Authority and obedience.

I’ve seen numerous bumper stickers stating “Question authority”.  In the 21st Century we need to be reminded to question authority?  After all that has happened since 1939?  Well, apparently we still do need to be reminded.

A press release today from the American Psychological Association discusses a recent replication of the famous Milgram behavioral/obedience study of 1961.  In the Milgram study, participants were encouraged by researchers posing as “teachers” to give electrical  shocks to other researchers posing as “learners”.  In spite of the screams of the learners, 82.5% of participants (both women and men) continued to give electrical shocks beyond 150 volts.  No actual shocks were administered.

Despite the controversy surrounding this study, it pointed to a sort of collective mind that will follow authority for whatever reason.  But we’ve grown in social awareness during the last 40 years.  Right?  Wrong.  It seems we are still willing to injury others in the name of authority or science.

Jerry Burger, PhD, replicated Milgram’s study with some minor variations.  His results were similar to Milgram’s, with slightly less than the 82.5% of participants being  “compliant” with the instructions to administer shocks in spite of the “learners” screams.

Since Burger’s study was not an exact replication of Milgram’s, a direct somparison can’t be made.

But I still find this scary.  Someone can continue to “teach” another person despite hearing screaming?  Doesn’t even look to see how the other person is?  Just follows the directive of authority, even such limited authority as that of a teacher?

The comparison to Gitmo is too obvious to mention.  And a sad commentary on the human species.

See the press release at


Mary Lou Bernardo, PhD, MSN


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