Peter Gabriel – We Do What We’re Told (Milgram’s 37)

A ponderous song title gets us into a tune about research ethics when it comes to human subjects. We might not know what the lyrics are about without this title!

It may be easier to mix potions in beakers, but experiments on live people carry high ethical standards… in theory.

Stanley Milgram, a Yale University psychologist, was interested, in the 1960s, in researching how willing we might be to do things we are personally against, if the things to do were instructed to be done by someone in authority. Giving others electric shocks was the experiment (37 did, hence the title).

The larger implication of this behavior suggested that ordinary people could become accomplices to awful events such as the Holocaust. Thus, human nature could be by default manipulated and even dark and evil.

This could still have implications for public policy, in which laws would be necessary to temper our natural inclinations?


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