Skip to content

Milgram’s Experiment on “Obedience”

by on August 13, 2013

The Holocaust and You –

During a psychology class at a Brethren college, my life was dramatically changed. The professor showed us a grainy, black and white, reel to reel film of a social science experiment at Yale University.

In 1961, World War II and the holocaust were finding their way into the history books. Stanley Milgram had a question. Could the holocaust have happened in America? The general consensus among his social scientist peers was, “no.” He then devised experiments to investigate the question.

Milgram created and conducted experiments in, what he called “Obedience.” He wanted to know if people would hurt other people if they could shift the blame from themselves to the “authorities” who gave the orders. That is what happened when the Nazi war criminals were tried and found guilty. They claimed innocence because they were only following orders.

The results of Milgram’s experiments were shocking. A high percentage of subjects in the experiments were quite willing to harm other people as long as they could shift the responsibility to an authority figure who gave the orders. They believed that the individual in authority was responsible and that they, personally, were “just following orders.”

In the experiments, with an authority figure standing by, the subjects continued giving electric shocks to persons who did not respond with correct answers to questions. When the subjects objected to giving the shocks, the authority figure assured them that he would accept responsibility. The subjects then, continued the inhumane treatment of the other person in the experiment. The subjects typically “obeyed” the authority figure and personally continued to apply the inhumane treatments in spite of obvious distress and injury to the person who was being harmed.

My eyes were opened. How many times had I witnessed this scenario? In religion, in politics, at work, in social settings, almost everywhere. Can’t people think? Do they not know what they are doing? How can one powerful person (Hitler) control so many people? How? Why? Can’t people think? Do they not know what they are doing?

As the experiment unfolded before my eyes my eyes were opened. Could this really be true? Would people really act this way? They do, of course. They did and they do. If only people, especially people in positions of authority, could see themselves through eyes that were opened to truth instead of being controlled by power and powerful persons….

You are personally responsible for your actions. No matter how powerful the person or authority figure, you are responsible for your actions. You are responsible for what you do and you are responsible for what you allow. You will be held accountable.

  • You are responsible.
  • You are responsible.
  • You are responsible.

The Nuremberg trials reinforced these truths. If you obey orders from an authority that is requiring unacceptable behavior, you will be punished. You will be held accountable – now and in eternity.

Did I need to watch a documentary of a social science experiment to learn this? Hardly. God’s word makes it abundantly clear that we are individually responsible for our attitudes and actions.

So, do not get caught in the trap of impressive authority figures and systems that create and demand allegiance and obedience.

  • Stay close to God.
  • Keep your mind and heart in His word.
  • Be controlled by the Holy Spirit.
  • Do not be controlled by systems that want to control you.
  • Do not be controlled by systems that demand your unqualified obedience.
  • You owe obedience to God. Be controlled by His word.
  • You do not owe obedience to systems that are not Godly.

Be careful with whom you associate. Be careful who is influencing you.

Powerful people will control you if you are not careful.

That is the lesson of the holocaust.

That is the message of Milgram’s experiment on obedience.

That is the message of the Word of God!

Do not be deceived: Evil companionships corrupt good morals.

I Cor. 15:33

Comments are closed.