If someone of authority told you to harm another person – how far would you go? Would you obey orders or face the consequences of saying no?
In 1963, a notorious psychology experiment seemed to unveil the dark side of the human condition. Stanley Milgram’s study came out of an attempt to understand the behavioural processes that allowed the Holocaust to happen. Under the pretext of conducting research into memory and learning, the psychologists asked his participants to administer apparently lethal electric shocks to others. With this, an enduring message was born – ‘we do as we’re told’.
But what if this famous experiment was more good theatre than good science? Pyrmont documentary maker Kathryn Millard explores this uneasy question in her new film Shock Room, screening at Antenna Documentary Film Festival. Millard says that although Milgram’s documentary Obedience, which ingrained Milgram’s study into popular memory, features only one version of his experiment – he actually carried it out 30 times over a two-year period.
Overall, the results were not what we think. Millard said:
The results varied widely, but overall the majority of people were not obedient. Milgram had a flair for drama. When he completed his study, (the psychologist) himself expressed considerable doubts about exactly what he had discovered.
So, why did he focus on only one version of events?
Shock Room dramatises the different versions of Milgram’s experiment. With the help of Yale archives and two social psychologists, Millard questions the reality and the drama behind our supposed obedience. Maybe our collective conscience is not doomed after all.