Laws laid down by authority encourage obedience, required for harmonious communal living. But as experiments have shown, obedience is a deeply powerful ingrained behavior stemming from childhood that appears to override moral conduct, ethical training and sympathy. Experimental results indicate that individuals can very easily submit their entire moral standings to an authority. They may do just about anything to please the authority even when their internal moral gauge tells them that their actions are wrong.
Conducted at Yale University between 1961 - 1962, Milgram's experiments involved three participants - two individuals and the experimenter. The two individuals enter a psychological lab to study memory and learning. Each has a designation; one is the "teacher", the other a "learner" (Milgram 1974). The experimenter explains that the study aims to observe the effects of punishment on learning. The learner, who in actuality is an actor working for the experimenter, is led to a room and seated in a minor version of the electric chair. An electrode is attached to his wrist. The experimenter explains that he will be read a list of word pairs and then tested for his ability to recall a word pair upon hearing the first word. If he fails to remember the associated word or answers wrongly he will receive increasingly intensities of electric shocks. The teacher is led to another room housing an instrument console with thirty lever switches labeled with a voltage designation ranging from 14 to 450 volts along with word designations such as slight shock, moderate shock, strong shock, very strong shock, intense shock, extreme intensity shock, sever shock for groups of four switches. When a switch is depressed, the corresponding lights turn red, an electric buzz is heard and a series of flashing displays and various clicks are sounded. To strengthen his belief in the machine's legitimacy, the teacher (test subject) is given a sample 45 volt shock from the generator. When the experiments commences, the learner (actor) sometimes deliberately answers wrongly in order to 'receive' the shock. At various intensities he makes audible complaints from grunting to verbalizing his complaints and finally when the voltage increases to an unbearable amount, asks to be released from the experiment. Ordinarily, without the presence of the experimenter, the teacher would have quit the experiment having listened to the plight of the subject. But with the experimenter close by encouraging him to continue administering electric shocks, it becomes more and more difficult for the teacher to refuse. In the majority of the cases the teacher continues to participate in the experiment and only a few actually break from it. Out of the forty subjects tested, twenty-five actually continued right to the end, administering the total 450 volts. Others declined at a lower voltage level. This experiment reflects the commonality of obedience but does not acknowledge an individual's tendency towards evil, rather highlights the individual's propensity to listen to evil authority. Social psychologists theorize that the reason people go to extremes in the experiment is