Thursday, March 16, 2017

My Thoughts: The Milgram Obedience Experiment and Suggestibility

(This blog was originally posted on February 6, 2015)
Photo by Rick Hustead

Experimenter is being promoted at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival this week. The film is about psychologist Stanley Milgram, whose 1961 obedience experiment famously demonstrated how obedient people could be when they are confronted with real or perceived authority. 

I remember reading about this project while I was pursuing my undergraduate degree psychology. In it, participants were made to deliver electric shocks of various and increasing intensity to other people. The Yale University psychologist was interested to see at what point and under what circumstance a participant would disobey authority: i.e., refuse to administer the shocks, which were portrayed as extremely painful and possibly causing permanent physical damage to the recipient. In fact, the “shocks” were imaginary and the people who were supposedly receiving them were actually members of Milgram’s research team. Ultimately, the researcher reported that 65 percent of the participants were willing to administer the electric shocks to others despite the extreme stress they reported feeling while administering the shocks and the pain they believed they were causing others.

Remembering and thinking about this study made me cringe, but it also made me wonder: Could John Kappas, Ph.D.’s models of suggestibility explain the social psychologist’s observations? Following are reasons why I think the Hypnosis Motivation Institute founder’s theories work very well to explain why Milgram’s research participants were willing (albeit begrudgingly) to continue to administer those shocks.
1.       He had authority. Milgram was conducting his research in a prominent and respected academic university. Since he held a Ph.D. in psychology his subjects would have called him “Dr.,” which automatically implies a position of power or authority.
2.       He had a message: The psychologist told the participants what to do and when to do it, and he did not waver from his instruction even when they voiced concerns about the harm the continued shocks must be doing to the shock recipients.
3.       He overloaded the participants’ conscious and subconscious minds with written and auditory information (message units) about the intensity of the electric shocks being delivered and the sounds/exclamations of pain that the recipients uttered. Milgram also continued to deliver his authoritarian patter of instructions that the participants should continue to administer the shocks even if and when they wanted to stop taking part in the experiment.
Afterward, Milgram and his team debriefed the participants to explain that the electric shocks used during the experiment were imaginary and reassured them that no one had been harmed in any way. I’m sure that was a relief for those who had obeyed each one of the psychologist’s instructions to complete the experiment. The questionable and controversial ethics of his research design reportedly resulted in the American Psychological Association creating ethical standards for ensuring the physical, emotional and psychological well-being of participants in future studies.

I also follow the APA’s guidelines for ethics and professional conduct when I work with hypnotherapy clients. I will not and would not ask you to say or do anything while in hypnosis that you would not say or do while in a fully alert state of awareness. Furthermore, your subconscious mind would not comply with any hypnotic suggestion(s) that contradicted your ethical and moral beliefs. For more information about hypnosis and how it works, check out the Hypnosis Facts link on my website.

Sara R. Fogan, C.Ht. is a certified hypnotherapist based in Southern California. She graduated with honors from the Hypnosis Motivation Institute in 2005. For more information about Calminsense Hypnotherapy® and to set up an appointment, please visit
© 2017