for shocking the learner against his will, he said, "I would put it on myself entirely."

He refused to assign any responsibility to the learner or the experimenter.

"I should have stopped the first time he complained. I did want to stop at that time. I turned around and looked at you. I guess it's a matter of . . . authority, if you want to call it that: my being impressed by the thing, and going on although I didn't want to. Say, if you're serving in the army, and you have to do something you don't like to do, but your superior tells you to do it. That sort of thing, you know what I mean?

"One of the things I think is very cowardly is to try to shove the responsibility onto someone else. See, if I now turned around and said, 'It's your fault .. . it's not mine,' I would call that cowardly."

Although this subject defied the experimenter at 255 volts, he still feels responsible for administering any shocks beyond the victim's first protests. He is hard on himself and does not allow the structure of authority in which he is functioning to absolve him of any responsibility.

Mr. Rensaleer expressed surprise at the underestimation of obedience by the psychiatrists. He said that on the basis of his experience in Nazi-occupied Europe, he would predict a high level of compliance to orders. He suggests, "It would be interesting to conduct the same tests in Germany and other countries.

The experiment made a deep impression on the subject, so much so that a few days after his participation he wrote a long, careful letter to the staff, asking if he could work with us.

"Although I am . . . employed in engineering, I have become convinced that the social sciences and especially psychology, are much more important in today's world."


5. Morris Braverman, Social Worker

Morris Braverman is a thirty-nine-year-old social worker. He looks older than his years because of his bald pate and serious demeanor. His brow is furrowed, as if all the world's burdens were carried in his face. He appears intelligent and concerned. The impression he creates is that of enormous overcontrol, that of a repressed and serious man, whose finely modulated voice is not linked with his emotional life. He speaks impressively but with perceptible affectation. As the experiment proceeds, laughter intrudes into his performance. At first, it is a light snicker, then it becomes increasingly insistent and disruptive. The laughter seemed triggered by the learner's screams.

When the learner refuses to answer and the experimenter instructs him to treat the absence of an answer as equivalent to a wrong answer, he takes his instruction to heart.

Before administering 315 volts he asserts officiously to the victim, "Mr. Wallace, your silence has to be considered as a wrong answer." Then he administers the shock. He offers halfheartedly to change places with the learner, then asks the experimenter, "Do I have to follow these instructions literally?" He is satisfied with the experimenter's answer that he does. His very refined and authoritative manner of speaking is increasingly broken up by wheezing laughter.

The experimenter's notes on Mr. Braverman at the last few shocks are:

  • Almost breaking up now each time gives shock. Rubbing face to hide laughter.
  • Ratting eyes, trying to hide face with hand, still laughing.
  • Cannot control his laughter at this point no matter what he does.
  • Clenching fist pushing it onto table.

In the interview, Mr. Braverman summarizes the experiment with impressive fluency and intelligence. He feels the experiment may have been designed also to "test the effects on the teacher of being in an essentially sadistic role, as well as the reactions of a student to a learning situation that was authoritative, rigid, and punitive." When asked how painful the last few shocks administered to the learner were, he indicates that the most extreme category on the scale is not adequate (it read EXTREMELY PAINFUL) and places his mark at the extreme edge of the scale with an arrow carrying it beyond the scale.

It is almost impossible to convey the extremely relaxed, sedate quality of his conversation in the interview. In the most quiescent terms, he speaks about his extreme inner tension.

EXPERIMENTER: At what point were you most tense or nervous?

MR. BRAVERMAN: Well, when he first began to cry out in pain, and I realized this was hurting him. This got worse when he just blocked and refused to answer. There was I. I'm a nice person, I think, hurting somebody, and caught up in what seemed a mad situation . . . and in the interest of science, one goes through with it. At one point I had an impulse to just refuse to continue with this kind of a teaching situation.

EXPERIMENTER: At what point was this?

MR. BRAVERMAN: This was after a couple of successive refusals and silences. This is when I asked you a question as to whether I have a choice in my teaching method. At this point my impulse was to plead with. him, talk with him, encourage him, try to ally myself with his feelings, work at this so we could get this through together and I wouldn't have to hurt him.

When Mr. Braverman states that he considered "not going through with it," he does not mean that he considered disobeying but rather that he considered modifying the manner of teaching the victim.

When the interviewer brings up the general question of tension, Mr. Braverman spontaneously mentions his laughter.

"My reactions were awfully peculiar. I don't know if you were watching me, but my reactions were giggly, and trying to stifle laughter. This isn't the way I usually am. This was a sheer reaction to a totally impossible situation. And my reaction was to the situation of having to hurt somebody. And being totally helpless and caught up in a set of circumstances where I just couldn't deviate and I couldn't try to help. This is what got me."

A year after his participation in the experiment, he affirms in the questionnaire that he has definitely learned something of personal importance as a result of being in the experiment, adding: "What appalled me was that I could possess this capacity for obedience and compliance to a central idea, i.e. the value of a memory experiment even after it became clear that continued adherence to this value was at the expense of violation of another value, i.e. don't hurt someone else who is helpless and not hurting you. As my wife said, 'You can call yourself Eichmann.' I hope I can deal more effectively with any future conflicts of values I encounter." 


6. Fred Prozi, Unemployed

The subject is about fifty years old, dressed in a jacket but no tie; he has a good-natured, if slightly dissolute, appearance. He employs working-class grammar and strikes one as a rather ordinary fellow.

He begins the experiment calmly but becomes increasingly tense as the experiment proceeds. After administering the 180-volt shock, he pivots around in his chair and, shaking his head, addresses the experimenter in agitated tones:

SUBJECT: I can't stand it. I'm not going to kill that man in there. You hear him hollering?

EXPERIMENTER: As I told you before, the shocks may be painful, but—

SUBJECT: But he' s hollering. He can't stand it. What's going to happen to him?

EXPERIMENTER (his voice is patient, matter-of-fact): The experiment requires that you continue, Teacher.

SUBJECT: Aaah, but, unh, I'm not going to get that man sick in there . . . know what I mean?

EXPERIMENTER: Whether the learner likes it or not, we must go on, through all the word pairs.

SUBJECT: I refuse to take the responsibility. He's in there hollering!

EXPERIMENTER: It's absolutely essential that you continue, Teacher.

SUBJECT (indicating the unused questions): There's too many left here; I mean, Geez, if he gets them wrong, there's too many of them left. I mean who's going to take the responsibility if anything happens to that gentleman?

EXPERIMENTER: I'm responsible for anything that happens to him. Continue, please.

SUBJECT: All right. (Consults list of words) The next one's "Slowwalk, truck, dance, music." Answer, please. (A buzzing sound indicates the learner has signaled his answer.) Wrong. A hundred and ninetv-five volts. "Dance."

LEARNER (yelling): Let me out of here. My heart's bothering me!

(Teacher looks at experimenter.)

EXPERIMENTER: Continue, please.

LEARNER (screaming): Let me out of here, you have no right to keep me here. Let me out of here, let me out, my heart's bothering me. let me out! ( Subject shakes head, pats the table nervously.)

SUBJECT: You see, he's hollering. Hear that? Gee, I don't know.

EXPERIMENTER: The experiment requires ...

SUBJECT ( interrupting ): I know it does, sir, but I mean-hunh! He don't know what he's getting in for. He's up to 195 volts! ( Experiment continues, through 210 volts, 225 volts, 240 volts, 255 volts, 270 volts, at which point the teacher, with evident relief, runs out of word-pair questions.)

EXPERIMENTER: You'll have to go back to the beginning of that page and go through them again until he's learned them all correctly.

SUBJECT: Aw, no. I'm not going to kill that man. You mean I've got to keep going up with the scale? No sir. He's hollering in there. I'm not going to give him 450 volts.

EXPERIMENTER: The experiment requires that you go on.

SUBJECT: I know it docs, but that man is hollering in there, sir.

EXPERIMENTER (same matter-of-fact tone ): As I said before, although the shocks may be painful ...

SUBJECT ( interrupting): Awwww. He-he- he's yelling in there.

EXPERIMENTER: Start with "Blue,'' please, at the top of the page. Continue, please, Teacher. Just go ahead.

SUBJECT ( concentrating intently on list of words in front of him, as if to shut everything else out): "Blue-boy, girl, grass, hat." (Buzz indicates answer.) Correct. "Night-day, sky, job, chair." (Buzz) Wrong. The answer is "day." Two hundred and eighty-five volts.

LEARNER: Ohhuhhoohhh!

EXPERIMENTER: Continue, please.

SUBJECT: "Fat-man, lady, tub, neck." Answer, please. (Buzz) Wrong. The answer is "neck." Three hundred volts.

LEARNER: Ohhh. I absolutely refuse to answer . any more. (Shouting urgently, now) Let me out of here. You can't hold me here. Get me out. Get-me-out-of-here.

EXPERIMENTER: Continue. The next word is "Green," please.

SUBJECT: "Green-grass, hat, ink, apple." (Nothing happens. No answering buzz. Just gloomy silence.)

SUBJECT: I don't think he is going to answer.

EXPERIMENTER: If the learner doesn't answer in a reasonable time, about four or five seconds, consider the answer wrong. And follow the same procedures you have been doing for wrong answers. Say, "Wrong," tell him the number of volts, give him the punishment, read him the correct answer. Continue, please.

SUBJECT: "'Green-grass, hat, ink, apple." Answer, please. (More silence. Subject just sits there.)

EXPERIMENTER: Go on with the procedure, please, Teacher.

SUBJECT: Three hundred and fifteen volts. The answer is "ink."

LEARNER: Ohh. Ooohh.

SUBJECT (relieved to hear response) : Next one

LEARNER: I absolutely refuse to answer.

SUBJECT: You got to. You get a shock if you don't answer. (Experiment continues with learner refusing to answer, and, finally, failing even to grunt or groan. At 375 volts, the subject stands up.)

SUBJECT: I think something's happened to that fellow in there. I don't get no answer. He was hollering at less voltage. Can't you check in and see if he's all right, please?

EXPERIMENTER (with same detached calm): Not once we've started. Please continue, Teacher.

SUBJECT (sits down, sighs deeply): "Cool-day, shade, water, paint." Answer, please. Are you all right in there? Are you all right?

EXPERIMENTER: Please continue, Teacher. Continue, please. (Subject pushes lever.)

SUBJECT (swiveling around in liis chair): Something's happened to that man in there. (Swiveling back) Next one. "Low-dollar, necklace, moon, paint." (Turning around again) Something's happened to that man in there. You better check in on him, sir. He won't answer or nothing.

EXPERIMENTER: Continue. Go on, please.

SUBJECT: You accept all responsibility?

EXPERIMENTER: The responsibility is mine. Correct. Please go on. ( Sub;ect returns to his list, starts running through words as rapidly as he can read them, works through to 450 volts.)

SUBJECT: That's that.

EXPERIMENTER: Continue using the 450-volt switch for each wrong answer. Continue, please.

SUBJECT: But I don't get no anything!

EXPERIMENTER: Please continue. The next word is "white."

SUBJECT: Don't you think you should look in on him, please?

EXPERIMENTER: Not once we've started the experiment.

SUBJECT: But what if something has happened to the man?

EXPERIMENTER: The experiment requires that you continue. Go on, please.

SUBJECT: Don't the man's health mean anything?

EXPERIMENTER: Whether the learner likes it or not .

SUBJECT: What if he's dead in there? (Gestures toward the room with the electric chair.) I mean, he told me he can't stand the shock. sir. I don't mean to be rude, but I think you should look in on him: All you have to do is look in on him. All you have to do is look in the door. I don't get no answer, no noise. Something might have happened to the gentleman in there, sir.

EXPERIMENTER: We must continue. Go on, please.

SUBJECT: You mean keep giving him what? Four-hundred fifty volts, what he's got now?

EXPERIMENTER: That's correct. Continue. The next word is "white."

SUBJECT (now at a furious pace): "White-cloud, horse, rock, house." Answer, please. The answer is "horse." Four-hundred and fifty volts. (Administers shock.) Next word, "Bag-paint, music, clown, girl." The answer is "paint." Four-hundred and fifty volts. (Administers shock.) Next word is "Short-sentence, movie ... "

EXPERIMENTER: Excuse me, Teacher. We'll have to discontinue the experiment.

The subject's performance more or less speaks for itself, but we may note a few points. First, despite his numerous, agitated objections, his continuous and persistent dissent, he continues to administer the shocks as ordered by the experimenter. There is, thus, a dissociation between words and action. Second, by no stretch of the imagination can it be said that this man wants to  administer shocks to the learner. To the contrary, it was a painful act for him, one which came about because of his relationship to the experimenter. Third, we note that "responsibility" is an issue important to the subject, and it is only when the experimenter explicitly accepts responsibility that, after several seconds of hesitation, the subject is able to continue. Finally, the language employed by the participant is revealing. Despite the considerable tension of the situation, a tone of courtesy and deference is meticulously maintained. The subject's objections strike us as inordinately weak and inappropriate in view of the events in which he is immersed. He thinks he is killing someone, yet he uses the language of the tea table.


7. Karen Dontz, Nurse

Karen Dontz describes herself as a forty-year-old housewife who for the past six years has worked part time as a registered nurse. Her husband is a plumber. She is Catholic and her mother was born in Czechoslovakia. Mrs. Dontz has an unusually casual, slow-paced way of speaking, and her tone expresses constant humility; it is as if every assertion carries the emotional message: 'Tm just a very ordinary person, don't expect a lot from me." Physically, she resembles Shirley Booth in the film Come Back, Little Sheba.

Throughout the experiment she is nervous.

At 225 volts, she turns to the experimenter, stating in a highly tentative voice designed not to offend, "I hesitate to press these."

When he instructs her to follow the procedure, she does so without further comment. But before administering the 345-volt shock, she points to the label, DANGER on the shock generator.

The experimenter remarks that although the shocks are painful they cause no permanent tissue damage. She accepts the experimenter's comment saying, ''I'll continue, providing it's not dangerous." She sits on the edge of her seat, but her voice remains casual when reading the word pairs. When no sound is heard from the learner, she queries, "Do I go right to the end, sir? I hope there's nothing wrong with him there."

She begins to mumble to herself inaudibly. When the experimenter instructs her to continue using the 450-volt switch, she says in tones that are both concerned but exceedingly humble, "What if there's something wrong with the man, sir?"

But she proceeds.

In the interview she is very slow in her responses, and even after she is told that the learner received no shocks, she still considers the experiment to be one of the effect of punishment on learning. She emphasizes that she did what the experimenter told her to do and seems satisfied with her own compliance. She states she was nervous because she knows that 210 volts (sic) is household current and "most people can be electrocuted with that." She emphasizes she was more nervous here than in the hospital because "in the hospital I know what rights I have; here, I didn't know."

INTERVIEWER: Did you think of stopping at one time?

Mrs. Dontz (in a lackadaisical tone) : He said, "Go ahead." I did. I said to him, "I don't think I should go on any further." He said, "Go on with the experiment."

INTERVIEWER: Is there anything Mr. Wallace (the learner) could have said that would have caused you to stop the experiment?

Mrs. Dontz: I don't think so.

Mrs. Dontz points out that in a hospital nurses have a right to question a doctor's orders if they appear to be harmful to the patient.

"If I question the dose of a drug, I can ask the doctor three times: 'Is this the order you want? Is this the order you want? And, if he keeps on saying 'Go ahead,' and I know this is above the average dose, I may call his attention to the fact that it's too much. It's not that you are better than he is, but you can say, 'Did you want her to have so much, doctor,' and then you repeat it. Then you still have the right to bring the question up to the supervisor."

In the experiment, she "questioned" the voltage levels but was fully satisfied with the answers provided by the experimenter. Note that her most extreme response to the doctor's authority is to refer the issue to a supervisor. Moreover, it is clear that Mrs. Dontz is routinely reviewing a hospital rulebook procedure, rather than describing her personal inclinations.

INTERVIEWER: Have you ever had occasion to do that in the hospital?

Mrs. Dontz: Yes, I had.


Mrs. Dontz: No, very, very rarely. In fact, I've been working now the past six years. I think one time I just questioned the dosage.

INTERVIEWER: How did the screams sound to you? Did they sound real?

Mrs. Dontz: Oh, yes! I was really concerned with the man in there. Worried he had a heart attack. He said he had a bad heart. Yes, I know that's a possibility.

Mrs. Dontz is an unassuming person, of benign disposition, whose manner is that of a worn-out housewife. She does not argue. She carries out her hospital duties reliably and with a minimum of fuss. She possesses a soft manner from which her patients and the staff physicians benefit. Her relationship with authority is not problematical. For she has chosen to work in the nurturant environment of a hospital, in which there is congruence between her benign nature and the demands made on her by authority.

At the conclusion of the interview, Mrs. Dontz perks up, and inquires, "May I ask you, did any of the men go through and follow the 450 volts?"

The interviewer says he would be interested in her opinion on the matter. She replies, "No, I don't think men would comply."


8. Elinor Rosenblum, Housewife

Mrs. Rosenblum takes pleasure in describing her background: she graduated from the University of Wisconsin more than twenty years ago, and her husband, a film distributor, attended Dartmouth. She does volunteer work with juvenile delinquents once a week and has been active in the local Girl Scout organization and the PTA. She is fluent and garrulous and projects herself strongly, with many references to her social achievements. She displays a pleasant though excessively talkative charm.

At the beginning of the experiment she claims to know nothing about electricity and is wary of the sample shock. In carrying out her task, she attempts to project an image of competence and social grace but is soon swept up in the experimental conflict. She maintains a pretentiously correct, almost authoritative tone in reading the word pairs to the learner, which contrast with the weak, girlish comments she directs to the experimenter. She expresses increasing concern as she moves up the voltage scale. At 270 volts she signals the correct answer to the learner by emphasizing it vocally. While continuing to read the word pairs with a show of outward strength, she mutters in a tone of helplessness to the experimenter, "Must I go on? Oh, I'm worried about him. Are we going all the way up there (pointing to the higher end of the generator)? Can't we stop? I'm shaking. I'm shaking. Do I have to go up there?"

She regains her composure temporarily but then cannot prevent periodic outbursts of distress. She mutters to herself, 'Tm shaking here," yet her communication with the learner continues in the same officious tone. It is almost as if she were two women , one giving a competent public performance, and the other an inner, distressed woman unable to refrain from anxious utterances. She proceeds to the end of the board, administering the 450-volt shock three times. In the interview she says the shocks administered to the learner were extremely painful. When the experimenter asks her, "What is the highest shock you would be willing to take as a sample?" she replies indignantly, "Fifteen volts. I don't even think it's necessary. Fifteen, if I were to get any, and I wouldn't even want that. I don't think it's necessary."

INTERVIEWER : Were you tense or nervous?

Mrs. Rosenblum: Extremely.

INTERVIEWER: Do you remember when you were most tense or nervous?

Mrs. Rosenblum: When he started screaming, "Let me out of here." How can I inflict punishment on a person like that? I was shaking. I didn't even know what I was reading. I'm still shaking. I'm nervous because I was hurting him."

She was nervous not because the man was being hurt but because she was performing the action. Similarly, while administering shock, she asserts her own distress to be the main reason for terminating the experiment. A self-centered quality permeates her remarks.

She spontaneously offers the following account of her volunteer work, recounted with enormous zest:

Mrs. Rosenblum: I work at Farrel High School, with dropouts. They are all more or less leather-jacket guys. They're my boys. I'm trying to teach them to stay in school, and further their study ... but I don't do it with punishment, I do it with attention and with love. As a matter of fact, they regard it as a privilege at this point to go with me. Whereas at the beginning they just did it to get away from school and to have a cigarette. But they don't do it any more. I've gotten everything from them through love and kindness. But never through punishment.

INTERVIEWER: What do you teach them?

Mrs. Rosenblum: Well, first of all, I teach them manners. That's the first thing I had to do; teach them respect for people, respect for other people, respect for girls their age, respect for society. This is the first thing I had to do before I could teach them anything else. Then I could teach them to make something of themselves. and go after so-called luxuries. The importance she attaches to respect for society is not unrelated to her own submissive manner of relating to the experimenter. And a conventional outlook permeates her thinking. Her dialogue is filled with feminine references: I have gotten so much through love, and I have a wonderful daughter. She's fifteen, and she's National Honor Society: a bright girl. And a wonderful child. 'But all through love, not through punishment. Oh God, no! The worst thing you can do is ... with punishment. The only time punishment is good is with an infant.

INTERVIEWER: What did you think of the experiment?

Mrs. Rosenblum (She does not allow the question to change her former train of thought) : I don't believe you'll get anything from punishment; only with an infant where they have no mind. When my daughter was little I punished her for three things. As a matter of fact, I let her punish herself. I let her touch a hot stove. She burned herself and she never touched it again.

INTERVIEWER: Let me tell you a little about the experiment. First, Mr. Waliace did not receive any shocks.

Mrs. Rosenblum: You're kidding! He didn't get what I got. (She squeals) I can't believe this. You mean to say this was all in his mind!

EXPERIMENTER : Oh no, he is an employee of Yale, an actor.

Mrs. Rosenblum: Every time I pressed the button, I died. Did you see me shaking. I was just dying here to think that I was administering shocks to this poor man.

(The learner is brought in. She turns to him.)

Mrs. Rosenblum: You're an actor, boy. You're marvelous! Oh, my God, what he [the experimenter] did to me. I'm exhausted. I didn't want to go on with it. You don't know what I went through here. A person like me hurting you, my God. I didn't want to do it to you. Forgive me, please. I can't get over this. My face is beet red. I wouldn't hurt a fly. I'm working with boys, trying to teach them, and I'm getting such marvelous results, without punishment. I said to myself at the beginning, I don't feel you'll get anything by inflicting punishment.

We note, however, recalling how she allowed her daughter to touch the hot stove, that she is not against punishment per se but only against her active infliction of it. If it just "happens," it is acceptable.

She confides to the learner, "As a matter of fact I tried to push the switch down very lightly. Did you hear me stressing the word. I was hoping that you would hear me.

INTERVIEWER: Isn't this similar to what a nurse has to do, if a doctor instructs her to administer a needle?

Mrs. Rosenblum: I'm the most marvelous person in an emergency. I will do whatever has to be done regardless of who I hurt. And I don't shake. But I will do it without thinking. I won't even hesitate.

This more or less parallels her behavior in the laboratory.

Mrs. Rosenblum: I kept saying, "For what reason am I hurting this poor man?"

INTERVIEWER: Why did you go on?

Mrs. Rosenblum: It is an experiment. I'm here for a reason. So I had to do it. You said so. I didn't want to. I'm very interested in this . .. this whole project. May I ask you something? Do you have a moment? How do other people react?

EXPERIMENTER: How do you think?

Mrs. Rosenblum: Well, I tell you. The choice of me as a woman doing this . . . you certainly picked a pip. In my volunteer work, there aren't many women who will do what I do. . . . I'm unusual; I'm softhearted, I'm a softy. I don't know how I as a woman stand in relation to the other women; they're a little harder than I am. I don't think they care too much.

I was tempted so much to stop and to say: "Look I'm not going to do it anymore. Sorry. I'm not going to do it." I kept saying that to myself, "Sorry, I'm just not going to do it." Then he kept quiet. And I thought maybe he's in shock, because he said he had a heart condition. But I knew you wouldn't let anything happen to him. So I went on with it, much against my will. I was going through hell. . . . I don't think others would be as nervous as I. . . . I don't think they would care too much. With the way they are with their children I don't think they really care too much about other people.

She construes her expressions of tension purely as a sign of virtue: she was nervous because she cared about the victim. She insists on talking about herself. The experimenter listens patiently.

Mrs. Rosenblum: I sometimes say to myself, "Why don't you take a job as president of Woman's Assembly, and get acclaim, honor, newspapers, prestige enough to burn, instead of working with my leather-jacketed guys with absolutely no publicity?" Doing it once a week. This is the story of my life; I was a scout mother for five years. It ended with thirty girls in my troop and everyone begging to get into it. But I couldn't because there's a limit. I'm much relieved now. I'm one for science; this is what I wanted to study, anyway. I'm trying to get my daughter to go into it. I'm very glad I did this; see how relaxed I am now?

The interview was continued until Mrs. Rosenblum seemed sufficiently calm to be discharged from the laboratory.

Mrs. Rosenblum is a person whose psychic life lacks integration. She has not been able to find life purposes consistent with her needs for esteem and success. Her goals, thinking, and emotions are fragmented. She carried out her experimental role as teacher showing great outward conviction, while at the same time she displayed another side of herself to the experimenter, behaving meekly and submissively.

It is not surprising that she failed to mobilize the psychic resources needed to translate her compassion for the learner into the disobedient act. Her feelings, goals, and thoughts were too diverse and unintegrated.

All evidence indicates that at the time of her performance she believed the learner was being shocked. But it is not difficult for a woman of hysterical tendencies to adjust her thinking in a manner consistent with a positive self-image. In a questionnaire returned to us a few months later, she states that during the experiment her "mature and well-educated brain" had not believed the learner was getting shocks. Through a post-facto adjustment of thought, she protects her cherished - if unrealistic picture of her own nature.


9. Gretchen Brandt, Medical Technician

The subject is an attractive thirty-one-year-old medical technician who works at the University Medical School. She had emigrated from Germany five years before and speaks with a thick German accent.

On several occasions, when the learner complains, she turns to the experimenter coolly and inquires, "Shall I continue?" She promptly returns to her task when the experimenter asks her to do so. At the administration of 210 volts, she turns to the experimenter, remarking .firmly, "Well, I'm sorry, I don't think we should continue."

EXPERIMENTER: The experiment requires that you go on until he has learned all the word pairs correctly.

GRETCHEN: He has a heart condition, I'm sorry. He told you that before.

EXPERIMENTER: The shocks may be painful but they are not dangerous.

GRETCHEN: Well, I'm sorry, I think when shocks continue like this, they are dangerous. You ask him if he wants to get out. It's his free will.

EXPERIMENTER: It is absolutely essential that we continue ....

GRETCHEN: I like you to ask him. We came here of our free will. If he wants to continue I'll go ahead. He told you he had a heart condition. I'm sorry. I don't want to be responsible for anything happening to him. I wouldn't like it for me either.

EXPERIMENTER: You have no other choice.

GRETCHEN: I think we here are on our own free will. I don't want to be responsible if he has a heart condition if anything happens to him. Please understand that.

She refuses to go further and the experiment is terminated.

The woman is firm and resolute throughout. She indicates in the interview that she was in no way tense or nervous, and this corresponds to her controlled appearance throughout. She feels that the last shock she administered to the learner was extremely painful and reiterates that she "did not want to be responsible for any harm to him." She listens to the experimenter's explanation in an interested fashion, expresses surprise that the learner was not being shocked, and indicates she will accept only 45 volts as a maximum sample shock.

The woman's straightforward, courteous behavior in the experiment, lack of tension, and total control of her own action seems to make disobedience a simple and rational deed. Her behavior is the very embodiment of what I had initially envisioned would be true for almost all subjects.

Ironically, Gretchen Brandt grew to adolescence in Hitler's Germany and was for the great part of her youth exposed to Nazi propaganda. When asked about the possible influence of her background, she remarks slowly, "Perhaps we have seen too much pain."


10. Pasqual Gino, Water Inspector

Pasqual Gino is a forty-three-year-old water inspector who was born in the United States of Italian parents. He took part in the variation in which the experimenter, having given the subject and victim instructions, departs from the laboratory and leaves his telephone number. Thus, the subject is left alone with the victim in the laboratory, but is free to call the experimenter if problems arise. Mr. Gino telephones _the experimenter on several occasions. After administering 150 volts' shock, he calls to say, "Professor, this gentleman is complaining. He wants to get out. He does not want to take it no more. . . . I just gave him 150 volts and he said, 'That's it!'"

The experimenter instructs the subject by telephone to continue, and Mr. Gino does so.

He remains alone in the experimental room, dutifully carrying out the instructions; meanwhile the victim protests strenuously. At the 300-volt level, when the victim refuses to provide answers, Mr. Gino telephones the experimenter again and once more the experimenter tells him to go on, saying that the absence of an answer is to be treated as a wrong answer.

"You want me to go right to the end of the board on the voltage? Uh huh, and when I get to the end, what do I do?"

After 330 volts, no further utterance is heard from the victim, either in protest or pain. Concerned, Mr. Gino again telephones:

"Professor, I don't hear any noise in there now at all. I'm up to 330 volts. I don't hear any whimper or anything and I'm kind of leery about this thing. Do you think something happened to the gentleman?"

The experimenter asserts that though the shocks may be painful, there is no permanent tissue damage. The subject again returns to his task, alone in the laboratory room. After he administers the 450-volt level, he calls the experimenter, again reminding him that no sound is emanating from the learner.

In time, the experimenter returns to the laboratory and informs Mr. Gino that the learner is unharmed. In the interview, when asked about the degree of tension he felt, he answered: "I was more nervous for the other gentleman than I was for myself.

. . . I was more nervous for him. I was nervous because you were not here. If you were here I wouldn't have been nervous at all. I mean, if that man should have passed out with me giving him these things, these shocks-well, I'd feel that I'm responsible on account of me-giving these shocks."

The subject accepts responsibility not in a general philosophic way but only feels that the situation seemed to focus responsibility on him because he was alone with the learner. He goes on: "(If you had been here) you'd say, 'Let's stop it' or 'Let's continue' or something. You know better than I. You're the professor. I'm not. . . . But, on the other hand, I got to say that the last I know of him was around 255 volts and that was the last he complained." (The subject then mimics the complaints of the learner.)

Several months after his performance in the experiment, Mr. Gino took part in a group discussion of his experience. In retrospect, he considered the experiment "terrific." "I was fascinated with it [and] .. . that night I went to a party; I have a couple of sisters-in-law that are nurses, you know, and they were fascinated with it, too .... I'm telling you it's something I'll never forget as long as I live."

The experiment, even months after, seemed never to have raised in him the question of whether or not he should have considered disobeying the instructions to continue giving shocks.

" ... I had about eight more levels to pull and he [the learner] was really hysterical in there and he was going to get the police, and what not. So I called the professor three times. And the third time he said, 'Just continue,' so I give him the next jolt. And then I don't hear no more answer from him, not a whimper or anything. I said, 'Good God, he's dead; well, here we go, we'll finish him. And I just continued all the way through to 450 volts."

Mr. Gino does not object to taking the orders, although he suggests he would have been more comfortable if the instructor had been present in the laboratory with him. When asked if he had been bothered or disturbed because of giving the shocks, he said, "No ... I figured: well, this is an experiment, and Yale knows what's going on, and if they think it's all right, well, it's all right with me. They know more than I do. . . . I'll go through with anything they tell me to do .... "He then explains:

"This is all based on a man's principle in life, and how he was brought up and what goals he sets in life. How he wants to carry on things. I know that when I was in the service, [If I was told] 'You go over the hill, and we're going to attack,' we attack. If the lieutenant says, 'We're going to go on the firing range, you're going to crawl on your gut,' you're going to crawl on your gut. And if you come across a snake, which I've seen a lot of fellows come across, copperheads, and guys were told not to get up, and they got up. And they got killed. So I think it's all based on the way a man was brought up in his background."

In his story, although the copperheads were a real danger, and caused an instinctive reaction to stand, to do this violated the lieutenant's order to hug the ground. And in the end those who disobeyed were destroyed. Obedience, even in the face of trying circumstances, is the most reliable assurance of survival. At the close of the discussion, Mr. Gino summarizes his reaction to his own performance.

"Well, I faithfully believed the man was dead until we opened the door. When I saw him, I said, 'Great, this is great.' But it didn't bother me even to find that he was dead. I did a job."

He reports that he was not disturbed by the experiment in the months just after it but was curious about it. When he received the final report, he relates telling his wife, "I believe I conducted myself behaving and obediently, and carried on instructions as I always do. So I said to my wife, 'Well here we are. And I think I did a good job.' She said, 'Suppose the man was dead?'" Mr. Gino replied, "So he's dead. I did my job!"


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