"I observed a mature and initially poised businessman enter the laboratory smiling and confident. Within 20 minutes, he was reduced to a twitching, stuttering wreck, who was rapidly approaching a point of nervous collapse. He constantly pulled on his earlobe and twisted his hands. At one point he pushed his fist into his forehead and muttered: 'Oh God, let's stop it.' And yet he continued to respond to every word of the experimenter and obeyed to the end."

~Quoted in Milgram, 1963 (as quoted in Wortman, Loftus and Weaver 609)

Conversations Between Particiapnts, the Experimenter, and the Learner
What follows is an actual conversation between one naive participant and the experimenter. Milgram's subjects were not suffering from any personality disorders that caused them to enjoy their destructive obedience. In contrast, their actions caused them a great deal of stress (Elms 1995; Elms and Milgram 1966, as cited in Franzoi 299). During the experiment, participants sweated, stuttered, trembled, and groaned as they knowlingly inflicted pain on the individual in the adjacent room. Some sense of their tortured state of mind can be gleaned from remarks made by one of the fully obedient individuals, who began the experiment calmly but became increasingly more tense as the learner protested the delivered shocks (Franzoi 299-300).
Above: The majority of participants (65 percent) continued to administer shocks to the learner, even as the shocks increased in intensity (image and caption from Wortman, Loftus and Weaver 62).

[150 volts delivered]: Participant: "You want me to keep going?"

[165 volts delivered]: "That guy is hollering in there. There's a lot of them [questions] here. He's liable to have a heart condition. You want me to go?"

[180 volts delivered]: "He can't stand it! I'm not going to kill that man in there! You hear him hollering? He's hollering. He can't stand it. What if something happens to him?...I'm not going to get that man sick in there. He's hollering in there. You know what I mean? I mean I refuse to take the responsibility. He's getting hurt in there. He's in there hollering. Too many left here. Geez, if he gets them wrong. There's too many of them left. I mean who is going to take responsibility if anything happens to that gentleman?"

[The experimenter accepts responsibility]: "All right."

[195 volts delivered]: "You see he's hollering. Hear that. Gee, I don't know."

Experimenter: "The experimenter requires that you go on."

Participant: "I know it does, sir, but I mean---hugh---he don't know what he's in for. He's up to 195 volts."

[210 volts delivered]

[225 volts delivered]

[240 volts delivered]: "Aw no. You mean I've got to keep going up with the scale? No sir. I'm not going to kill that man! I'm not going to give him 450 volts!"

Experimenter: "The experiment requires that you go on."

Participant: "I know it does, but that man is hollering in there, sir..." (Conversation as cited in Franzoi 300).

Below is another partial transcription between the experimenter, the learner, and the naive "teacher" participant. The teacher is a heavyset, worried-looking man with prematurely grey hair. He is wearing a polo shirt, and is very polite. A hidden camera is recording the experiment (Meyer 101).

Participant: " 'Green---grass, hat, ink, apple.' Answer please." [Silence. Teacher sits there].

Experimenter: "Go on with the procedure please, teacher."

Participant: "Three hundred and fifteen volts. The answer is 'ink.' "(Zzumph!)

Learner: "Ohh. Ooohh."

Participant: [relieved to hear response]: "Next one."

Learner: "I absolutely refuse to answer."

Participant: "You've got to. You get a shock if you don't answer." [Experiment continues with learner refusing to answer, and, finally, failing even to grunt or groan. At 375 volts, the teacher stands up. Has he had enough? Will he break off the experiment? Will he disobey]?

Participant: "I think something's happened to that fellow in there. I don't get no answer. He was hollering at less voltage. Can't you check in and see if he's alright, please?"

Experimenter: [Same detached calm]: "Not once we've started. Please continue, teacher."

Participant: [Sits down, sighs deeply]: " 'Cool---day, shade, water paint.' Answer please. Are you all right in there? Are you all right?"

Experimenter: "Please continue, teacher. Continue, please." [Teacher pushes lever. Zzumph!]

Participant: (swiveling around in his chair): "Something's happened to that man in there. (Swiveling back). Next one. Low--dollar, necklace, moon, paint. (Turning around again). Something's happened to that man in there. You better check in on him, sir. He won't answer or nothing.

Experimenter: "Continue. Go on, please." (Conversation as cited in Meyer 103).

 

Stanley Milgram Homepage
About the obedience experiment
Follow-up Studies
Biography of Stanley Milgram: his life and work
The Results
Interpretations of the Results
Basis for the experiment

Sample Conversations

Works Cited/Useful Links