In Stanley Milgram's article, "The Perils of Obedience", the Yale University psychologist summarizes his experiments to determine if ordinary people, simply obeying instructions, can become instruments in a frightening, malicious process. His conclusions show that people frequently will obey authority even when commands create a dilemma with their consciences. In the study, the dilemma is between the desire to satisfy a superior's instructions and the guilt caused by inflicting pain on an innocent person.
In Milgram's basic experimental setup, ordinary people were recruited and brought into a laboratory to participate in what they were told was a study of exploring the effects of punishment on learning behavior. On arrival, they were given the role of the teacher, but were actually the unknowing subjects of the experiment. .
The subjects - "teachers"- would read a series of word pairs to the "learner", who then was asked to select the correct corresponding word from four alternatives. The teacher was asked to administer an electric shock of increasing intensity for each mistake the learner made. The teacher was not aware that the "learner" in the study was actually an actor who was merely indicating discomfort as the "teacher" increased the electric shocks. The actor was seated into what looked like a mini electric chair, his arms strapped and an electrode attached to his wrist. The buttons that activated the shocks were labeled on the device and ranged from mild to extremely dangerous. .
Conflict arose when the fictitious learner began to express his irritation. "At 75 volts, he complains loudly; at 150, he demands to be released from the experiment. As the voltage increases, his protest becomes more vehement and emotional. At 285 volts, his response can be described as an agonized scream. Soon, thereafter, he makes no sound at all." (Milgram, 318).
Milgram tested many subjects, including Gretchen Brandt, a 31-year-old technician.