Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Healing Society

In addition to working with individuals and trying to help them, healers also learn about characteristics that people have in common, and try to draw conclusions that will help everyone.  In the fifty or so years since Stanley Milgram's Obedience to Authority experiment, it has been widely discussed and conclusions have been drawn about ways in which the dangers of blindly following authority can be avoided.  The Psychology textbook I used in college, written about five years after the experiment, focused on the pressure from the peer group (even though the pressure seems to have come from one person) as a factor in causing subjects to (as far as they knew?) inflict an electric shock on another person. About a decade later, Milgram's book (including further experiments) was out, and a textbook from that era focused on the factors that reduced the obedience to authority (proximity of the victim, status of the victim, etc,).  In 1991, Thomas Blass wrote a paper discussing personality factors and their interaction with situations in determining level of obedience.  The early 2000's saw Blass's book about Stanley Milgram and a book by Lauren Slater detailing her investigations about several famous psychology experiments.  She interviewed two of the subjects in the original study.  One stopped shocking the "learner" fairly early and the other did not.  Given the circumstances of their lives, it would have seemed like they would have done the opposite of what they had done.  Slater focused on the effects that the study may have had on the participants.  I'll mention two recent developments.  Jerry Burger did a partial replication the original study and produced similar results.  Within the past month, Sam Sommers cited the study as an indication that starting off with a small lapse can lead progressively to larger and larger ones.  Stanley Milgram lived about fifty years; fifty years after his death, people are still trying to use what he learned to help others.