Stanley Milgram’s famous experiment demonstrated the power of authority to compel individuals to engage in negative, and even harmful behaviors against others. In Milgram’s experiment, subjects complied with instructions from experimenters wearing white lab coats to administer what they thought were painful electric shocks to people hidden in another room nearby.
The subjects could hear the individuals (who were actually the experimenter’s confederates) crying out in pain and begging for the shocks to stop. But, that didn’t stop the subjects in many cases from administering additional shocks at the instruction of the experimenter.
Milgram conducted his experiments in the 1960s, and there have been not only replications of his experiments in the years since, but also actual criminal behavior grounded in compliance with authority. The 2012 movie, Compliance, dramatizes true events in which an individual called a fast food restaurant claiming to be a police officer and convinced a manager to strip search an employee, who was also then subjected to sexual abuse and humiliation.
The movie is painful to watch in spots, as you might imagine, but it is also a fascinating look inside the psychology of compliance and just how powerfully some individuals react to authority figures. The movie’s controversial content sparked some debate when it was released, including claims that the movie was exploitative and unrealistic.
The below news story regarding this case, which includes actual footage taken from a surveillance camera of the incident, would suggest, however, that the movie attempted to faithfully recreate the horrible circumstances of the offense.
Of his experiments, Milgram wrote:
Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.
It seems this conclusion, in terms of the above case at least, has been borne out beyond the confines of the laboratory.