Beyond Milgram: Obedience and Identity

Association for the Teaching of Psychology review of our new film by Punam Farmah

So you think you know Milgram and his experiments, inside and out? Well, the chances are this film will get you thinking again.

Written by Steve Taylor and presented by Clare Parsons, this twenty-minute film is based around the original, re-interpretation of Milgram’s findings according to social psychology professors Alex Haslam and Steve Reicher. There is always a debate as to how dated much of the research on the specifications is, and how it can remain relevant to those studying. Milgram’s research has celebrated many anniversaries, and even now the hard hitting results cause questions and a pursuit of answers as to why we, as humans do some of the things we do. This film goes some way towards answering that with a contained unit of learning that will support and reinforce material that is delivered to students by making the study relevant and pertinent. Helpfully, the film is broken up into 3 parts which can be watched and discussed all together or shown over a number of lessons.

ln Part 1, the context to Milgram’s research is outlined, including the trial of Adolf Eichmann and the book ‘The Banality of Evil’ By Hannah Arendt. This is really useful for students who are part of a generation that at first glance may not consider the impact of the Second World War or consider its relevance to them today.

Part 2 looks at the research itself and Milgram’s key questions and findings are succinctly described. Milgram’s variations are also considered and explore key questions about obedience, leading towards the notion of independent behaviour. Key information is presented clearly and Haslam & Reicher argue that if you look at the many variations Milgram used, you find as much disobedience as obedience, and the more the experimenters actually issued commands, the less people obeyed.

Part 3 is particularly interesting and will broaden and deepen students understanding of Milgram and obedience within social psychology. lt focuses on social identity and the role identification plays in obedience.

The film ends where Milgram began, with the holocaust. Arendt based her banality of evil thesis on the l-was-only-obeying-orders testimony of Adolf Eichmann at his trial in 1961. The film’s final sequence brings to light Eichmann’s regret, he told an interviewer he had failed, he hadn’t killed all the Jews…

The film is student friendly; it is also teacher friendly. For teachers, you can rest assured that Milgram can be addressed in an engaging, pertinent and fresher style that means it is as relevant today as it once was when first carried out. A good tool for recapping, the film lends itself to be used very effectively in teaching and learning.

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