I’m not quite sure how I stumbled on this link, but it turns out that the film of Stanley Milgram‘s famous experiment about obedience to authority (wiki) is available to view online. This is the experiment in which people thought they were giving electric shocks to another person who would give wrong answers to multiple choice questions under the assumption that they were trying to “teach” the person being shocked to remember through negative reinforcement (for the full description, see the Wiki link above). This is a classic experiment that raises serious ethical questions about informed consent and emotional harm to those being studied.

I’d never seen the whole film before. I confess to feeling very uncomfortable watching what Milgram was doing to his subjects. I am sure that the justification was the knowledge gained about how far people were willing to go in harming (perhaps even killing) another due to the authority of another, but it’s impossible to watch this film and not ask whether the ends justify the means. In the end, an amazing percentage people (about 65%) were willing to administer extreme/dangerous shocks (even after the person supposedly being shocked stopped screaming and was silent).

One of the most interesting parts of the film for me was way at the end, at about 39:30, where they discuss the ways they sought to control for various factors that might affect the outcome (such as the ability to hear/see the person being shocked, the closeness of the scientific authority, the location of the experiment, etc.).