Electric shocks and T-shirts

Stanley Milgram (1963) carried out a famous piece of research that would be considered unethical today. Actors pretended to receive electric shocks when they gave wrong answers to questions. The participants asking the questions believed they were giving real shocks to real people. In short they asked questions and gave electric shocks for wrong answers. 

The alarming thing is that a large number of participants gave what would have been (if it were true) potentially fatal shocks. Why was this? The crucial thing was authority, when the researcher was dressed like a scientist (white lab coat) and the setting was a laboratory the highest percentage of participants gave the fatal shock. When the researcher wore jeans and a T-shirt and the setting was a warehouse, obedience rates dropped.

What can we learn from this? We may have an authoritative voice we internalised from our childhood to which we are obedient. No doubt many of the participants in Stanley Milgram's experiment felt bad about giving the shocks, but they could not resist the perceived authority, when they were told to continue - they continued.

There are benefits to undermining unhelpful internal authoritative voices, for example the voice says you can't and as a result confidence is weakened.

Stanley Milgram noticed T-shirt and jeans reduced authority. With creativity a counsellor should be able to think of ways to do the same. I suggest questioning the authority behind the voice, build up self authority, even visualise past authority figures in an equivalent of jeans and T-shirts.

Milgram S. (1963) psychology AS Eysenck M and Flanagan C psychology press (2002).

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