In 1961, a Yale University psychologist named Stanley Milgram was trying to understand the atrocities of the holocaust. It seemed inconceivable to him that so many Germans could violate what they knew to be right in favor of obedience to authority. Why would they do that? Was the whole country corrupt? He wondered whether or not the same shift could happen, to any degree, with well educated people in America.
To that end, he staged an experiment. Yale students and men from the surrounding New Haven area were offered $4 (and 50 cents carfare) to participate in a “memory test.” For reference, that would be about $32 by today’s standards. They were seated behind a partition and told that they would be playing the role of “teacher.” They would pose a question to the subject. If the subject (an actor) – who was on the other side of the partition – answered incorrectly, they would push a button to give him an electric shock. The layout looked like this:
The electric shocks would increase in intensity with each question the subject answered incorrectly. The shocks went up to 450 volts, which is enough to kill someone, and was labeled as such.
An authority figure would encourage the “teachers” to continue. If they did not stop, the experiment ended after the 450 volt shock had been administered three times, enough to certainly kill the subject.
Throughout the experiment, the subjects increasingly protested, banged against the partition and begged to be released.
Predictions prior to the experiment were that, perhaps, 4% of people would reach 3oo volts.
Want to know how many people will flip the kill switch not once, but three times?