The following is based on the article, "if Hitler asked You to Electrocute a Stranger would you?", by Philip Meyer, originally published in Esquire, February 1970. This paper discusses Stanley Milgram's studies on obedience and his plan to prove, scientifically, the Shirer thesis. Stanley Milgram was a social psychologist who began his career at Yale University in 1960. The Shirer thesis, based on a hypothesis by William L. Shirer, a historian, was used to explain the systematic destruction of the Jews by the Third Reich. Simply stated, the Shirer thesis concluded that Germans have a basic character flaw which explains their readiness to obey authority without question, no matter what outrageous acts the authority commands. Milgram developed a laboratory experiment to test obedience. His plan was to try the experiment in America, then move it to Germany. He never got to Germany.
The experiment consisted of three individuals, an experimenter, a teacher, and a learner. The experimenter and the learner are carefully contrived roles with set responses and actions. The teacher is the only true subject of the experiment. .
The set up is simple. If you were the innocent subject in Milgram's experiment, you either answered a newspaper advertisement of responded to a mailing asking for volunteers for and educational experiment. The experiment would require one hour of your time and pay $4.50. When you arrive at the professional looking building for your scheduled appointment you meet a professional looking "scientist" who is wearing a lab coat. Another individual, a very mild, nervous, "accountant" type, also appears to be waiting to participate in the experiment. The gentleman in the lab coat explains that the $4.50 is yours to keep no matter what happens. He introduces himself as Jack Williams, then begins to explain the experiment.
You are told that the experiment is about learning and positive and negative reinforcement.