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Who is more evil – men or women? The Stanley Milgram experiment

Who is more evil - men or women? The Stanley Milgram experiment
Who is more evil - men or women? The Stanley Milgram experiment
Who is more evil – men or women? The Stanley Milgram experiment

The following is part V – the continuation of a transcript of an interview between Patrick Wanis, Human Behavior and Relationship Expert, PhD and    Professor Philip Zimbardo, Professor Emeritus at Stanford University, exploring if committing evil is limited to men only; Zimbardo and Wanis reference The Stanley Milgram Experiment. Click here to read Part IV of this interview: 

Professor Zimbardo: Yeah. But see, I’ve also done research where I have women who are put in a situation to harm other women under a rationale that the other women are trying to be creative under stress, and their job was to stress them. And for half of the group of women, I created a state of de-individuation. We put them in hoods. We put them in the dark. We put them in a small group. And those whose anonymity – who we made feel anonymous, were twice as aggressive as other women who were randomly assigned to be identifiable.

So just taking women alone, if you create some of the same psychological state; that is, (a) the situation, the authority gives them permission to be aggressive and secondly, you make them feel anonymous, “Nobody knows who I am so I can get away with anything.” Many of these women were aggressive and enjoyed giving shocks. Obviously, the victims were confederates; they didn’t really get shocked, but it was realistic enough so everybody believed it.

Patrick: Are you referring to the study by a colleague, Dr. Stanley Milgram?

Professor Zimbardo: Yes, Stanley Milgram and I were high school classmates.

Patrick: Right. But he did this at Yale though, right, where he basically set-up experiments where the subjects were allowed to exert an electric shock on the participant, the other student?

Professor Zimbardo: Right. Yeah, his research is a classic research on the power of the situation. Back in the 1960s, he tested a thousand ordinary people from New Haven, Connecticut and Bridgeport, Connecticut. None of them were students. He did half of the research at Yale and New Haven and half at Bridgeport. And these were mostly men, 20 to 50 years old. He did one experiment with women, and the women I should say, were exactly the same as the men. Very simply what the study was, for your listeners who may not know, it was the authority says, “We want to see whether or not we can help people improve their memory by punishing errors.”

Patrick: Right.

Professor Zimbardo: So one of the – the subject, the real subject, in the experiment is the teacher, and the learner is the confederate. And every time the learner makes a mistake, he’s going to get punished, but the punishment escalates from a small 15 volts all the way up to 450 volts which is almost lethal. The question is:  Who would go all the way?

Throughout the subject complains to experiment who is in the lab coat, you know, “I don’t want to do this. I’m not that kind of person.” The experimenter simply says, “You must go on. You have a contract. It’s part of the rules.” And two-thirds, two out of three, of these adults, 20 to 50, ordinary people, went all the way to 450 volts, and two-thirds of the women as well when it was an experiment with all women. And in fact, if you come into the experiment and they say, “Oh, we’re running a little late,” and you observe somebody like you go all the way to 90 percent of the time, you go all the way. If you see people rebel, then 90 percent of the time you rebel.

Patrick: So again, just so people understand what this was; the concept was that if someone gave an incorrect answer to a question —

Professor Zimbardo: Right.

Patrick: — the subject was ordered to deliver a shock, and then progressively they delivered more and more powerful shocks up to the whopping 450 volts where they knew that would kill the other person. And you’re saying that still two-thirds – even though it wasn’t real, obviously, but they didn’t know that.

Professor Zimbardo: Right.

Patrick: The victims were actually actors that moaned and wailed.

Professor Zimbardo: Right.

Who is more evil - men or women - The Stanley Milgram experiment shock
Who is more evil – men or women – The Stanley Milgram experiment – participants gave ‘high voltage electric shocks’ and heard the victim suffer, scream and moan along with a big thud

Patrick: You’re saying that both with the study with men and the study with women, two-thirds of both groups went all the way and pressed the lethal switch to kill the other person?

Professor Zimbardo: Right. Well, it wasn’t clear he was killing him, but certainly – I should say, when it gets up to 330 volts, the guy screams. He’s in another room; he screams, and there’s a thud, and he doesn’t respond at all after that. So he is either unconscious or worse. When you’re giving anything above 330 volts, you cannot be helping him improve his memory because he’s not responding. But that’s where you get trapped in the situation, and you just do what – that’s a study of blind obedience to authority. So the authority says, “You must go on. You must go on.”


Patrick: Right. And yet at – there’s still the other point which you and I talked about right at the very beginning when we talked about the fascination of evil. You talked about the fascination with power.

Professor Zimbardo: Right.

Patrick: Because again, when you are pressing that button and giving someone an electric shock, you have the power over someone else.

Professor Zimbardo: Right.

Click here for Part VI  – the continuation of this interview – Power, cheating and sex – why we love powerful people even when they are mean:

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