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May 25, 2011


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Hanah Volokh

I want to share with one of my personal points of pride: I passed a Milgram-type "obey my authority" experiment.

I was in high school, taking a summer college class on psychology. The professor walked into the room on the first day of class and immediately started ordering people around. At first it was simple things -- you move to that empty seat there, then you two switch, and so on. But then the requests started getting weirder. He brought out a beach ball and started asking us to throw it around to particular people, then to stand up and do various things. I was the only person in the class of about two dozen to refuse to follow his instructions. I'd done a few things he asked, but when he asked me to stand up in front of the room and dance, I got up, and then suddenly said no. I sat back down, he moved on and asked another person, and didn't come back to me with any more orders. After he'd done enough to make his point, he had everyone sit down again and we discussed the Milgram experiment.

What was really interesting, though, was the feeling I had when I said no to that instruction. It was almost a spur-of-the-moment, reflexive decision. I didn't think consciously about whether I should follow his instructions or disobey, either before he called on me or after I started to get up. It was just a sudden, nearly uncontrollable urge to refuse. And as the word "no" came out of my mouth, I felt dizzy and lightheaded. I actually feared that I was going to fall over or pass out. Nonetheless, it was clear to me right then and there that I was *not* going to follow any more instructions from that professor. After I sat down, I felt much better, but the heady feeling of having survived a dangerous situation stuck with me for hours. Which is weird, because there was nothing even remotely dangerous about the situation. This was about 15 years ago, but I still remember the moment so vividly.

I don't know if there have been any studies of how people who refuse instructions from authority feel, but I would be interested to see if my experience was common.


I've never heard of these experiments, but they sound terrifying. It adds a layer of complexity to particularly bad chapters of human history, doesn't it?

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