Thursday, August 27, 2015

Milgram and the Bards. AKA (Milgram and Zimbardo)

   When Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo carried out their seminal experiments on conformity in the 20th Century, they precipitated a sociological perspective on conformity that holds more weight today than ever before. The classic Milgram experiment tested a participant’s willingness to inflict increasingly deadly shocks of electricity to an unseen victim under an authority’s insistence. With over half of the participant’s carrying out the final shock, Milgram’s experiment emphasized the power of authorial persuasion over individual conviction. Zimbardo’s prison experiment allowed student participants at Stanford University to assume that position of unilateral power. Splitting volunteers into prisoners and guards, the experiment tested the limits of the students’ willingness to realistically adopt their separate roles. Intending to run for one or two weeks, the experiment abruptly halted after 6 days. The extent to which the guard participants adopted abusive authorial rule and the prisoners’ treatment remains a point of ethical discussion today.
   The debilitating effect of conformity as demonstrated in these experiments is widely represented in the world today. Most notably violence in the name of a greater good or organization has been demonstrated by prominent terrorist groups like ISIS and the Taliban in the recent past. While their proselytization through “purification” is founded on their interpretations of religious text, the faculty through which they implement violence hinges on the widely studied effects of conformity’s control. As evidenced in the works of Milgram and Zimbardo, an authority’s command can overpower an individual’s moral intuition. Rather than questioning the validity of some Islamic fundamentalist interpretations, followers of ISIS and other terror organizations see their degradation of woman and historical monuments as natural ideals of their own twisted philosophy.
   Apart from the aggressive tactics and destruction of innocent lives, many religions of today demonstrate the same use of conformity that organizations like the Taliban use to propagate and cement their belief systems. Catholicism’s complex hierarchical structure relies on the power of authority to orchestrate its influence on their droves of practitioners. In the same way, Christianity- the world’s most popular religion, relies on the stewardess of millions of pastors and religious leaders to facilitate its global practice of behavioral conformity.

   Zimbardo and Milgram’s experiments exhibits the irresistible influence of conformity on people of assumed status. Most clearly seen in Zimbardo’s prison experiment, the status of prisoner and guard began to subjugate the ethical standards of the students. These same moral standards were subjugated in Milgram’s shock experiment where participants assumed the status of a scientist’s assistant. Conformity’s debilitating societal effect can be seen in the concentrated social atmosphere of a high school or grade school. Surrounded by the vessels of conformity’s effect, the peer group asserts unparalleled social influence in a cordoned environment, lending itself to harmful activities like group bullying and harassment. Now with the Internet as a predominant means of social contact, cyber bullying has become a rampant issue in schools across the nation and worldwide. With the anonymity the Internet provides, the collaborative harassment of fellow peers online has become more prevalent than ever, validating the results of Zimbardo and Milgram’s experiments on conformity’s harmful effects a half century prior. 

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