The experiment was designed to compare German and American levels of obedience. The immoral acts of the Nazis were carried out through obedience. Milgram wanted to see if American’s would also obey and participate in a destructive process.
The experiment first took place at Yale University and eventually involved over one thousand participants at several other universities. Two individuals were to enter a psychology laboratory and take part in a study of memory and learning. One of them was to be the teacher and the other one the student. This student was instructed to learn a list of word pairs and whenever he made a mistake he would receive electric shocks of increasing intensity.
The focus of the experiment is the teacher. He watched the student being strapped into place and then was taken to a shock generator. It featured switches ranging from 15 to 450 volts in 15-volt increments. If the student gets the answer correct the teacher is to move on to the next problem. If the answer is wrong the teacher is to shock the student beginning with 15 volts.
The teacher, being the focus of the experiment, does not know that the student is not really being shocked. The student is actually an actor. Each time the student answers incorrectly and is shocked, he pretends to be shocked.
As the teacher watches the student being tortured by the electric shocks, he continues to follow the orders he was instructed. The experiment proves that obedience is something humans teach one another and follow through with.