‘Why won’t you do as you’re told?’, says the teacher or parent to the truculent child. But the question that has concentrated the mind of social psychologists has been quite the reverse: why do we do what we are told, even when we do not want to do it? Stanley Milgram wanted some explanation for the horrors of the Second World War when six million Jews, Slavs, gypsies and homosexuals were slaughtered by the Nazis who ruled Germany at that time. He wanted to design an experiment that could measure obedience and find out why the Germans were particularly obedient. In fact, he did not follow through with this line of thought because he discovered that obedience to authority was not a feature of German culture but a seemingly universal feature of human behaviour.
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