The secret to getting people to do bad things that they would not ordinarily do is to order them to do those things that are seen as being bad. Patrick Haggard of the University College London developed an elaboration of the original discovery made by Stanley Milgram at Yale University in 1963 that people will inflict harm on others if a person in authority tells them to. The new analysis was reported in the Feb. 18, 2016, edition of the journal Current Biology.
The researchers selected sense of agency as a true measure of a person’s willingness to inflict harm on others if they are ordered to. Sense of agency is the feeling that a person’s actions produced an external event. The time delay between the action and the event were measured. The reactions of brain centers involved with sense of agency were measured in a group of volunteers. The volunteers were requested to deliver a small electric shock to another individual in the test group. The participants that inflicted pain on other people received a small financial reward.
Previous studies by the same group of scientists have established that a positive outcome to an action produces a shorter lapse in the time for the perception of the results of the action to occur and the action itself. The participants that were ordered to inflict pain on other people and those that did so in pursuit of a reward experienced an increased delay in the recognition of the results of their actions. The brain centers responsible for what is perceived as responsibility reacted slower in people that were coerced to inflict pain on others.
The researchers claim the experiment shows that people that are ordered to cause harm to others feel less guilt and less responsibility for the harm caused to others. The results go beyond plausible deniability and any statement of acting under orders. The study explains in part why people in the military can commit atrocities that they normally would not do. The results may also indicate why PTSD is often delayed in people in the military.
The research could indicate that the military structure of gangs and drug cartels have a lot to do with the violence that is perpetrated by individuals in these groups. The study indicates that an order from a deity or a perceived order from a deity could be the reason behind centuries of atrocities committed by many religious groups. The study explains why many politicians and leaders have been able to get such wide acceptance for unbelievable actions.