Behind the Shock Machine by Gina Perry

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Gina Perry wrote the book in response to an experiment undertaken by Stanley Milgram to explore adherence to authority. Adolf Eichmann was reprimanded in 1963 for murdering Jews during the Holocaust; he said that he only did so because he was following orders. Milligram then commissioned a survey to determine the degree to which ordinary Americans would follow authority if told to hurt anyone else.
The participants of the experiment originally assumed that the research was intended to look at the consequences of punishing a pupil on their academic success. Any student was instructed to act as if he or she were an instructor. There was also another volunteer who assumed the role of the learner and sat in the adjoining room. The teacher asked the learner to recite a pair of words; whenever the learner said the wrong pair, the teacher gave them an electric shock by operating a mechanical lever. The voltage of the shock increased with the number of wrong answers the learner gave. The various levels of shock were “slight shock,” “severe shock” and “xxx.” In a real sense, the learner only pretended to receive the shocks (Perry 352). The learner requested to be released with the progress of the experiment based on a predetermined script. Any participant-teacher who wanted to quit they were allowed to do so after the experimenter completed four ‘prods.’ The subjects could abandon the experiment after the fourth ‘prod.’

The surprising part was that at least two-thirds of the teachers administered the highest shock levels despite suffering and sweating because they thought that they were inflicting pain on others for the sake of science. Milgram’s experiments caused an uproar about the psychological torture it might inflict on the participants. Some individuals hated the purpose of the research while some did not like the method used to relay the message. The study has received global attention as it is discussed in novels, films, songs, TV programs, textbooks, and schoolrooms.

Gina Perry, an Australian journalist, and psychologist looked into each aspect of the study and interviewed the people involved in the experiment. Perry explains the variations in the survey of the primary obedience paradigm (Andersson 2). She spoke to the son of the ‘learner’ in the experiment, Milgram’s assistants in the study, his students, defenders, critics, biographer, and colleagues. Perry even went through Milgram’s unpublished works and listened to the recording made by participants after and before the experiments.

In “Behind the Shock Machine,” Perry intends to view the story of the experiment from a different perspective. According to her, the 780 subjects were faceless people that Milgram used to represent society and prove that human beings often obey orders from their superiors regardless of how they feel about the situation (Book Review: "Behind the Shock Machine" by Gina Perry 33). Perry provided the names, backgrounds, and personalities of the participants; she restored their individuality to establish the extent to which the experiments were inconclusive and flawed. She did not agree with the message as well as the method Milgram used to create the hypothesis. After searching for flaws in an experiment that most people deemed perfect, she realized that Milgram violated some protocols in research: as the experiment progressed the person playing ‘experimenter’ veered off the script and told the participants to carry on with the experiment. Perry recalls Milgram’s admission of unacceptable conduct in research. Milgram failed to talk to the participants about the experiment when he finished. He did not tell them that the shock was not real thus some of the subjects suffered psychological torture since they thought that they had harmed other people (Taking a Closer Look into Milgram's Shocking Obedience Study 25). A year went by before Milgram gave a full account of what took place in the laboratory. Some people did not understand the purpose of the experiment while others are still tortured by what they went through during the investigation.

Perry’s revelations make the situation more complex, and she is commended worldwide for her discoveries. The problem is that she wanted her discoveries to be regarded a fatal stake in the matter rather than a revision of Milgram’s work but she failed in this endeavor. Her work calls for several modifications, but the results of her experiments have been reproduced by larger scales in other countries with ethical conduct. Perry is so angry with Milgram’s that she is not a reliable source of guidance for most readers because she has turned the matter into an emotional rather than professional issue. She describes Milgram as a sneaky manipulator and a Wizard of Oz pretending to be scientist among many other negative things; she says that Milgram deceives and tricks people. Perry says that Milgram manipulated his data so that it finds the theory he desired; she even admitted to stopping listening to people who supported Milgram’s experiments without giving a valid reason.

Everyone has the right to question another party’s experiment, but the objections should be based on concrete reasons, not personal issues. She says that situations control people’s behavior and Americans are not willing to accept this fact. Perry adds that individuals’ backgrounds and histories influence their decisions. Milgram did not differ with this line of thought since he noticed that some of his subjects revisited. He admitted that people’s actions do not always result from emotions but their situation during the time of the experiment. Milgram says that actions are equally dependent on the man’s situation, but Perry chooses to ignore this part. Perry says that the way Milgram defines obedience resembled a life sentence at the time of the experiment. At the end of her study, she changed her mind from admiring Milgram to understanding people better. She says that it is not in human nature to be cruel and people can be rebellious, obedient or conform to societal standards. Milgram’s biographer told Perry that only 1.5% of the participants regretted taking part in the study, but Perry does not want to believe her hence she mishears the message (Book Review: "Behind the Shock Machine" by Gina Perry 30).

In conclusion, the experiment by Milgram was successful in displaying human behavior. He proved that people could do things they were not proud of because the person in authority asked them to do it. Perry’s reasons for questioning Milgram’s results were baseless; she rushed to insult Milgram saying that he used trickery to obtain his results. However, the experiment was carried out in other parts of the world, and the results have been replicated. We all have a right to critique analyses but we should base our arguments on facts, not personal matters. Perry’s interest in the case turned out to be more of emotional rants instead of professional. Her personal input into the matter makes it difficult for many people to take her arguments seriously.

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Works Cited

Andersson, Tanetta. "Behind the Shock Machine: The Untold Story of the Notorious Milgram Psychology Experiments." 2014.

"Book Review: "Behind the Shock Machine" by Gina Perry." (2017): 30-45.

Perry, Gina. Behind The Shock Machine: The Untold Story of the Milgram Psychology Experiments. 2012. 352.

"Taking a Closer Look into Milgram's Shocking Obedience Study." Author Interviews (2013): 20-30.

August 31, 2021

Education Life

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