A few years ago, I heard that someone was replicating Stanley Milgram’s infamous authoritarian personality studies (these were the series of experiments where participants were asked to administer shocks to someone they could not see, and most did so long after the unseen person stopped crying out in pain). Hearing this took my breath away — Milgram’s experiments led to new ethics standards in social science research, and replicating them seemed nearly impossible.

But through a close reading of Milgram’s results, psychologist Jerry Burger found a way to replicate the study without damaging participants. His results have been recently published in a peer-reviewed journal, so Cognitive Daily has summarized and commented on the study, including the crucial difference in methodology that allowed the study to go forward under modern ethical oversight.

The Cognitive Daily post is worth reading. Not surprisingly, the study’s findings mirror Milgram’s: we usually do what we are told, regardless of the harm we seem to be imposing on others. We all like to think we are independent thinkers who would disobey immoral orders, but the truth is, we rely on the herd to know what to do. I guess the trick is to pick the right herd.

Posted on January 29th, 2009 by Katxena