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In the 1960s Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram famously carried out a series of experiments that forever changed our perceptions of morality and free will. The subjects—or “teachers”—were instructed to administer electroshocks to a human “learner,” with the shocks becoming progressively more powerful and painful. Controversial but now strongly vindicated by the scientific community, these experiments attempted to determine to what extent people will obey orders from authority figures regardless of consequences. “Milgram’s experiments on obedience have made us more aware of the dangers of uncritically accepting authority,” wrote Peter Singer in theNew York Times Book Review. Featuring a new introduction from Dr. Philip Zimbardo, who conducted the famous Stanford Prison Experiment,Obedience to Authorityis Milgram’s fascinating and troubling chronicle of his classic study and a vivid and persuasive explanation of his conclusions.
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“Stanley Milgram’s experiments on obedience to malevolent authority seemed to me to be the most
important social psychological research done in this generation.... The quality of exposition m the
book is so high that it qualifies as literature as well as science:’ —ROGER BROWN,
Harvard University

“This well-designed and brilliantly executed research study, reported in an unusually fascinating and
very readable style, reveals the elusive and sometimes shocking conditions under which men obey
authority regardless of the morality involved.
Library Journal

“..... one of the most significant books I have read in more than two
decades of reviewing.’
—ROBERT KIRSCH, Los Angeles Times
“Milgram’s experiment-based analysis is a model of systematic, sequential, patient
pursuit of answers to a significant social problem. His
investigations accomplish what we should expect of responsible social
science: to inform the intellect without trivializing the phenomenon”
“....a book that provides the most riveting and significant scientific reading thus far this year....
Milgram’s book is carefully assembled and considered research, but past that it is also a streamlined
and scientific metaphor for much of recent history. The resonance is deep, from Auschwitz to My Lai
the connections unavoidable, the implications altogether cheerless.”
- MICHAEL ROGERS, Rolling Stone
“A major contribution to our knowledge of man’s behavior. It establishes him firmly in the front rank
of social scientists in this generation.” —JEROME S. BRUNER, Oxford University

Obedience, because of its very ubiquitousness, is easily overlooked as a subject of inquiry in
social psychology. But without an appreciation of its role in shaping human action, a wide range of
significant behavior cannot be understood. For an act carried out under command is, psychologically,
of a profoundly different character than action that is spontaneous.
The per; son who, with inner conviction, loathes stealing, killing, and assault may find himself
performing these acts with relative ease when commanded by authority. Behavior that is unthinkable
in an individual who is acting on his own may be. executed without hesitation when carried out under
The dilemma inherent in obedience to authority is ancient, as old as the story of Abraham. What the
present study does is to give the dilemma contemporary form by treating it as subject matter for
experimental inquiry, and with the aim of understanding rather than judging it from a moral standpoint.
The important task, from the standpoint of a psychological study of obedience, is to be able to take
conceptions of authority and translate them into personal experience. It is one thing to talk in abstract
terms about the respective rights of the individual and of authority; it is quite another to examine a
moral choice in a real situation. We all know about the philosophic problems of freedom and
authority. But in every case where the problem is not merely academic there is a real person who
must obey or disobey authority, a concrete instance when the act of defiance occurs. All musing prior
to this moment is mere speculation, and all acts of disobedience are characterized by such a moment
of decisive action. The experiments are built around this notion.
When we move to the laboratory, the problem narrows: if an experimenter tells a subject to act
with increasing severity against another person, under what conditions will the subject comply, and
under what conditions will he disobey? The laboratory problem is vivid, intense, and real. It is not
something apart from life, but carries to an extreme and very logical conclusion certain trends
inherent in the ordinary functioning of the social world.
The question arises as to whether there is any connection between what we have studied in the
laboratory and the forms of obedience we so deplored in the Nazi epoch. The differences in the two
situations are, of course, enormous, yet the difference in scale, numbers, and political context may
turn out to be relatively unimportant as long as certain essential features are retained. The essence of
obedience consists in the fact that a person comes to view himself as the instrument for carrying out
another person’s wishes, and he therefore no longer regards himself as responsible for his actions.
Once this critical shift of viewpoint has occurred in the person, all of the essential features of
obedience follow. The adjustment of thought, the freedom to engage in cruel behavior, and the types of
justification experienced by the person are essentially similar whether they occur in a psychological
laboratory or
the control room of an ICBM site. The question of generality, therefore, is not resolved by

enumerating all the manifest differences between the psychological laboratory and other situations but
by carefully constructing a situation that captures the essence of obedience-that is, a situation in which
a person gives himself over to authority and no longer views him- self as the efficient cause of his
own actions.
To the degree that an attitude of willingness and the absence of compulsion is present, obedience is
colored by a cooperative mood; to the degree that the threat of force or punishment against the person
is intimated, obedience is compelled by fear. Our studies deal only with obedience that is willingly
assumed in the absence of threat of any sort, obedience that is maintained through the simple assertion
by authority that it has the right to exercise control over the person. Whatever force authority
exercises in this study is based on powers that the subject in some manner ascribes to it and not on
any objective threat -or availability of physical means of controlling the subject.
The major problem for the subject is to recapture control of his own regnant processes once he has
committed them to the purposes of the experimenter. The difficulty this entails represents the poignant
and in some degree tragic element in the situation under study, for nothing is bleaker than the sight of a
person striving yet not fully able to control his own behavior in a situation of consequence to him.

The experiments described here emerge from a seventy-five- year tradition of experimentation in
social psychology. Boris Sidis carried Out an experiment on obedience in 1898, and the studies of
Asch, Lewin, Sherif, Frank, Block, Cartwright, French, Raven, Luchins, Lippitt, and White, among
many others, have informed my work even when they are not specifically discussed. The
contributions of Adorno and associates and of Arendt, Fromm, and Weber are part of the zeitgeist in
which social scientists grow up. Three works have especially interested me. The first is the insightful Authority and Delinquency in the Modern State, by Alex Comfort; a lucid conceptual analysis
of authority was written by Robert Bierstedt; and Arthur Koestler’s The Ghost in the Ma- chine
developed the idea of social hierarchy in ~eater depth than the present book.
The experimental research was carried out and completed while I was in the Department of
Psychology at Yale University, 1962-63. And I am grateful to the department for helping me with
research facilities and good advice. In particular I would like to thank Professor Irving L. Janis.
The late James McDonough of West Haven, Connecticut, played the part of the learner, and the
study benefited from his unerring natural talents. John Williams of Southbury, Connecticut, served as
experimenter and performed an exacting role with precision. My thanks also to Alan Elms, Jon
Wayland, Taketo Muata, Emil Elges, James Miller, and J. Michael Boss for work done in connection
with the research.
The research was supported by two grants from the National Science Foundation. Exploratory
studies carried out in 1960 were aided by a small grant from the Higgins Fund of Yale University. A
Guggenheim Fellowship in 197275 gave me a year in Paris, away from academic duties, that allowed
me to complete the book.
My wife, Sasha, has been with these experiments from the start. Her abiding insight and
understanding counted a great deal. In the final months it came down to just the two of us,
working in our apartment on the Rue de Remusat-jointly dedicated to a task that is now, with
Sasha’s sympathetic help, complete.
Stanley Milgram Paris
April 2, 1973

1. The Dihemma of Obedience
Obedience is as basic an element in the structure of social life as one can point to. Some
system of authority is a requirement of all communal living, and it is only the man dwelling in
isolation who is not forced to respond, through defiance or submission, to the commands of
others. Obedience, as a determinant of behavior, is of particular relevance to our time. It has
been reliably established that from 1933 to 1945 millions of innocent people were
systematically slaughtered on command. Gas chambers were built, death camps were guarded,
daily quotas of corpses were produced with the same efficiency as the manufacture of
appliances. These inhumane policies may have originated in the mind of a single person, but they
could only have been carried out on a massive scale if a very large number of people obeyed
Obedience is the psychological mechanism that links individual action to political purpose. It
is the dispositional cement that binds men to systems of authority. Facts of recent history and
observation in daily life suggest that for many people obedience may be a deeply ingrained
behavior tendency, indeed, a prepotent impulse overriding training in ethics, sympathy, and
moral conduct. C. P. Snow (1961) points to its importance when he writes:
When you think of the long and gloomy history of man, you will find more hideous crimes
have been committed in the name of obedience than have ever been committed in the name of
rebellion. If you doubt that, read William Shireis ‘Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.’ The German
Officer Corps were brought up in the most rigorous code of obedience in the name of obedience
they were party to, and assisted in, the most wicked large scale actions in the history of the
The Nazi extermination of European Jews is the most extreme instance of abhorrent immoral
acts carried out by thousands of people in the name of obedience. Yet in lesser degree this type
of thing is constantly recurring: ordinary citizens are ordered to destroy other people, and they
do so because they consider it their duty to obey ~orders. Thus, obedience to authority, long
praised as a virtue, takes on a new aspect when it serves a malevolent cause; far from appearing
as a virtue, it is transformed into a heinous sin. Or is it?
The moral question of whether one should obey when commands conflict with conscience was
argued by Plate, dramatized in Antigone, and treated to philosophic analysis in every historical
Conservative philosophers argue that the very fabric of society is threatened by disobedience,
and even when the act prescribed by an authority is an evil one, it is better to carry out the act
than to wrench at the structure of authority. Hobbes stated further that an act so executed is in no
sense the responsibility of the person who carries it out but only of the authority that orders it.
But humanists argue for the primacy of individual conscience in such matters, insisting that the

moral judgments of the individual must override authority when the two are in conflict.
The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of enormous import, but an empirically
grounded scientist eventually comes to the point where he wishes to move from abstract
discourse to the careful observation of concrete instances. In order to take a close look at the act
of obeying, I set up a simple experiment at Yale University. Eventually, the experiment was to
involve more than a thousand participants and would be repeated at several universities, but at
the beginning, the conception was simple. A person comes to a psychological laboratory and is
told to carry out a series of acts that come increasingly into conflict with conscience. The main
question is how far the participant will comply with the experimenter’s instructions before
refusing to carry out the actions required of him.
But the reader needs to know a little more detail about the experiment. Two people come to a
psychology laboratory to take part in a study of memory and learning. One of them is designated
as a “teacher” and the other a “learner.” The experimenter explains that the study is concerned
with the effects of punishment on learning. The learner is conducted into a room, seated in a
chair, his arms strapped to prevent excessive movement, and an electrode attached to his wrist.
He is told that he is to learn a list of word pairs; whenever he makes an error, he will receive
electric shocks of increasing intensity.
The real focus of the experiment is the teacher. After watching the learner being strapped into
place, he is taken into the main experimental room and seated before an impressive shock
generator. Its main feature is a horizontal line of thirty switches, ranging from 15 volts to 450
volts, in I5ivolt increments. There are also verbal designations which range from SLIGHT
SHOCK to DANGER—SEVERE SHOCK. The teacher is told that he is to administer the
learning test to the man in the other room. When the learner responds correctly, the teacher
moves on to the next item; when the other man gives an incorrect answer, the teacher is to give
him an electric shock. He is to start at the lowest shock level (15 volts) and to increase the level
each time the man makes an error, going through 30 volts, 45 volts, and so on.
The “teacher” is a genuinely naive subject who has come to the laboratory to participate in an
experiment. The learner, or victim, is an actor who actually receives no shock at all. The point
of the experiment is to see how far a person will proceed in a concrete and measurable situation
in which he is ordered to inflict increasing pain on a protesting victim. At what point will the
subject refuse to obey the experimenter?
Conflict arises when the man receiving the shock begins to indicate that he is experiencing
discomfort. At 75 volts, the “learner” grunts. At 120 volts he complains verbally; at 150 he
demands to-be released from the experiment. His protests continue as the shocks escalate,
growing increasingly vehement and emotional. At 285 volts his response can only be described
as an agonized scream.
Observers of the experiment agree that its gripping quality is somewhat obscured in print. For
the subject, the situation is not a game; conflict is intense and obvious. On one hand, the manifest
suffering of the learner presses him to quit. On the other, the experimenter, a legitimate authority
to whom the subject feels some commitment, enjoins him to continue. Each time the subject
hesitates to administer shock, the experimenter orders him to continue. To extricate himself from

the situation, the subject must make a clear break with authority. The aim of this investigation
was to find when and how people would defy authority in the face of a clear moral imperative.
There are, of course, enormous differences between carrying out the orders· of a commanding
officer during times of war and carrying out the orders of an experimenter. Yet the essence of
certain relationships remain, for one may ask in a general way: How does a man behave when he
is told by a legitimate authority to act against a third individual? If anything, we may expect the
experimenter’s power to be considerably less than that of the general, since he has no power to
enforce his imperatives, and participation in a psychological experiment scarcely evokes the
sense of urgency and dedication engendered by participation in war. Despite these limitations, I
thought it worthwhile to start careful observation of obedience even in this modest situation, in
dm hope that it would stimulate insights and yield general propositions applicable to a variety of
A reader’s initial reaction to the experiment may be to wonder why anyone in his right mind
would administer even the first shocks. Would he not simply refuse and walk out of the
laboratory? But the fact is that no one ever does. Since the subject has come to the laboratory to
aid the experimenter, he is quite willing to start off with the procedure. There is nothing very
extraordinary in this, particularly since the person who is to receive the shocks seems initially
cooperative, if somewhat apprehensive. What is surprising is how far ordinary individuals will
go in complying with the experimenter’s instructions. Indeed, the results of the experiment are
both surprising and dismaying. Despite the fact that many subjects experience stress, despite the
fact that many protest to the experimenter, a substantial proportions continue to the last shock on
the generator.
Many subjects will obey the experimenter no matter how vehement the pleading of the person
being shocked, no matter how painful the shocks seem to be, and no matter how much the victim
pleads to be let out. This was seen time and again in our studies and has been observed in
several universities where the experiment was repeated. It is the extreme willingness of adults to
go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority that constitutes the chief finding of the
study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.
A commonly offered explanation is that those who shocked the victim at the most severe level
were monsters, the sadistic fringe of society. But if one considers that almost two-thirds of the
participants fall into the category of “obedient” subjects, and that they represented ordinary
people drawn from working, managerial, and professional classes, the argument becomes very
shaky. Indeed, it is highly reminiscent of the issue that arose in connection with Hannah Arendt’s
1963 book, Eichmann in Jerusalem. Arendt contended that the prosecution’s effort to depict
Eichmann as a sadistic monster was fundamentally wrong, that he came closer to being an
uninspired bureaucrat who simply sat at his desk and did his job. For asserting these views,
Arendt became the object of considerable scorn, even calumny. Somehow, it was felt that the
monstrous deeds carried out by Eichmann required a brutal, twisted, and sadistic
personality, evil incarnate. After witnessing hundreds of ordinary people submit to the authority in our
own experiments, I must conclude that Arendt’s conception of the banality of evil comes closer to the
truth than one might dare imagine. The ordinary person who shocked the victim did so out of a sense

of obligation-a conception of his duties as a subject-and not from any peculiarly aggressive
This is, perhaps, the most fundamental lesson of our study: ordinary people, simply doing their
jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive
process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they
are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few
people have the resources needed to resist authority. A variety of inhibitions against disobeying
authority come into play and successfully keep the person in his place.
Sitting back in one’s armchair, it is easy to condemn the actions of the obedient subjects. But those
who condemn the subjects measure them against the standard of their own ability to formulate highminded moral prescriptions. That is hardly a fair standard. Many of the subjects, at the level of stated
opinion, feel quite as strongly as any of us about the moral requirement of refraining from action
against a helpless victim. They, too, in general terms know what ought to be done and can state their
values when the occasion arises. This has little, if anything, to do with their actual behavior under the
pressure of circumstances.
If people are asked to render a moral judgment on what constitutes appropriate behavior in this
situation, they unfailingly see disobedience as proper. But values are not the only forces at work in an
actual, ongoing situation. They are but one narrow band of causes in the total spectrum of forces
impinging on a person. Many people were unable to realize their values in action and found
themselves continuing in the experiment even though they disagreed with what they were doing.
The force exerted by the moral sense of the individual is less effective than social myth would have
us believe. Though such prescriptions as “Thou shalt not kill” occupy a pre-eminent place in the
moral order, they do not occupy a correspondingly intractable position in human psychic structure. A
few changes in newspaper headlines, a call from the draft board, orders from a man with epaulets,
and men are led to kill with little difficulty. Even the forces mustered in a psychology experiment will
go a long way toward removing the individual from moral controls. Moral factors can be shunted
aside with relative ease by a calculated restructuring of the informational and social field.
What, then, keeps the person obeying the experimenter? First, there is a set of “binding factors” that
lock the subject into the situation. They include such factors as politeness on his part, his desire to
uphold his initial promise of aid to the experimenter, and the awkwardness of withdrawal. Second, a
number of adjustments in the subject’s thinking occur that undermine his resolve to break with the
authority. The adjustments help the subject maintain his relationship with the experimenter, while at
the same time reducing the strain brought about by the experimental conflict. They are typical of
thinking that comes about in obedient persons when they are instructed by authority to act against
helpless individuals.
One such mechanism is the tendency of the individual to become so absorbed in the narrow
technical aspects of the task that he loses sight of its broader consequences. The film Dr.
Strangelove brilliantly
satirized the absorption of a bomber crew in the exacting technical procedure of dropping nuclear

weapons on a country. Similarly, in this experiment, subjects become immersed in the procedures,
reading the word pairs with exquisite articulation and pressing the switches with great care. They
want to put on a competent performance, but they show an accompanying narrowing of moral concern.
The subject entrusts the broader tasks of setting goals and assessing morality to the experimental
authority he is serving.
The most common adjustment of thought in the obedient subject is for him to see himself as not
responsible for his own actions. He divests himself of responsibility by attributing all initiative to the
experimenter, a legitimate authority. He sees himself not as a person acting in a morally accountable
way but as the agent of external authority. In the post experimental interview, when subjects were
asked why they had gone on, a typical reply was: “I wouldn’t have done it by myself. I was just doing
what I was told.” Unable to defy the authority of the experimenter, they attribute all responsibility to
him. It is the old story of “just doing one’s duty” that was heard time and time again in the defense
statements of those accused at Nuremberg. But it would be wrong to think of it as a thin alibi
concocted for the occasion. Rather, it is a fundamental mode of thinking for a great many, people once
they are locked into a subordinate position in a structure of authority. The disappearance of a sense of
responsibility is the most far-reaching consequence of submission to authority.
Although a person acting under authority performs actions that seem to violate standards of
conscience, it would not be true to say that he loses his moral sense. Instead, it acquires a radically
different focus. He does not respond with a moral sentiment to the actions he performs. Rather, his
moral concern now shifts to a consideration of how well he is living up to the expectations that the
authority has of him. In wartime, a soldier does not ask whether it is good or bad to bomb a hamlet; he
does not experience, shame or guilt in the destruction of a village: rather he feels pride or shame
depending on how well he has performed the mission assigned to him.
Another psychological force at work in this situation may be termed “counter-anthropomorphism.”
For decades psychologists have discussed the primitive tendency among men to attribute to inanimate
objects and forces the qualities of the human species. A countervailing tendency, however, is that of
attributing an impersonal quality to forces that are essentially human in origin and maintenance. Some
people treat systems of human origin as if they existed above and beyond any human agent, beyond the
control of whim or human feeling. The human element behind agencies and institutions is denied.
Thus, when the experimenter says, “The experiment requires that you continue,” the subject feels this
to be an imperative that goes beyond any merely human command. He does not ask the seemingly
obvious question, “Whose experiment? Why should the designer be served while the victim suffers?”
The wishes of a -man-the designer of the experiment-have become part of a schema which exerts on
the subject’s mind a force that transcends the personal. “It’s got to go on. It’s got to go on,” repeated
one subject. He failed to realize that a man like himself wanted it to go on. For him the human agent
had faded from the picture, and ~The Experiment” had acquired an impersonal momentum of its own.
No action of itself has an unchangeable psychological quality. Its meaning can be altered by placing
it in particular contexts. An American newspaper recently quoted a pilot who conceded that
Americans were bombing Vietnamese men, women, and children but felt that the bombing was for a
“noble cause” and thus was justified. Similarly, most subjects in the experiment see their behavior in
a larger context

that is benevolent and useful to society-the pursuit of scientific truth. The psychological
laboratory has a strong claim to legitimacy and evokes ·trust and confidence in those who come
to perform there. An action such as shocking a victim, which in isolation appears evil, acquires
a totally different meaning when placed in this setting. But allowing an act to be dominated by its
context, while neglecting its human consequences, can be dangerous in the extreme.
At least one essential feature of the situation in Germany was not studied here-namely, the
intense devaluation of the victim prior to action against him. For a decade and more, vehement
anti-Jewish propaganda systematically prepared the German population to accept the destruction
of the Jews. Step by step the Jews were excluded from the category of citizen and national, and
finally were denied the status of human beings. Systematic devaluation of the victim provides a
measure of psychological justification for brutal treatment of the victim and has been the constant
accompaniment of massacres, pogroms, and wars. In all likelihood, our subjects would have
experienced greater ease in shocking the victim had he been convincingly portrayed as a brutal
criminal or a pervert.
Of considerable interest, however, is the fact that many subjects harshly devalue the victim as
a consequence of acting against him. Such comments as, “He was so stupid and stubborn he
deserved to get shocked,” were common. Once having acted against the victim, these subjects
found it necessary to view him as an unworthy individual, whose punishment was made
inevitable by his own deficiencies of intellect and character.
Many of the people studied in the experiment were in some sense against what they did to the
learner, and many protested even while they obeyed. But between thoughts, words, and the
critical step of disobeying a malevolent authority lies another ingredient, the capacity for
transforming beliefs and values into action. Some subjects were totally convinced of the
wrongness of what they were doing but could not bring themselves to make an open break with
authority. Some derived satisfaction from their thoughts and felt that-within themselves, at leastthey had been on the side of the angels. What they failed to realize is that subjective feelings are
largely irrelevant to the moral issue at hand so long as they are not transformed into action.
Political control is effected through action. The attitudes of the guards at a concentration camp
are of no consequence when in fact they are allowing the slaughter of innocent men to take place
before them. Similarly, so-called “intellectual resistance” in occupied Europe- in which persons
by a twist of thought felt that they had defied the invader-was merely indulgence in a consoling
psychological mechanism. Tyrannies are perpetuated by diffident men who do not possess the
courage to act out their beliefs. Time and again in the experiment people disvalued what they
were doing but could not muster the inner resources to translate their values into action.
A variation of the basic experiment depicts a dilemma more common than the one outlined
above: the subject was not ordered to push the trigger that shocked the victim, but merely to
perform a subsidiary act (administering the word-pair test) before another subject actually
delivered the shock. In this situation, 37 of 40 adults from the New Haven area continued to the
highest shock level on the generator. Predictably, subjects excused their behavior by saying that
the responsibility belonged to the man who actually pulled the switch. This may illustrate a
dangerously typical situation in complex society: it is psychologically easy to ignore

responsibility when one is only an intermediate link in a chain of evil action but is far from the
final consequences of the action. Even Eichmann was sickened when he toured the concentration
camps, but to participate in mass murder he had only to sit at a desk and shuffle papers. At the
time the man in the camp who actually dropped Cyclon-B into the gas chambers was able to justify
his behavior on the grounds that be was only following orders from above. Thus there is a
fragmentation of the total human act; no one man decides to carry out the evil act and is confronted
with its consequences. The person who assumes full responsibility for the act has evaporated.
Perhaps this is the most common characteristic of socially organized evil in modern society.
The problem of obedience, therefore, is not wholly psychological. The form and shape of society
and the way it is developing have much to do with it. There was a time, perhaps, when men were able
to give a fully human response to any situation because they were fully absorbed in it as human
beings. But as soon as there was a division of labor among men, things changed. Beyond a certain
point, the breaking up of society into people carrying out narrow and very special jobs takes away
from the human quality of work and life. A person does not get to see the whole situation but only a
small part of it, and is thus unable to act without some kind of over-all direction. He yields to
authority but in doing so is alienated from his own actions.
George Orwell caught the essence of the situation when he wrote :
As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me. They do not feel
any enmity against me as an individual, nor I against them. They are only “doing their duty,” as the
saying goes. Most of them, I have no doubt, are kind-hearted law abiding men who would never
dream of committing murder in private life. On the other hand, if one of them succeeds in blowing me
to pieces with a well- placed bomb, he will never sleep any the worse for it.

2. Method of Inquiry
Simplicity is the key to effective scientific inquiry. This is especially true in the case of
subject matter with a psychological content. Psychological matter, by its nature, is difficult to get
at and likely to have many more sides to it than appear at first glance. Complicated procedures
only get in the way of clear scrutiny of the phenomenon itself. To study obedience most simply,
we must create a situation in which one person orders another person to perform an observable
action and we must note when obedience to the imperative occurs and when it fails to occur.
If we are to measure the strength of obedience and the conditions by which it varies, we must
force it against some powerful factor that works in the direction of disobedience, and whose
human import is readily understood.
Of all moral principles, the one that comes closest to being universally accepted is this: one
should not inflict suffering on a helpless person who is neither harmful nor threatening to
oneself. This principle is the counterforce we shall set in opposition to obedience.
A person coming to our laboratory will be ordered to act against another individual in
increasingly severe fashion. Accordingly, the pressures for disobedience will build up. At a
point not known beforehand, the subject may refuse to carry out this command, withdrawing from

the experiment. Behavior prior to this rupture is termed obedience. The point of rupture is the act
of disobedience and may occur sooner or later in the sequence of commands, providing the
needed measure.
The precise mode of acting against the victim is not of central importance. For technical
reasons, the delivery of electric shock was chosen for the study. It seemed suitable, first,
because it would be easy for the subject to understand the notion that shocks can be graded in
intensity; second, its use would be consistent with the general scientific aura of the laboratory;
and finally, it would be relatively easy to simulate the administration of shock in the laboratory.
Let us now move to an account of the details of the investigation. Obtaining Participants for the
Yale undergraduates, ‘being close at hand and readily available, would have been the easiest
subjects to study. Moreover, in psychology it is traditional for experiments to be carried out on
undergraduates. But for this experiment the use of undergraduates from an elite institution did not
seem wholly suitable. The possibility that subjects from Yale would have heard of it from fellow
students who had already participated in it seemed too great a risk. It appeared better to draw
subjects from a much larger source, the entire New Haven community of 300,000 people. There
was a second reason for relying on New Haven rather than the university: the students were too
homogeneous a group. They were virtually all in their late teens or early twenties, were highly
intelligent, and had some familiarity with psychological experimentation. I wanted a wide range
of individuals drawn from a broad spectrum of class backgrounds.
To recruit subjects, an advertisement was placed in the local newspaper. It called for people
of all occupations to take part in a study of memory and learning, and it offered $4 payment and
50 cents carfare for one hour of participation (see illustration). A

total of 296 responded. As these were not sufficient for the experiment, this mode of
recruitment was supplemented by direct mail solicitation. Names were sampled from the New
Haven telephone directory, and a letter of invitation was sent to several thousand residents. The
return rate for this invitation was approximately 12 percent. The respondents, for whom we had
information on sex, age, and occupation, constituted a pool of subjects, and specific
appointments were made with participants a few days before they were to appear in the study.
Typical subjects were postal clerks, high school teachers, salesmen, engineers, and laborers.
Subjects ranged in educational level from one who had not finished high school to those who had
doctoral and other professional degrees. Several experimental conditions (variations of the
basic experiment) were contemplated, and from the outset, I thought it important to balance each
condition for age and occupational types. The occupational composition for each experiment
was: workers, skilled and unskilled: 40 percent; white-collar, sales, business: 40 percent;
professionals: 20 percent. The occupations were intersected with three age categories (subjects
in twenties, thirties, and forties assigned to each experimental condition in the proportions of 20,
40, and 40 percent respectively).
Locale and Personnel
The experiment was conducted in the elegant Interaction Laboratory of Yale University. This detail

is relevant to the perceived legitimacy of the experiment. In some subsequent variations, the
experiment was dissociated from the university (see Chapter 6). The role of experimenter was played
by a thirty-one- year-old high school teacher of biology. Throughout the experiment, his manner was
impassive and his appearance somewhat stern. He was dressed in a gray technician’s coat. The
victim was played by a forty-seven-year-old accountant, trained for the role; he was of IrishAmerican descent and most observers found him mild-mannered and likable.
One naive subject and one victim performed in each experiment. A pretext had to be devised that
would justify the administration of electric shock by the naive subject. (This if true because in every
instance of legitimate authority the subordinate must perceive some connection, however tenuous,
between the specific type of authority and the commands he issues.) The experimenter oriented the
subjects toward the situation in which he wished to assess obedience with the following instructions:
Psychologists have developed several theories to explain how people learn various types of
Some of the better-known theories are treated in this book. (The subject was shown a hook on the
teaching-learning process.)
One theory is that people learn things correctly whenever they get punished for making a
A common application of this theory would be when parents spank a child if he does something
The expectation is that spanking, a form of punishment, will teach the child to remember better,
will teach him to learn more effectively.
But actually, we know very little about the effect of punishment on learning, because almost no
truly scientific studies have been made of it in human beings.
For instance, we dent know how much punishment is best for learning-and we don’t know how
much difference it makes as to who is giving the punishment, whether an adult learns best from a
younger or an older person than himself-or many things of that sort.
So in this study we are bringing together a number of adults of different occupations and ages. And
we’re asking some of them to be teachers and some of them to be learners.
We want to find out just what effect different people have on each other as teachers and learners,
and also what effect punishment will have on learning in this situation.
Therefore, I’m going to ask one of you to be the teacher here tonight and the other one to be the
Does either of you have a preference~

[Subject and accomplice are allowed to express preference.]
Well, I guess the fairest way of doing this is for me to write the word Teacher on one slip of paper
and Learner on the other and let you both draw.
[The subject draws first, then the accomplice.] Well, which of you is which?
All right. Now the first thing well have to do is to set the Learner up so that he can get some type of
If you’ll both come with me into this next room.
The drawing described above had been rigged so that the subject was always the teacher and the
accomplice always the learner. (Both slips contained the word “Teacher.”) Immediately after the
drawing, the teacher and learner were taken to an adjacent room and the learner was strapped into an
“electric chair” apparatus.
The experimenter explained that the straps were to prevent excessive movement while the learner
was being shocked. The effect was to make it appear impossible for him to escape from the situation.
An electrode was attached to the learner’s wrist, and electrode paste was applied “to avoid blisters
and burns.” Subjects were told that the electrode was attached to the shock generator in the adjoining
To improve credibility the experimenter declared, in response to a question by the learner,
“Although the shocks can be extremely painful, they cause no permanent tissue damage.”
Learning Task
The lesson conducted by the subject was a paired-associate learning task. The subject read a series
of word pairs to the learner, and then read the first word of the pair along with four terms. For
example, the subject read such pairs as:
blue box nice day wild duck etc.
Then, in the testing sequence he would read: blue: sky ink box lamp
The learner was to indicate which of the four terms had originally been paired with the first
word. He communicated his answer by pressing one of four switches in front of him, which lit
up one of four numbered quadrants in an answer box located on top of the shock generator.
Shock Generator
The instrument panel consisted of 30 lever switches set in a horizontal line. Each switch was
clearly labeled with a voltage designation that ranged from 15 to 450 volts. The labels showed a
I5-volt increment from one switch to the next, going from left to right. In addition, the following
verbal designations were clearly indicated for groups of four switches, going from left to right:
Slight Shock, Moderate Shock, Strong Shock, Very Strong Shock, Intense Shock, Extreme
Intensity Shock, Danger: Severe Shock. Two switches after this last designation were simply
marked XXX.

When a switch was depressed, a pilot light corresponding to each switch was illuminated in
bright red; an electric buzzing was heard; an electric blue light, labeled “voltage energizer,
flashed; the dial on the voltage meter swung to the right; and various relay clicks were sounded.
The upper left-hand corner of the generator was labeled SHOCK GENERATOR, TYPE ZLB,
Sample Shock
Each subject was given a sample shock from the shock generator, prior to beginning his run as
teacher. This shock was always 45 volts and was applied by pressing the third switch of the
generator. The shock was applied to the wrist of the subject, and the jolt strengthened the
subject’s belief in the authenticity of the generator. Shock Instructions
The subject was told to administer a shock to the learner each time he gave a wrong response.
Moreover-and this is the key command-the subject was instructed to “move one level higher on
the shock generator each time the learner gives a wrong answer. He was also instructed to
announce the voltage level before administering a shock. This served to continually remind the
subjects of the increasing intensity of shocks administered to the learner.’ If the subject reached
the 30th shock level (450 volts), he was instructed to continue the procedure using this maximum
voltage. After two further trials, the experimenter called a halt to the experiment.
Experimenter Feedback
At various points in the experiment the subject would turn to the experimenter for advice on
whether he should continue to administer shocks. Or he would indicate that he did not wish to go
The experimenter responded with a sequence of “prods,” using as many as necessary to bring the
subject into line.
Prod 1: Please continue, or, Please go on.
Prod 2: The experiment requires that you continue. Prod 3: It is absolutely essential that you
continue. Prod 4: You have no other choice, you must go on.
The prods were made in sequence: Only if Prod 1 had been unsuccessful could Prod 2 be used. If
the subject refused to obey the experimenter after Prod 4, the experiment was terminated. The
experimenter’s tone of voice was at all times firm, but not impolite. The sequence was begun anew on
each occasion that the subject balked or showed reluctance to follow orders. Special Prods
If the subject asked if the learner was liable to suffer permanent physical injury, the experimenter
Although the shocks may be painful, there is no permanent tissue damage, so please go on.
(Followed by Prods 2, 3, and 4, if necessary. )
If the subject said that the learner did not want to go on, the experimenter replied:

Whether the learner likes it or not, you must go on until he has learned all the word pairs correctly.
So please go on. (Followed by Prods 2, 3, and 4, if necessary. )
Feedback from the Victim
In all conditions the learner gave a predetermined set of responses to the word-pair test, based on a
schedule of approximately three wrong answers to one correct answer.
The victim’s responses were a key element in the situation and needed to be worked out carefully.
In pilot studies, at first no vocal feedback from the victim was used. It was thought that the verbal and
voltage designations on the control panel would create sufficient pressure to curtail the subject’s
obedience. However, this proved not to be the case. In the absence of protests from the learner,
virtually every subject in the pilot study, once commanded, went blithely to the end of the board,
seemingly in- different to the verbal designations. This deprived us of an adequate basis for
measuring obedient tendencies. A force had to be introduced that would strengthen the subject’s
resistance to the experimenter’s commands, and reveal individual differences in terms of a
distribution of break off points.
This force took the form of protests from the victim. Initially, mild protests were used, but these
proved inadequate. Subsequently, more vehement protests were inserted into the experimental
procedure. To our consternation, even the strongest protests from the victim did not prevent many
subjects from administering the harshest punishment ordered by the experimenter. But the protests did
lower the mean of the maximum shocks somewhat and created some spread in the subject’s
performance; therefore, the victim’s cries were recorded on tape and incorporated into the regular
experimental procedure.
The situation did more than highlight the technical difficulties of finding a workable
experimental procedure: it indicated that subjects would obey authority to a greater extent than
we had supposed. It also pointed to the importance of feedback from the victim in controlling the
subject’s behavior.
Each vocal response of the victim was coordinated to a particular voltage level on the shock
generator. It is difficult to convey on the printed page the full tenor of the victim’s responses, for
we have no adequate notation for vocal intensity, timing, and general qualities of delivery. In
general, however, the victim indicated no discomfort until the: 75-volt shock was administered,
at which time there was a little grunt. Similar reactions followed the 90- and IO5-volt shocks,
and at 120 volts the victim shouted to the experimenter that the shocks were becoming painful.
Painful groans were heard on administration of the 135 volt shock, and at 150 volts the victim
cried out, “Experimenter, get me out of here! I won’t be in the experiment any more! I refuse to
go on!” Cries of this type continue with generally rising intensity, so that at 180 volts the victim
cried out, “I can’t stand the pain,” and by 270 volts his response to the shock was definitely an
agonized scream. Throughout, from 150 volts on, he insisted that he be let out of the experiment.
At 300 volts the victim shouted in desperation that he would no longer provide answers to the
memory test.
At this juncture, it was found, subjects would usually turn to the experimenter for guidance.
The experimenter would instruct the subject to treat the absence of a response as a wrong

answer, and to shock the subject according to the usual schedule. He advised the subjects to
allow 5 to 10 seconds before considering no response as a wrong answer, and to increase the
shock level one step each time the learner failed to respond correctly. At 315 volts, after a
violent scream, the victim reaffirmed vehemently that he was no longer a participant. He
provided no answers, but shrieked in agony whenever a shock was administered. After 330 volts
he was not heard from, nor did his answers reappear on the four-way signal box.
The main measure for any subject is the maximum shock he administers before he refuses to
go any further. In principle this may vary from O (for a subject who refuses to administer even
the first shock) to 30 (for a subject who administers the highest shock on the generator).
Interview and Debriefing
An important aspect of the procedure occurred at the end of the experimental session. A
careful post experimental treatment was administered to all subjects. The exact content of the
session varied from condition to condition and with increasing experience on our part. At the
very least every subject was told that the victim had not received dangerous electric shocks.
Each subject had a friendly reconciliation with the unharmed victim and an extended discussion
with the experimenter. The experiment was explained to defiant subjects in a way that supported
their decision to disobey the experimenter. Obedient subjects were assured that their behavior
was entirely normal and that their feelings of con~8ict or tension were shared by other
participants. Subjects were told’ that they would receive a comprehensive report at the
conclusion of the experimental series. In some instances, additional detailed and lengthy
discussions of the experiment were also carried out with individual subjects.
When the experimental series was complete, subjects received a written report which
presented details of the experimental procedure and results. Again, their own part in the
experiments was treated in a dignified way and their behavior in the experiment respected. All
subjects received a follow-up questionnaire regarding their participation in the research, which
again allowed expression of thoughts and feelings about their behavior. Recapitulation
In this situation the subject must resolve a conflict between two mutually incompatible
demands from the social field. He may continue to follow the orders of the experimenter and
shock the learner with increasing severity, or he may refuse to follow the orders of the
experimenter and heed the learner’s pleas. The experimenter’s authority operates not in a free
held but against ever-mounting countervailing pressures from the person being punished.
This laboratory situation gives us a framework in which to study the subject’s reactions to the
principal conflict of the experiment. Again, this conflict is between the experimenter’s demands
that he continue to administer the electric shock and the learner’s demands, which become
increasingly insistent, that the experiment be stopped. The crux of the study is to vary
systematically the factors believed to alter the degree of obedience to the experimental
commands and to learn under what condition submission to authority is most probable and under
what conditions defiance is brought to the fore.

What the experimental situation does is to condense the elements present when obedience
occurs in the larger world such that the essential ingredients are brought into a relatively narrow
arena where they are open to scientific scrutiny. The power of the situation derives from the fact
that we are able to see, and the subject can experience, the concurrent operation of antagonistic
forces that in the larger world rarely impinge on him at the identical instant.

3. Expected Behavior
Too often, the value of a work in social science is played down by asserting the self-evident
character of the findings. But rarely do we have clear information on exactly how people expect
behavior to unfold in a given set of circumstances. If we acquire this information, we will be
able to compare it with the actual outcome of the study. It will provide us with a benchmark from
which to see how much or little we learn through the experiment. Further, should there be a
disparity between what people expect and what actually occurs, we are left with the interesting
problem of accounting for the gap. For the expectations then come to have the character of an
illusion, and we must ask whether such an illusion is a chance expression of ignorance or
performs some definite function in social life.
The procedure for getting at such expectations is straightforward. In each case the respondents
consist of an audience that has come to hear a lecture on the topic of obedience to authority. The
experiment is described in detail without, however, disclosing the results in any way. The
audience is provided with a schematic diagram of the shock generator, showing verbal and
voltage designations. Each respondent is asked to reflect on the experiment, then privately to
record how he himself would perform in it. Predictions were made by three groups:
psychiatrists, college students, and an audience of middle-class adults of varied occupations.

Each one of the 110 respondents sees himself disobeying the experimenter at some point in the
command series, and typical explanations offered to explain their disobedience are:
‘...I myself am scared stiff of shocks and I couldn’t give shocks to people that were protesting
because I was causing the pain. I couldn’t deliberately hurt a perfect stranger.” (Maximum: 90
volts) “I do not think any experiment is worth in8~cting strong shock on another human being.
The fact that the subject responded as he did indicates to me that he was suffering from severe
discomfort. I could wt be the one to in8ict this pain on him. The moment the subject insists he
wants to leave the experiment, I respect his judgment.” (Maximum: 135 volts)
‘... I can’t stand to see people suffer. If the learner wanted to get out, I would free him so as
not to make him suffer pain.” (Maximum 150 volts)

...since the subject volunteered, and I volunteered, and since the experimenter has no physical
authority over me, the subject should be released when he is at such a point that he asks to be
released, and I would release him.” (Maximum: 150 volts)
‘The reason I would break off is because the person would scream with pain. Knowing how I
would feel if I even scraped my knee,
I would then feel compassion for the learner.” (Maximum: 180 volts) These subjects see their
reactions flowing from empathy, compassion, and a sense of justice. They enunciate a conception
of what is desirable and assume that action follows accordingly. But they show little insight into
the web of forces that operate in a real social situation.

Perhaps the question posed to them was unfair. People like to see themselves in a favorable
light. So we asked also a somewhat different question to eliminate the bias induced by vanity.
We asked them to predict how other people would perform. (And more specifically, we
requested that they plot the distribution of break off points of one hundred Americans of diverse
ages and occupations.) Psychiatrists, graduate students and faculty in the behavioral sciences,
college sophomores, and middle-class adults responded to the question, and there is remarkable
similarity in the predictions of the several groups. They predict that virtually all subjects will
refuse to obey the experimenter; only a pathological fringe, not exceeding one or two per cent,
was expected to proceed to the end of the shock board. The psychiatrists’ predictions are shown
in detail in Figure 5. They predicted that most subjects would not go beyond the 10th shock level
(150 volts, when the victim makes his first explicit demand to be freed); about 4 percent would
reach the 20th shock level, and about one subject in a thousand would administer the highest
shock on the board.
What are the assumptions that underlie these predictions? First, that people are by and large
decent and do not readily hurt the innocent. Second, that unless coerced by physical force or
threat, the individual is preeminently the source of his own behavior. A person acts in a
particular way because he has decided to do so. Action takes place in a physical-social setting,
but this is merely the stage for its occurrence. The behavior itself flows from an inner core of the
person; within the core personal values are weighed, gratification’s assessed, and resulting
decisions are translated into action.
Most people start with presuppositions of this sort when asked to think about the obedience
experiment. They focus on the character of the autonomous individual rather than on the situation
in which he finds himself. With this view, they are likely to expect few subjects to go along with
the experimenter’s orders.

4. Choseness of the Victim
Now let us look at the actual performance of subjects in the experiment. To begin, we shah
consider the results of the Remote- Feedback variation (Experiment 1). It differs slightly from
the usual situation in that no vocal complaint is heard from the victim. He is placed in another
room where he cannot be seen by the subject, nor can his voice be heard; his answers flash
silently on the signal box. However, at 300 volts the laboratory walls resound as he pounds in
protest. After 315 volts, no further answers appear, and the pounding ceases.
It is instructive to reprint the subjects’ remarks at the point of defiance, as transcribed from the
tape recordings:
“I think he’s trying to communicate, he’s knocking.... Well it’s not fair to shock the guy these are
terrific volts. I don’t think this is very humane.
Oh, I can’t go on with this; no,
this isn’t right. It’s
a hell of an experiment. The guy is suffering in there. No, I don’t want to go on. This is crazy.”
(Subject refuses to administer more shocks. )
“He’s banging in there. I’m gonna chicken out. I’d like to continue, But I can’t do that to a man.
I’m sorry I can’t do that to a man. I’ll hurt his heart. You take your check.... No really, I couldn’t
Do it.”
Of the 40 subjects, 26 obeyed the orders of the experimenter to the end, proceeding to punish
the victim until they reached the most potent shock available on the generator. After the 450-volt
shock was administered three times, the experimenter called a halt to the session.
Subjects were frequently in an agitated state. Sometimes, verbal protest was at a minimum,
and the subject simply got up from his chair in front of the shock generator, indicating that he
wished to leave the laboratory. Some obedient subjects expressed reluctance to administer
shocks beyond the 300-volt level and displayed tensions similar to those who defied the
After the maximum shocks had been delivered, and the experimenter called a halt to the
proceedings, many obedient subjects heaved sighs of relief, mopped their brews, rubbed their
fingers over their eyes, or nervously fumbled cigarettes. Some shook their heads, apparently in
regret. Some subjects had remained calm throughout the experiment and displayed only minimal
signs of tension from beginning to end.
Bringing the Victim Closer
An experiment differs from a demonstration in that in an experiment, once an effect has been
observed, it becomes possible to alter systematically the conditions under which it is produced,
and in this way to learn the relevant causes.

What we have seen thus far applies only to a situation in which the victim is out of sight and unable
to communicate with his own voice. The recipient of the punishment is thus remote, nor does he
indicate his wishes very clearly. There is pounding on the wall, but this has an inherently ambiguous
meaning; possibly, some subjects did not interpret this pounding as evidence of the victim’s distress.
The resulting obedience may be attributable to this. Perhaps there will be no obedience when the
victim’s suffering is more clearly communicated; when the victim is given a sense of presence, and he
is seen, heard, and felt. Behavior noted in our pilot studies lent credence to this notion. In those
studies the victim could be dimly perceived by the subject through a silvered glass. Subjects
frequently averted their eyes from the person they were shocking, often turning their heads in an
awkward and conspicuous manner. One subject explained, “I didn’t want to see the consequences of
what I had done.” Observers noted:
... subjects show a reluctance to look at the victim, whom they could see through the glass in front
of them. When this fact was brought to their attention, they indicated that it caused them discomfort to
see the victim in agony. We note, however, that although the subject refuses to look at the victim, he
continues to administer shocks. This suggested that the salience of the victim may have, in some
degree, regulated the subject’s performance. If in obeying the experimenter the subject found it
necessary to avoid scrutiny of the victim, would the reverse be true? If the victim were rendered
increasingly more salient to the subject, would obedience diminish? A set of four experiments was
designed to answer this question. We have already described the Remote condition.
Experiment 2 (Voice-Feedback) was identical to the first except that vocal protests were
introduced. As in the first condition, the victim was placed in an adjacent room, but his com- plaints
could be heard clearly through the walls of the laboratory.
Experiment 3 (Proximity) was similar to the second, except that the victim was placed in the same
room as the subject, a few feet from him. Thus he was visible as well as audible, and voice cues
were provided.
Experiment 4 (Touch-Proximity) was identical to the third, with this exception: the victim received
a shock only when his hand rested on a shock plate. At the 150-volt level the victim demanded to be
let free and refused to place his hand on the shock plate. The experimenter ordered the subject to
force the victim’s hand onto the plate. Thus obedience in this condition required that the subject have
physical contact with the victim in order to give him punishment at or beyond the 150-volt level.
Forty adult subjects were studied in each condition. The results, shown in Table 2, revealed that
obedience was significantly reduced as the victim was rendered more immediate to the subject. the
mean maximum shock for the conditions is shown in Figure 6

How are we to account for the diminishing obedience as the victim is brought closer? Several factors
may be at work.
1. Empathic cues. In the Remote and, to a lesser extent, the Voice-Feedback conditions, the victim’s
suffering possesses an abstract, remote quality for the subject. He is aware, but only in a conceptual
sense, that his actions cause pain to another person; the fact is apprehended but not felt. The
phenomenon is common enough. The bombardier can reasonably suppose that his weapons will indict
suffering and death, yet this knowledge is divested of affect and does not arouse in him an emotional
response to the suffering he causes.
It is possible that the visual cues associated with the victim’s suffering trigger empathic responses
in the subject and give him a more complete grasp of the victim’s experience. It is also possible that
the empathic responses are themselves unpleasant, possessing drive properties which cause the
subject to terminate the arousal situation. Diminishing obedience, then, would be explained by the
enrichment of empathic cues in the successive experimental conditions.
e. Denial and narrowing of the cognitive field. The Remote condition allows a narrowing of the
cognitive field so that the victim is put out of mind. When the victim is close it is more difficult to
exclude him from thought. He necessarily intrudes on the subject’s awareness, since he is
continuously visible. In the first two conditions his existence and reactions are made known only after
the shock has been administered. The auditory feed- back is sporadic and discontinuous. In the
Proximity conditions his inclusion in the immediate visual field renders him a continuously salient
element for the subject. The mechanism of denial can no longer be brought into play. One subject in
the Remote condition said, “It’s funny how you really begin 20 forget that there’s a guy out there, even
though you can hear him. For a long time I just concentrated on pressing the switches and reading the

3. Reciprocal fields. If in the Proximity conditions, the subject is in an improved position to
observe the victim, the reverse is also true: the actions of the subject now come under scrutiny by the
victim. Possibly, it is easier to harm a person when he is unable to observe our actions than when he
can see what we are doing. His surveillance of the action directed against him may give rise to shame
or guilt, which may then serve to curtail the action. Many expressions of language refer to the
discomfort or inhibitions that arise in face-to-face attack. It is often said that it is easier to criticize a
man “behind his back” than to confront him directly. If we are lying to someone, it is reputedly
difficult to “look him in the eye.” We “turn away in shame” or in “embarrassment,” and this action
serves to reduce our discomfort. The manifest function of allowing the victim of a firing squad to be
blindfolded is to make the occasion less stressful for him, but it may also serve a latent function of
reducing the stress of the executioner. In short, in the Proximity conditions, the subject may sense that
he has become more salient in the victim’s field of awareness and consequently becomes more selfconscious, embarrassed, and inhibited in his punishment of the victim.
4. Experienced unity of act. In the Remote conditions it is more difficult for the subject to see a
connection between his actions and their consequences for the victim. There is a physical separation
of the act and its effects. The subject depresses a lever in one room, and protests and cries are heard
from another. The two events are in correlation, yet they lack a compelling unity. The unity is more
fully achieved in the Proximity conditions as the victim is brought closer to the action that causes him
pain. It
is rendered complete in Touch-Proximity.
5. Incipient group-formation. Placing the victim in another room not only takes him farther
from the subject, it also draws the subject and the experimenter relatively closer. There is
incipient group formation between the experimenter and the subject, from which the victim is
excluded. The wall between the victim and the others deprives him of an intimacy which the
experimenter and the subject could feel. In the Remote condition, the victim is truly an outsider,
who stands alone, physically and psychologically.
When the victim is placed close to the subject, it becomes easier to form an alliance with him
against the experimenter. The subject no longer has to face the experimenter alone. He has an
ally who is close at hand and eager to collaborate in a revolt against the experimenter. Thus, the
changing set of spatial relations leads to a potentially shifting set of alliances over the several
experimental conditions.
6. Acquired behavior dispositions. It is commonly observed that laboratory mice will rarely
fight with their litter mates. Scott (1958) explains this in terms of passive inhibition. He writes:
“By doing nothing under . . circumstances [the animal] learns to do nothing, and this may be
spoken of as passive inhibition. This principle has great importance in teaching an individual to
be peaceful, for it means that he can learn not to fight simply by not fighting.” Similarly, we may
learn not to harm others simply by not harming them in everyday life. Yet this learning occurs in
a context of proximal relations with others and may not be generalized to situations in which the
others are physically remote from us. Or perhaps, in the past, aggressive actions against others

who were physically close resulted in retaliatory punishment that extinguished the original form
of response. In contrast, aggression against others at a distance may rarely have led to
We move about; our spatial relations shift from one situation to the next, and the fact that we
are near or remote may have a powerful effect on the psychological processes that mediate our
behavior toward others. In these experiments, as the victim was brought closer to the man
ordered to give him shocks, increasing numbers of subjects broke off the experiment, refusing to
obey. The concrete, visible, and proximal presence of the victim acted in an important way to
counteract the experimenter’s power and to generate disobedience. Any theoretical model of
obedience will have to take this fact into account.
Unexpected Behavior
The over-all level of obedience, across all four experimental variations, requires comment.
Subjects have learned from child- hood that it is a fundamental breach of moral conduct to hurt
another person against his will. Yet, almost half the subjects abandon this tenet in following the
instructions of an authority who has no special powers to enforce his commands. To disobey
would bring no material loss or punishment. It is clear from the remarks and behavior of many
participants that in punishing the victim they were often acting against their own values. Subjects
often expressed disapproval of shocking a man in the face of his objections, and others
denounced it as stupid and senseless. Yet many followed the experimental commands.
The results differed sharply from the predictions made in the questionnaire described earlier.
(Here, however, it is possible that the remoteness of the respondents from the actual situation
and the difficulty of conveying to them the concrete details of the experiment could account for
the serious underestimation
of obedience. ) But the results were also unexpected to people who observed the experiment in
process through one-way mirrors. Observers often expressed disbelief upon seeing a subject administer more and more powerful shocks to the victim; even persons Wry acquainted with the
details of the situation consistently underestimated the amount of obedience subjects would
The second unanticipated effect was the tension generated by the procedures. One might
suppose that a subject would simply break oh or continue as his conscience dictated. This is
very far from what happened. There were in some subjects striking reactions of emotional strain.
In the interview following the experiment subjects were asked to indicate on a 14-point scale
just how nervous or tense they felt at the point of maximum tension (Figure 8). The scale ranged
from “Not at all tense and nervous” to “Extremely tense and nervous.” Self-reports of this sort
are of limited precision and at best provide only a rough indication of the subject’s emotional
response. Still, taking the reports for what they are worth, it can be seen that the distribution of
responses spans the entire range of the scale, with the majority of subjects concentrated at the
center and upper extreme. A further breakdown showed that obedient subjects reported
themselves as having been slightly more tense and nervous than the defiant subjects at the point
of maximum tension.

How is the occurrence of tension to be interpreted? First, it points to the presence of conflict.
If a tendency to comply with authority were the only psychological force operating in the
situation, all subjects would have continued to the end, and there would have been no tension.
Tension, it is assumed, results from the simultaneous presence of two or more incompatible
response tendencies (Miller, 1944). If sympathetic concern for the victim were the exclusive
force, all subjects would have calmly defied the experimenter. Instead, there were both obedient
and defiant outcomes, frequently accompanied by extreme tension. A conflict develops between
the deeply ingrained disposition not to harm others and the equally compelling tendency to obey
others who are in authority. The subject is quickly drawn into a dilemma, and the presence of
high tension points to the considerable strength of each of the antagonistic vectors.
Moreover, tension defines the strength of the aversive state from which the subject is unable to
escape through disobedience. When a person is uncomfortable, tense, or stressed, he tries to take
action that will allow him to terminate this unpleasant state. Thus tension may serve as a drive that
leads to escape behavior. But in the present situation even where tension is extreme, many subjects
are unable to perform the response that will bring about relief. Therefore there must be a competing
drive, tendency, or inhibition that precludes activation of the disobedient response. The strength of
this inhibiting factor must be of greater magnitude than the stress experienced, or else the terminating
act would occur. Every evidence of extreme tension sat the same time an indication of the strength of
the forces that keep the subject in the situation.
Finally, tension may be taken as evidence of the reality of the situation for the subject. Normal
subjects do not tremble and sweat unless they are implicated in a deep and genuinely felt

5. Individuals Confront Authority
From each person in the experiment we derive one essential fact: whether he has obeyed or
disobeyed. But it is foolish to see the subject only in this way· For he brings to the laboratory a full
range of emotions, attitudes, and individual styles. Indeed, so varied in temperament and manner are
the people passing through the laboratory that it sometimes seems a miracle that we emerge with any
regularities at all. One subject may be an inarticulate bricklayer, diffident and awkwardly humble in
the presence of a scientist. He is followed by a self-assured, business- man, who thrusts his cigar at
the experimenter to underscore his assertions.
We need to focus on the individuals who took part in the study not only because this provides a
personal dimension to the experiment but also because the quality of each person’s experience gives
us clues to the nature of the process of obedience.
We shall rely heavily on the participant’s own comments and assertions in building up the picture.
At the same time a warning is in order. While we must take very seriously everything the subject says,
we need not necessarily think that he fully understands the causes of his own behavior. A line must be
drawn between listening carefully to what the subject says and mistaking it for the full story. The
subject is controlled by many forces in the situation beyond his awareness, implicit structures that
regulate his behavior without signaling this fact to him, And we have one enormous advantage over
the subject: In each condition, we have slightly varied the nature of the circumstances which the
subject confronts and thus know the importance of each of the factors. The participant, and he alone,
has experienced the predicament, but he cannot place it in the perspective that comes only from an
The sources of information are, first, our observation of the individual as he performs in the
experiment-in particular, the dialogue arising between him and the experimenter. Additionally, ah
subjects provided information on their background in a post- experimental interview (we have
changed their names in the following accounts). Finally, a number of subjects took part in individual
and group discussions, led by a member of the Yale School of Psychiatry.
Bruno Batta, Welder (in Experiment 4)
Mr. Batta is a thirty-seven-year-old welder. He was bon in New Haven, his parents in Italy. He has
a rough-hewn face that conveys a conspicuous lack of alertness. His over-all appearance is somewhat
brutish. An observer described him as a “crude mesomorph of obviously limited intelligence.” But
this is not fully adequate, for he relates to the experimenter with a submissive and deferential
He has some difficulty in mastering the experimental procedure and needs to be corrected by the
experimenter several times. He shows appreciation for the help and willingness to do what is
required. The experiment is the Touch-Proximity variation. After the l50-volt level, Batta has to force

the learner’s hand down on the shock plate, since the learner himself refuses to touch it.
When the leaner first complains, Mr. Batta pays no attention to him. His face remains impassive, as
if to dissociate himself from the learner’s disruptive behavior. When the experimenter instructs him to
force the learner’s hand down, he adopts a rigid mechanical procedure. He tests the generator switch.
When it fails to function, he immediately forces the learner’s hand onto the shock plate. All the while
he maintains the same rigid mask. The learner, seated alongside him, begs him to stop, but with
robotic impassivity, he continues the procedure. What is extraordinary is his apparent total
indifference to the learner; he hardly takes cognizance of him as a human being. Meanwhile, he relates
to the experimenter in a submissive and courteous fashion.
At the 330-volt level, the learner refuses not only to touch the shock plate but also to provide any
answers. Annoyed, Batta turns to him, and chastises him: “You better answer and get it over with. We
can’t stay here all night.” These are the only words he directs to the learner in the course of the hour.
Never again does he speak to him. The scene is brutal and depressing: his hard, impassive face
showing total indifference as he subdues the screaming learner and gives him shocks. He seems to
derive no pleasure from the act itself, only quiet satisfaction at doing his job properly.
When he administers 450 volts, he turns to the experimenter and asks, “Where do we go from here,
Professor?” His tone is deferential and expresses his willingness to be a cooperative subject, in
contrast to the learner’s obstinacy.
In the post experimental interview, he gives a jumbled account of the experiment. The experimenter
routinely asks him whether the experiment has any other purpose he can think of. He uses the question,
without any particular logic, to denigrate the learner, stating, “Well, we have more or less a stubborn
person (the learner). If he understood what this here was, he would went along without getting the
punishment.” In his view, the learner brought punishment on himself.
The experimenter asks whether he felt tense or nervous during the experiment. Again, he uses the
question to express his feelings toward the learner. “The only time I got a little-I wouldn’t say
nervous-I got disgusted, is when he wouldn’t cooperate.” The experimenter has great difficulty in
questioning the subject on the issue of responsibility. He does not seem to grasp the concept.
The interviewer simplifies the question. Finally the subject as- signs major responsibility to the
experimenter: “I say your fault for the simple reason that I was paid for doing this. I had to
follow orders. That’s how I figured it.”
Then, assigning all possibilities of initiative to the experimenter, he says, “Now you could
have just as soon said, ‘Now look, gimme the money back and we’ll forget about this thing. Then
we could have made up our own minds.”
We note that while for many subjects offering to return the payment is regarded as an
honorable means of withdrawing from the experiment, this subject can only conceive of the act if
initiated by the authority. The experimenter rejoins, “But I told you the money was yours simply
for coming, no matter what happened.”

“That’s right.”
At the end of the session, he tells the experimenter how honored he has been to help him, and
in a moment of contrition, remarks, “Sir, sorry it couldn’t have been a full experiment.”
He has done his honest best. It is only the deficient behavior of the learner that has denied the
experimenter full satisfaction.
In a questionnaire returned by Mr. Batta several months later, he informs us that he follow-ed
the experimenter’s instructions to the end, that he fully believed the learner was getting painful
shocks, and that the experiment has not bothered him at all. He believes more experiments of this
sort should be carried out, and he answers “yes” to our question of whether he has learned
something of personal value. But he does not tell us what.
Professor of Old Testament (in Experiment 3)
A somewhat gaunt, ascetic man, this subject could be taken for a New England minister. In
fact, he teaches Old Testament liturgy at a major divinity school. In this Proximity condition, he
adjusted his seat to look at the learner while administering shocks. While reading the word
pairs, he employs exaggerated precision in his pronunciation, and seems curt and officious in
saying, “Correct.” Whenever the learner makes an error, he appears almost to be chastising him
for his failing. Each time he administers a shock, his lips are drawn back, and he bares his teeth.
An excessive fastidiousness characterizes all his actions. After administering 150 volts he balks
at going further. The experimenter states that the learner’s protests are to be disregarded, and the
experiment must continue:
EXPERIMNTER: Its absolutely essential to the experiment that we continue.
SUBJECT: I understand that statement, but i don’t understand why the experiment is placed
above this person’s life.
EXPERIMNTER: There is no permanent tissue damage.
SUBJECT: Well, that’s your opinion. If he doesn’t want to continue, I’m taking orders from him.
EXPERIMNTER: YOU have no other choice, sir, you must go on.
SUBJECT: If this were Russia maybe, but not in America. (The experiment is terminated.)
In his discussion with the experimenter, the subject seems in no way intimidated by the
experimenter’s status but rather treats him as a dull technician who does not see the full
implications of what he is doing. When the experimenter assures him of the safety of the shock
generator, the subject, with some exasperation, brings up the question of the emotional rather
than physiological effects on the learner.
SUBJECT (spontaneously): Surely you’ve considered the ethics of this thing. (extremely
agitated) Here he doesn’t want to go on, and you think that the experiment is more important?

Have you examined him? Do you know what his physical state is? Say this man had a weak heart
(quivering voice).
EXPERIMNTER : We know the machine, sir.
SUBJECT: But you don’t know the man you’re experimenting on. That’s very risky (gulping
and tremulous). What about the fear that man had? It’s impossible for you to determine what
effect that has on him..... the fear that he himself is generating. But go ahead, you ask me
questions; I’m not here to question you.
He limits his questioning, first because he asserts he does not have a right to question, but one
feels that he considers the experimenter too rigid and limited a technician to engage in intelligent
dialogue. One notes further his spontaneous mention of ethics, raised in a didactic manner and
deriving from his professional position as teacher of religion. Finally, it is interesting that he
initially justified his breaking off the experiment not by asserting disobedience but by asserting
that he would then take orders from the victim.
Thus, he speaks of an equivalence between the experimenter’s and the learner’s orders and
does not disobey so much as shifts the person from whom he will take orders.
After explaining the true purpose of the experiment, the experimenter asks, “What in your
opinion is the most effective way of strengthening resistance to inhumane authority?”
The subject answers, “If one had as one’s ultimate authority God, then it trivializes human
Again, the answer for this man lies not in the repudiation of authority but in the substitution of
good-that is, divine—authority for bad.
Jack Washington, Drill Press Operator (in Experiment 2)
Jack Washington is a black subject, age thirty-five, who was born in South Carolina. He
works as a drill press operator and stresses the fact that although he did not complete high
school, he was not a dropout but was drafted into the army before he could get his diploma. He
is a soft man, a bit heavy and
balding, older-looking than his years. His pace is very slow and his manner impassive; his
speech is tinged with Southern and black accents.
When the victim’s first protests are heard, he turns toward the experimenter, looks sadly at
him, then continues reading the word pairs. The experimenter does not have to tell him to
continue. Throughout the experiment he shows almost no emotion or bodily movement. He does
what the experimenter tells him in a slow, steady pace that is set off sharply against the strident
cries of the victim. Throughout, a sad, dejected expression shows on his face. He continues to
the 450-volt level, asks the experimenter what he is to do at that point, administers two

additional shocks on command, and is relieved of his task.
He explains in the interview that although he feels the shocks were extremely painful, he
accepted the experimenter’s word that they would cause no permanent damage. He reaffirms this
belief in a questionnaire answered almost a year after his participation. When asked about
responsibility for the victim’s suffering, he places the heaviest burden on the experimenter, then
on the victim, and assigns the least to himself. Of the learner he says, “He agreed to it, and
therefore must accept responsibility.” The experimenter has “the biggest share of the
responsibility. I merely went on. Because I was following orders I was told to go on. And I did
not get a cue to stop.
He becomes enmeshed in this formulation which he repeats several times. He explains to the
experimenter that if he had received a Clue from the experimenter, he would have stopped,
implying that he would behave in whatever manner the experimenter required. The only
dereliction he can conceive of in the situation is that of not obeying the experimenter.
He explains in his slow, steady manner, “I know that up to a certain point a shock won’t kill
you. I had a shock to the point where I was almost knocked down.... My whole hand was numb.
But it didn’t kill me.”
Thus, he indicates acceptance of the experimenter’s statement that the shocks may be painful
but are not dangerous. In all respects he expresses total faith in the experimenter and indeed
accepts his authority more easily and with less inner conflict than many subjects.
Jan Rensaleer, Industrial Engineer (in Experiment 2)
The subject is a thirty-two-year-old industrial engineer, sporting blond hair and a mustache.
He is self-contained and speaks with a trace of a foreign accent. He is neatly dressed. In the
interview he tells us that he emigrated from Holland after the Second World War and that he is a
member of the Dutch Reformed Church. He is mild-mannered and intelligent.
When the victim complains at the 150-volt level, the subject turns to the experimenter and
asks, “What do I do now?”
The experimenter tells him to continue. The engineer presses his hand to his head and
proceeds with the test. He glances more and more often at the experimenter. At 255 volts, he
pushes the chair away from the shock generator and turns to the experimenter:
MR. RENSALEER: Oh, I can’t continue this way; it’s a voluntary program, if the man doesn’t
want to go on with it.
EXPERIMENTER: Please continue. (A long pause.) MR. RENSALEER: NO, I can’t continue.
I’m sorry.
EXPERIMENTER: The experiment requires that you go on.
MR. RENSALEER: The man, he seems to be getting hurt. EXPERIMENTER: There is no
permanent tissue damage.
MR. RENSALEER: Yes, but I know what shocks do to you. I’m an electrical engineer, and I

had shocks...... and you get real shook up by them-especially if you know the next one is coming.
EXPERIMENTER: It is absolutely essential that you continue.
MR. RENSALEER: Well, I won’t-not with the man screaming to get out.
EXPERIMENTER: YOU have no other choice.
MR. RENSALEER: I do have a choice. (Incredulous and indignant:) Why don’t I have a
choice? I came here on my own free will. I thought I could help in a research project. But if I
have to hurt somebody to do that, or if I was in his place, too, I wouldn’t stay there. I can’t
continue. I’m very sorry. I think I’ve gone too far already, probably.
When asked who was responsible for shocking the learner against his will, he said, “I would
put it on myself entirely.”
He refused to assign any responsibility to the learner or the experimenter.
“I should have stopped the first time he complained. I did want to stop at that time. I turned
and looked at you. I guess it’s a matter of..... authority, if you want to call it that: my being
by the thing, and going on although I didn’t want to. Say, if you’re serving in the army, and you
have to do something you don’t like to do, but your superior tells you to do it. That sort of thing,
you know what I mean? “
One of the things I think is very cowardly is to try to shove the responsibility onto someone else.
if I now turned around and said, ‘It’s your fault........... .it’s not mine,’ I would call that
Although this subject defied the experimenter at 255 volts, he still feels responsible for administering
any shocks beyond the victim’s first protests. He is hard on himself and does not allow the structure
of authority in which he is functioning to absolve him of any responsibility.
Mr. Rensaleer expressed surprise at the underestimation of obedience by the psychiatrists. He said
that on the basis of his experience in Nazi-occupied Europe, he would predict a high level of
compliance to orders. He suggests, “It would be interesting to conduct the same tests in Germany and
other countries.”
The experiment made a deep impression on the subject, so much so that a few days after his
participation he wrote a long, careful letter to the staff, asking if he could work with us.
“Although I am... employed in engineering, I have be- come convinced that the social sciences and
especially psychology, are much more important in today’s world.”

Morris Braverman, Social Worker (in Experiment 2)
Morris Braverman is a thirty-nine-year-old social worker. He looks older than his years because of
his bald pate and serious demeanor. His brow is furrowed, as if all the world’s burdens were carried
in his face. He appears intelligent and concerned. The impression he creates is that of enormous
overcontrol, that of a repressed and serious man, whose finely modulated voice is not linked with his
emotional life. He speaks impressively but with perceptible affectation. As the experiment proceeds,
laughter intrudes into his performance. At first, it is a light snicker, then it becomes increasingly
insistent and disruptive. The laughter seemed triggered by the learner’s screams.
When the learner refuses to answer and the experimenter instructs him to treat the absence of an
answer as equivalent to a wrong answer, he takes his instruction to heart.
Before administering 315 volts he asserts officiously to the victim, “Mr. Wallace, your silence has
to be considered as a wrong answer.” Then he administers the shock. He offers half- heartedly to
change places with the learner, then asks the experimenter, “Do I have to follow these instructions
literally?” He is satisfied with the experimenter’s answer that he does. His very refined and
authoritative manner of speaking is increasingly broken up by wheezing laughter.
The experimenter’s notes on Mr. Braverman at the last few shocks are:
Almost breaking up now each time gives shock. Rubbing face to hide laughter. Ratting eyes,
~trying to hide face with hand, still laughing.
Cannot control his laughter at this point no matter what he does.
Clenching fist pushing it onto table. In the interview, Mr. Braverman summarizes the experiment
with impressive fluency and intelligence. He feels the experiment may have been designed also to
“test the effects on the teacher of being in an essentially sadistic role, as well as the reactions of a
student to a
learning situation that was authoritative, rigid, and punitive.” When asked how painful the last
few shocks administered to the learner were, he indicates that the most extreme category on the
scale is not adequate (it read EXTEMELY PAINFUL) and places his mark at the extreme edge of
the scale with an arrow carrying it beyond the scale.
It is almost impossible to convey the extremely relaxed, sedate quality of his conversation in
the interview. In the most quiescent terms, he speaks about his extreme inner tension.
EXPERIMENTER: At what point were you most tense or nervous?
MR. BRAVERMAN: Well, when he first began to cry out in pain, and I realized this was
hurting him. This got worse when he just blocked and refused to answer. There was I. I’m a nice
person, I think, hurting somebody, and caught up in what seemed a mad situation and in the
interest of science, one goes through with it. At one point I had an impulse to just refuse to
continue with this kind of a teaching situation.
EXPERIMENTER: At what point was this?

MR. BRAVERMAN: This was after a couple of successive refusals and silences. This is
when I asked you a question as to whether I have a choice in my teaching method. At this point
my impulse was to plead with him, talk with him, encourage him, try to ally myself with his
feelings, work at this so we could get this through together and I wouldn’t have to hurt him.
When Mr. Braverman states that he considered “not going through with it,” he does not mean
that he considered disobeying but rather that he considered modifying the manner of teaching the
When the interviewer brings up the general question of tension, Mr. Braverman spontaneously
mentions his laughter.
“My reactions were awfully peculiar. I don’t know if you were watching me, but my reactions
were giggly, and trying to stifle laughter. This isn’t the way I usually am. This was a sheer
reaction to a totally impossible situation. And my reaction was to the situation of having to hurt
somebody. And being totally helpless and caught up in a set of circumstances where I just
couldn’t deviate and I couldn’t try to help. This is what got me.”
A year after his participation in the experiment, he affirms in the questionnaire that he has
definitely learned something of personal importance as a result of being in the experiment,
adding: “What appalled me was that I could possess this capacity for obedience and compliance
to a central idea, i.e. the value of a memory experiment even after it became clear that continued
adherence to this value was at the expense of violation of another value, i.e. don’t hurt someone
else who is helpless and not hurting you. As my wife said, ‘You can call yourself Eichmann.’ I
hope I can deal more effectively with any future conflicts of values I encounter.”

7. Further Variations and Controhs
8. Experiment 5: A New Base-Line Condition
After the proximity series was completed, the experiment was moved out of the elegant Yale
Interaction Laboratory to more modest quarters in the basement of the same building. The new
laboratory was functional but somewhat plain, with bare steam- pipes running along the ceiling,
and a concrete door, instead of the posh rugs and drapes of the former locale. I wondered
whether the less impressive quarters would lead to a lesser level of obedience. In any case it
was necessary to establish a new baseline condition. It was modeled on the Voice-Feedback
condition, with a slight alteration. The learner would not merely respond with cries of anguish,
but would introduce remarks about a heart problem. Perhaps this new element would provide
additional justification for disobeying and make such a course of action seem even more
compelling and necessary.
I did not wish to make the “heart problem” so serious that it would disqualify the learner from
participation but merely to raise a suggestion of a problem. This was achieved through remarks
made by the victim at the time he was being strapped into the electric chair. The experimenter
and naive subject (who has assisted strapping the learner into the chair) are about to leave the
learner and return to the control room. The experimenter routinely asks, “Any questions?” The
learner responds somewhat diffidently, “When I was at the Westhaven V.A. Hospital, a few years
ago, they detected a slight heart condition. Nothing serious, but are these shocks dangerous’
The experimenter replies in a confident, somewhat dismissive tone that although the shocks
may be painful, they cause no permanent tissue damage, and then proceeds with the experimental
The new series of protests, which was to serve as a standard for all subsequent experiments,
paralleled the first set, with the exception that reference is made to the learner’s heart condition
at 150, 195, and 330 volts. The exact schedule of protests is as follows :
Experiment 5: New Base-Line Condition
The Learner’s Schedule of Protests
75 volts Ugh!
90 volts Ugh!
105 volts Ugh! (louder)
120 volts Ugh! Hey this really hurts.
135 volts Ugh! 150 volts Ugh! Experimenter! That’s all. Get me out of here. I told you I had
heart trouble. My heart’s starting to bother me now. Get me out of here, please. My heart’s
starting to bother me. I refuse to go on. Let me out.

165 volts Ugh! Let me out! (shouting)
180 volts Ugh! I can’t stand the pain. Let me out of here! (shouting)
195 volts Ugh! Let me out of here. Let me out of here. My heart’s bothering me. Let me out of
here! You have no right to keep me here! Let me out! Let me out of here! Let me out! Let me out
of here! My heart’s bothering me. Let me out! Let me out!
210 volts Ugh! Experimenter! Get me out of here. I’ve had enough. I won’t be in the
experiment any more.
225 volts Ugh!
240 volts Ugh!
255 volts Ugh! Get me out of here.
270 volts (Agonized scream.) Let me out of here. Let me out of here.
285 volts (Agonized scream.)
300 volts (Agonized scream.) I absolutely refuse to answer any more. Get me out of here. You
can’t hold me here. Get me out. Get me out of here.
315 volts (Intensely agonized scream.) I told you I refuse to answer. I’m no longer part of this
330 volts (Intense end prolonged agonized scream.) Let me out of here. Let me out of here. My
heart’s bothering me. Let me out, I tell you. (Hysterically) Let me out of hem. Let me out of here.
You have no right to hold me here. Let me out! Let me out! Let me out! Let me out of here! Let me
out! Let me out!
Neither the less elegant laboratory nor the mention of a heart condition leads to greater
disobedience. Twenty-six of the 40 subjects continued to the end in the present condition,
compared with W out of 40 in the Voice-Feedback condition, merely a slight chance variation.
The distribution of break-off points is shown in Table 3.
Probably there is nothing the victim can say that will uniformly generate disobedience; for’ the
teacher’s actions are not controlled by him.
In the post experimental interview subjects were asked, “What is the maximum sample shock
you would be willing to accept?” The data are available for 39 subjects in this condition and ate
shown in Figure 9. Three defiant subjects would accept shocks more powerful than they had
administered. Of the 26 obedient subjects, 7 were willing to sample the 450-volt shock they had
just administered, while 19
were not. In most cases there is a marked discrepancy between the shock the subject administered and
the level he would be willing to accept as a sample. Thus three lowest dots in the extreme right side

of the graph represent three subjects who administered 450 volts but would not be willing to sample
more than 45 volts. Similar and even more extreme results are found in all experimental conditions
when this question was asked.

Experiment 6: Change of Personnel
Is it possible that the subjects respond principally to the personalities of the experimenter and
victim? Perhaps the experimenter came across as a more forceful person than the victim, and the
subject allied himself with the more impressive personality. The following experimental comparison
came about inadvertently, but it can shed some light on this point. In order to speed up the running of
the experiment, we had set up a second team, consisting of a new experimenter and a new victim. In
the first team the experimenter was a somewhat dry, hard, technical- looking man. The victim in
contrast was soft, avuncular, and innocuous. These personal characteristics were more or less reversed in the second team. The new experimenter was rather soft and unaggressive. The alternate
victim, in contrast, was played by a man possessing a hard bony face and prognothic jaw, who looked
as if he would do well in a scrap. The results, shown in Table 3, indicate that the change in personnel
had little effect on the level of obedience. The personal characteristics of the experimenter and victim
were not of overriding importance.
Experiment 7: Closeness of Authority
We saw in the proximity experiments that the spatial relation- ship between subject and victim
affected the level of obedience. Would not the relationship of subject to experimenter also play a
There are reasons to feel that, on arrival, the subjects were oriented primarily to the experimenter
rather than to the victim. They had come to the laboratory to fit into the structure that the experimenter
not the victim-would provide. They had come less to understand the behavior than to reveal that
behavior to a competent scientist, and they were willing to display themselves as the scientist’s
purposes required. Most subjects seemed quite concerned about the appearance they were making
before the experimenter, and one could argue that this preoccupation in a relatively new and strange
setting made the subjects

somewhat insensitive to the triadic nature of the social situation. Th