If_Hitler_Asked_You_to_Electrocute_a_Stranger__Would_You -...

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Warning Concerning Copyright Restrictions The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material. Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specified conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be "used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research." If a user makes a request for, or later uses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of "fair use," that user may be liable for copyright infringement. This institution reserves the right to refuse to accept a copying order if, in its judgment, fulfillment of the order would involve violation of copyright law. Printing note: If you do not want to print this page, select pages 2 to the end on the print dialog screen. Mann Library fax: 607 255-0318 www.mannlib.cornell.edu
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Meyer, Philip. 2001. "If Hitler Asked You to Electrocute a Stranger, Would You? Probably." Pp. 231-237 in James Henslin ed. Down to Earth Sociology: Introductory Readings. NY: Free Press. PHILIP MEYER Let's take the title of this selection seriously for a moment. Suppose that Hitler did ask you to electrocute a stranger, would you? "Of course, I wouldn't" is our immediate response. "I wouldn't even hurt a stranger just because someone asked me, much less electrocute the person." Such an answer certainly seems reasonable, but unfortunately it may not be true. Consider two aspects of the power of groups over our lives. First, we all do things that we prefer not to—from going to work and taking tests when we really want to stay in bed to mowing the grass or doing the dishes when we want to watch television. Our roles and relationships require that we do them, and our own preferences be- come less important than fulfilling the expectations of others. Second, at least on occasion, most of us feel social pressures so strongly that we do things that conflict with our morals. Both these types of behavior are fascinating to sociologists, for they indicate how social structure the way society is organized—shapes our lives. But electrocute someone? Isn't that carrying the point a little too far? One would certainly think so. The experiments described by Meyer, however, indicate that people's positions in groups are so sig- nificant that even "nice, ordinary" people will harm strangers upon re- quest. You may find the implications of authority and roles arising from these experiments disturbing. Many of us do. h ' IN THE BEGINNING, Stanley Milgram was worried about the (jtel problem He doesn't wony much about the Nazis anymore. He wornes Jabout you and me, and perhaps, himself a little bit too. : sLley Milgram is a social psychologist, and when he h ^clZZ & re : Yale University in 1960 he had a plan to prove, ^^1^^ ^ different. The Germans-are-different hypothec had been ^^ ^ such as William L. Shirer, to explain the ¥ dB a jJ ^ the Third Reich. One madman could decide to destroy the ews and even re ate a master plan for getting it done. But to implement it on the 231
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This note was uploaded on 04/04/2009 for the course DSOC 1101 taught by Professor Hirshel during the Spring '07 term at Cornell University (Engineering School).

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If_Hitler_Asked_You_to_Electrocute_a_Stranger__Would_You -...

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