The participants of the test were urged to punish their partner with an electric shock for each wrong answer, increasing the voltage from 15 to 450 volts. In fact, the electric shock device was a fake, while actors performed the role of their partners; but the participants believed them to be real.
During the experiment, the actors begged for the torturing to cease, while the experimenter demanded to continue the procedure "at any cost."
Milgram's experiments demonstrated scaring results. It turns out that under pressure from an authoritative person, people are ready to fulfill orders even if they may inflict pain on someone else. In fact, the experiment was a kind of emulation of Nazi concentration camps, a test to determine whether the employees of these death factories consciously participated in the Holocaust.
The test caused a lot of discontent in the scientific circles at that time. Some researchers questioned Milgram's professionalism, accused him of manipulating data and even wanted to file a lawsuit against him.
Recently, Polish sociologist Tomasz Grzyb and his team decided to carry out a similar experiment in Poland. Their decision was inspired by the widespread assumption that such tests would lead to different results if conducted in countries that have never experienced totalitarian ideology (e.g., the United States) and in those where totalitarianism dominated over a certain period of time (e.g., Eastern Europe).
However, researchers did not find any differences in the behavior of people in a democratic America and those in a former totalitarian country.
"Upon learning about Milgram's experiments, a vast majority of people claim that 'I would never behave in such a manner," Grzyb was quoted as saying. "Our study has, yet again, illustrated the tremendous power of the situation the subjects are confronted with and how easily they can agree to things which they find unpleasant."
It turned out that both young and elderly Poles were ready to deliver electric shocks to their partners, as their American predecessors did during the Cold War. The number of such "executors" reached 90%, a figure similar to the one announced by Stanley Miller 50 years ago.
Interestingly, when the "executor" was to deliver shock to a woman, the number of refusals rose by 9-10%. So far, the scientists don't know the reasons behind this tendency, since the number of volunteers was too small to test potential explanations.
The results of the experiment were published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.