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BEACON TRANSCRIPT – A new study in cognitive sciences has shown that individuals who are ordered to commit an act of aggression against another person is more liable to feel less guilty. The scientists in charge of the project proved that orders reduce one’s sense of responsibility, even though they are directed at harming another human being.
The study in question has been performed by a team of neuroscientists from the University College of London. Using the “Milgram experiments” the team was able to find out why people committing heinous acts tend to feel less guilty and responsible if they were under orders from their superiors.
Whatever the case maybe, the neuroscientist managed to determine a link between living under orders and personal conscience. It would seem that people who receive orders are more than willing to do harm, than others who must make the decision on their own.
Moreover, it’s highly plausible that this relief people feel under order feel when they harm another person might be caused by the person thinking that he is no more than a tool, a middle-man, so to say, and the real culprit is in fact not the one holding the gun, but the one who ordered him to use the gun against another human being.
As we stated before, in their study of the executioner’s clean conscience, the team of scientists followed closely in the footsteps of Stanley Milgram, who in 1963 conducted the so-called Milgram Experiments.
According to Milgram, the whole experiment was centered on the trial of Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi lieutenant-colonel, who instrumented the Holocaust. Although Eichmann was not the only one to take the blame for what can be construed as the most tragic genocide in the history mankind, Eichmann was considered one of the major organizers.
During his trial, which took place at Nurnberg, Adolf Eichmann pleaded not guilty several times, invoking the fact that he was actually working under orders.
Inspired by Eichmann’s baffling and momentous plea for innocence, Stanley Milgram conducted a series of experiment in the 60s to determine if individuals operating under orders have a diminished sense of responsibility.
Towards this end, the psychologists invited a couple of volunteers to participate in this novel experiment. The participants were grouped in pairs. Each of the pairs stood face to face and each of them had a list of words in front of them.
The scientists asked each participant to memorize as many words as they could from the provided list. After this, they were asked to recite the words to the other participant, who also had a list containing the same words. If the other participant did not remember a word, the other had to electrocute him.
According to the results, the participants were more eager to increase the voltage and to administer electrical shocks to the other if they ordered to do so.
Using Milgram’s experiments as a starting point, the team of British scientists, led by Professor Patrick Haggard, conducted their own version of the Milgram experiment.
A pair of women were asked to face each other over a desk. In front of them, the scientists placed a keyboard which contained only two keys. One of the keys did absolutely nothing while the other key sent and electrical shock to the other participant.
The experiment demonstrated once again that participants are more liable to injure another person if they are under orders. Haggard declared that orders reduce one’s sense of responsibility, although the action in its essence is still questionable. The scientist also declared that people who are ordered to harm other feel more passive and less guilty even though the action might result in injury or death.
However, Haggard also declared that although there are signs that show us that responsibility diminishes under orders, it should not be used as an excuse for our actions.