The Making Of Obedience To Authority: From Binet To Asch To Milgram

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 5:30 PM
Room: Booth 49
Oral Presentation
Harry PERLSTADT , Sociology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
The design of Milgram’s Obedience to Authority can be traced back through Asch’s classic experiment on conformity to Binet’s experiments on memory and suggestion.  Binet and Milgram used what is now termed exploratory experimentation which is not guided by theory or hypotheses but consists of carrying out systematic variations to formulate empirical rules.  Binet conducted two experiments.  Binet and Henri (1894) wondered what would happen if school children were given a suggestion so slight that they did not notice its existence?  Children were shown a model line on one board and then had to identify the model line on a second board that contained a set of lines including the model line.  When the student picked a line on the second board, the experimenter would quietly ask, “Are you really sure?  Is it not the next line?”  In a second experiment Binet (1900) showed a group of three pupils six objects on a poster board for a few minutes and then asked them a series of questions about what they remembered about the objects.  The students performed this task jointly and the students competed with each other to be the first to give an answer.  Years later Asch (1951) would combine Binet’s two experiments in his classic study of conformity to groups.  The group viewed a model line and then the naïve subject would find himself disagreeing with the others on matching the model line.  Milgram knew of Asch’s experiment but wanted to generate sufficient social pressure on an individual in a one-on-one situation.  The Binet and Henri experiment with its questioning of the choice of line provided the bridge between Asch’s group conformity and Milgram’s (1974) researcher/experimenter prodding the teacher/learner “to please continue” and “the experiment requires you to continue.”