Well, this experiment has been replicated as recently as 2006 (modified to meet modern ethical requirements). And guess what?
The results were the same. Most of the participants in the study shocked the "learner" until the highest voltage possible, no matter the participants' gender, ethnicity, age, and education. They all showed similar rates of obedience to instructions to shock the learner.
So--was there anything that made a difference? Yes. People who felt more empathy for the learner's pain showed higher rates of refusal. There's also some indication that people who seek more control over situations will resist. But the replications of that old study aren't the only indication that ordinary people sometimes behave in evil ways:
|Abu Ghraib is a tragic, real-life example.|
- When children are taught to obey all authority (and not specifically instructed that it's OK to disobey unjust authority)
- When human diversity is not respected (easier to abuse someone you think of as less than human)
- When people feel anonymous and not personally responsible for their actions
- When it's not acceptable to admit mistakes
- When we sacrifice personal freedom for promised security
- When we tolerate bullying and teasing
I think Schindler's List is a great movie that shows both the power of resistance and of conformity. If you're in the mood for a documentary, Ghosts of Abu Ghraib examines how American soldiers became cruel torturers. Writers are supposed to be astute studies of human behavior--so we need to understand both internal, personal characteristics AS WELL AS how our immediate situation influences us. I'll bet you folks can come up with other suggestions from books, movies, and real life--please share them!