Where does one draw the line between obedience and conformity?
Stanley Milgram, a psychology professor at Yale University, conducted a series of social psychology experiments to find out.
The series of experiments were titled “The Milgram experiments on obedience to authority figures.” The study was designed to measure the willingness of experimental subjects to follow orders from a higher authority, regardless of the negative impact these may have on another individual. These experiments were contemporary with the trials of Nazi war criminals who claimed that they were following orders from superiors, which sparked major interest in the study. The study aimed at gaining some understanding of how ordinary human beings can carry out cruel and horrific orders that involve causing pain and suffering to another being.
In short, volunteers were told that they had to deliver electric shocks as part of a learning experiment. The individuals administering the shocks were assigned as “teachers” and the individuals receiving the shocks were termed “learners”. Each time the learner made a mistake, the teacher was instructed by a higher authority figure (in a white lab coat) to deliver increasing electrical shocks. The intensity of the shocks was indicated by screaming, yelling, and other marks of pain and distress from the learners, which were kept out of sight so that the teachers would form their own assumptions about the pain that they were inflicting. When the teachers were hesitant or reluctant to keep administering the shocks, the superiors kept instructing them to continue. Sounds cruel and unethical, I know. The trick? The so-called learners, were in fact, actors following a rehearsed script.
As for the results, Milgram discovered that people are more obedient than what they think they are. Over 60% of the participants continued administering the shocks until the very end (which was marked by an XXX in the shocking device). This means that they followed orders despite believing that their actions were causing harm to someone else. Can you believe that? The teachers kept shocking despite painful yells, agonizing screams, pleads begging for them to stop, and eventually silence.
Some have argued that one of the study’s flaws was the usage of actors because some of the participants may have thought about the possibility of the learners being actors. However, they still did what they believed to be expected of them. Thus, Stanley Milgram’s study on obedience could be more properly named a study on the power of conformity.
Where would have you drawn the line, if at all?
Source: Milgram, S. (1963). Behavioral study of obedience. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67(4), 371-378.
Studies show that dopamine levels in the brain increase, even after just one sleepless night, suggesting a neural adaptation to sleep deprivation. However, this upregulation of dopamine does not compensate for cognitive deficits following sleep deprivation.
The mind-body problem is the core for many existentialist questions. As rational, free-thinking, human beings, can we be reduced strictly to brain function? Or is there something more?
Throughout history, thinkers have been classified into distinct groups that vary in how they address the mind-body problem. All groups are interested in determining the relationship between neural events in the brain and subjective, introspective personal events that belong to the domain of our inner mental life. It is important to note that the major division between thinkers is whether or not there truly is a mind-brain dichotomy. The three main groups are summarized as follows…
Materialism/Functionalism: This is a simplistic position that holds that because there is no such things as private and subjective mental events, there is simply no problem. To the functionalist, all that exists are the physical and neurological events underlying information processing and coding. In this view, human beings are viewed as automated units that are programmed to perform. We think we experience reality, but we are merely experiencing the sum of our neural events.
Mild Dualism: Mild dualists recognize that there is a separation between the brain and the mind. To them, brain events may elicit mental events or be elicited by mental events and this interaction influences the course and development of our behavior. In this view, the combination of mentalistic events or phenomena such as consciousness with neural events are the determinants of experience.
Strong Dualism: This is an extreme position which holds that events in the brain operate according to physical laws to completely determine subjective experience and behavior. Thus, neural events result in both actions and thoughts, even if a separation between both is acknowledged.
Where do you stand? What implications would these positions regarding the mind-body problem have?
Here’s an example of a humorous approach to the mind-brain problem from Punch Magazine, 1855.