In a 1962 letter, as a last-ditch effort for clemency, Holocaust organizer Adolf Eichmann wrote that he and other low-level officers were “forced to serve as mere instruments,” shifting the responsibility for the deaths of millions of Jews to his superiors. The “just following orders” defense, made famous in the post-WWII Nuremberg trials, featured heavily in Eichmann’s court hearings.
But that same year Stanley Milgram, a Yale University psychologist, conducted a series of famous experiments that tested whether “ordinary” folks would inflict harm on another person after following orders from an authoritative figure. Shockingly, the results suggested any human was capable of a heart of darkness.
Milgram’s research tackled whether a person could be coerced into behaving heinously, but new research released Thursday offers one explanation as to why.Modern-day Milgram experiment shows that people obeying commands feel less responsible for their actions.