Empathic Cues vs. Abstraction: When someone is given destructive commands by an authority figure to harm another person, they may find these commands easier to follow when they are in conditions that make the suffering of the person that they are harming more abstract as opposed to face-to-face/concrete and, therefore, felt. “He is aware, but only in a conceptual sense, that his actions cause pain to another person; the fact is apprehended, but not felt.” Emotion seems to be key here. We may need our emotions to tell us when we are doing repugnant, something emotionally intolerable. (Milgram 1993:100)
Deniable Victimization: A person may be better able to hurt another person, when told to do so by an authority if the victim of their violence is distant enough from their perceptions for them to put the victim out of their attention. With the victim out of sight and out of mind, the destructive meaning of one’s actions was subjected to a sort of ‘amnesia’ or ‘forgetting.’ “’It’s funny how you really begin to forget that there’s a guy out there, even though you can hear him. For a long time I just concentrated on pressing the switches and reading the words.’” Perhaps this is what televisual screens do to us when we hear about and see atrocities, but then we quickly change the channel or the story changes. If suffering is remote enough for us to deny it, we might just do so. (Milgram 1993:100-101)
Reciprocal Fields: One of the implications in the Milgram study is that when the victim of another person’s violence is present to the violator, and the victim can observe their destructive actions, the assailant has more trouble committing the violence—possibly because the presence of the observer-victim stimulates the shame of the person doing them harm.(Milgram 1993:101)
Cause-Effect Phenomenal Separation: Milgram found that the participants in the study seemed to find it easier to harm another person (under someone else’s command) when they were less proximal to the victim because they were able to disconnect their actions from the consequences of their actions (i.e., harming someone else). When someone is ordered to harm another person, it becomes easier the more they are able to dissociate the causal relations between what they are doing and what happens to someone else. (Milgram 1993:101)
Us-vs.-Them Group Formation: When an authority and someone they command (e.g., Milgram’s experiment participant) are in each other’s presence, while the victim of the command to punish is not present, the authority and their subject develop a more intimate relationship relative to the subject and the victim. “When the victim is placed close to the subject, it becomes easier to form an alliance with him against the experimenter. Subjects no longer have to face the experimenter alone. They have an ally who is close at hand and eager to collaborate in a revolt against the experimenter.”
Distant Aggression, Proximal Peace: Milgram argues that it may be the case that organisms (including humans) find it safer to display aggression “toward others at a distance” as opposed to others that “are within arm’s reach.” This may have something to do with the consequences (i.e., retaliations to one’s aggression) generated by those near them versus those far from them.(Milgram 1993:101)
Impress Authority, Neglect Victim: When we performing in front of an authority figure that asks us to harm another person, we may tend to put our concerns for how our performance affects the victim out of mind. “Most subjects seem quite concerned about the appearance they are making for the experimenter, and one could argue that this preoccupation in a relatively new and strange setting makes the subject somewhat insensitive to the triadic nature of the social situation….” The point that Philip Zimbardo also made is that the newness of the situation can make our anti-harm-oriented habits irrelevant because they don’t know how to operate in the new setting.
Undermine Instead of Break Off: People may find it easier to minimally disobey destructive commands given by an authority figure, when they aren’t in their direct presence, than to completely terminate their participation in the harmful course of events. Milgram says “although these subjects acted in a way that clearly undermined the avowed purposes of the experiment, they found it easier to handle the conflict in this manner [i.e., administering lower shocks while claiming to be raising the shock level] than to precipitate an open break with authority….” We may be more likely to engage in deception or unknown disobedience (by decreasing harm) than in outright rebellion.
Context-specific obedience (not significant): “how closely our compliance with the imperatives of others is tied to particular institutions and locales in our day-to-day activities.” What Milgram found is that whether the study was conducted at Yale or “Bridgeport,” the subjects, though obeying at reduced levels at Bridgeport, nonetheless obeyed with the institutional setting was changed. This seems to imply that obedience is not so much brand-oriented (e.g., the prestigious brand of Yale) as it is oriented to the more ‘micro-level’ (or F2F) interactions of the experiment.
Disphoric Engagement, Difficult Disengagement: When people enter into situations of authoritative control whereby they are given destructive commands, they are ‘caught up’ or ‘trapped’ in some way: “Somehow the subject becomes implicated in a situation from which he cannot disengage himself….” And the more disphoric the situation, the more cognitive dissonance it creates, the more they may try to figure a way out of its powerful gravity.