Scientist Proved 65% of Typical People Will Follow Deadly Directives From Authority – SDP#3

The Safety Doc Podcast #3 Key Words: Milgram Experiment, Following Orders, Revisionist Research, Forgetting Curve, Memory Distortion, Active Shooter Recruitment, Mob Mentality & Diffused Responsibility


The Safety Doc Podcast #3 challenges “The Atlantic’s” revisionist interpretation of the famous Milgram Electric-Shock Studies of the 1960s that showed that people will obey even the most abhorrent of orders.  Milgram’s research was crucial to help better understand the abundant application of the “I was just following orders” defense at the Nuremberg trials held by the Allied forces after World War II. 

 An overview of Milgram’s study:

  • Paid men $4 to participate in a study advertised as examining memory and learning.
  • Study actually examined following directions given by an authority figure.
  • Participants were assigned role of teacher.  The researcher would observe as a “learner” answered questions – learner was in an adjacent room.
  • The teacher was told to administer a shock to the learner each time he made an incorrect response.  
  • Shock level was on a dial ranging from “Slight Shock” to “Danger, Severe Shock”.  
  • Learners would scream out in pain, beg for mercy as high shock levels were administered (this was acting).
  • A full 65% of teacher continued to administer shocks all the way up to the maximum level.

The Atlantic’s article is a flawed and dangerous approach to understanding qualitative research for these reasons:

  1. The article is unable to account for the greater context of the study, for example, this study occurred during a time when people largely had trust in government and obeyed directives.  
  2. All research gathers data that is analyzed and then not deemed to support the constructs of the study and therefore that data is not discussed in the research findings.  It’s the stuff that ends up on the cutting room floor. Nobody looks at the crunchy covering on George Lucas’s floor, scoops up a handful and says, “Here, let’s add these clips to the movie.” Of course not. Milgram certainly collected much data in the form of recordings and transcripts, but some of that data wouldn’t respond to his initial study questions.  
  3. You can’t rewrite the study questions to fit your findings or to match a contemporary societal narrative. 
  4. The piece by the Atlantic explicitly states, in large bold text, that “The ability to disobey toxic orders is a skill that can be learned like any other – all a person needs to learn is what to say.” Yet, the Atlantic offers no additional information or suggestions on how to specifically fortify one’s psychology against the survival trait of “going along with the tribe”.  The above quote was harvested from a PhD candidate at UW-Madison.  No fault to that gentlemen, but the Atlantic should know better than to leverage such a statement from a research study that wasn’t yet approved by the final defense committee.  The article seems to wish it was a Pinterest Board.


The article has indirect implications for school safety as school shooters often attempt to recruit accomplices. It’s also more likely that a “mob mentality” will fuel the destructive momentum of a group whereas such momentum wouldn’t have present with an individual. Responsibility for actions is diffused across the peer group making the individual’s sense of responsibility fractional – and even though the actions may violate the individual’s beliefs, the sense of ultimate responsibility is shouldered by the group and not the individual.

Rethinking One of Psychology’s Most Infamous Experiments by Cari Romm, January 28, 2015, The Atlantic. Article retrieved from:

HEADLINE (in podcast): State considers letting teachers take up arms after deadly school shooting retrieved from:

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