Milgram's Experiment: Would People Still Obey Today?

Prior to learning this concept, I used to have a reluctant attitude towards the study of followership to the extent that I viewed it as a form of virtue signaling. I now believe it to be not only essential on an organizational level, but the only way to prevent mass catastrophic events on a global scale. For instance, World war II was a demonstration of the destructive power that results from blind obedience. 

Reicher, Alexander, & Smith, (2012) argued that blind obedience was only the surface level conclusion from Milgram’s experiment, the real lesson centers around the leader-follower relationship. Reicher et. al. (2012) suggested that Milgram’s experiment “can instead be understood as an act of engaged followership that flows from social identification with those in positions of leadership”. (p. 8) The concept of “social identification” is worth much further examination that is outside of the scope this discussion, but sufficient to say that it starts when the toxic leader coerces the followers to believe in a common cause (e.g. advancement of science, the survival of a superior race) and create a sense of shared commitment and social bond. In the last phase, the toxic leader manipulates the followers into an agentic state. (Reicher, Alexander, & Smith, 2012, p. 8; Chaleff, 2015, p. 4) 

Lastly, it is important to answer if Milgram’s experiment happened today would it have the same results.  Burger (2009) in a partial replication of Milgram, in a study called “Replicating Milgram: Would people still obey today?” concluded that “although changes in societal attitudes can affect behavior, my findings indicate that the same situational factors that affected obedience Milgram’s participants still operate today.” and he brought it a little closer to home by saying “average Americans react to this laboratory situation today much the way they did 45 years ago” (p. 9) This discovery further highlights the urgent need for followership development on both micro (organizational scale) and macro (national) level.

References

Burger, J. M. (2009). Replicating Milgram: Would people still obey today? American Psychologist64(1), 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0010932

Chaleff, I. (2015). Connector Member (pp. 3–15). Retrieved from http://www.ila-net.org/members/directory/downloads/newsletter/2015-9-MemberConnectorNewsletter.pdf

Reicher, S. D., Alexander, H. S., & Smith, J. R. (2012). Working Toward the Experimenter: Reconceptualizing Obedience Within the Milgram Paradigm as Identification Based Followership. Perspect Psychol Sci7(4), 315–324. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691612448482




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