The latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe; Netflix original series Jessica Jones, pits it’s super powered detective heroine against the super villain Zebediah Killgrave, better known to comic fans as the Purple Man. Despite his less-than-intimidating name, Purple Man has a very formidable ability: he can make people do whatever he asks.
Using these powers, Killgrave has committed crimes ranging from theft, to bank robbery, to over-throwing whole countries. And even a few that are too despicable for us to mention here.
Comic writers have explained this ability in different ways over the years, including super pheromones and telepathy. But there’s one possible explanation which is frighteningly real: the Power of Suggestion. To put it another way, sometimes all Killgrave has to do to make people obey him is ask the right way.
Now, if you’ve ever gotten into a fight with a teacher or parent because you wouldn’t do something they wanted you to, you might think this sounds more far-fetched than the super pheromones. But scientists would disagree with you, especially this one: Stanley Milgram.
Milgram performed one of the most famous experiments on human obedience of all time, and is the subject of Magnolia Picture’s feature: The Experimenter.
What Milgram was trying to find out was how much you could get a person to do, just by asking. In his experiment, he asked regular people to press buttons on a console. The buttons were connected to another person in an adjoining room, who unbeknownst to the test subject was actually an actor working with Milgram. Whenever the buttons were pressed, the actor would pretend to get an electric shock, scream in pain and beg the test subject to stop. Milgram however, asked the subjects to continue pressing the buttons. No matter how much they thought they were hurting the other person, they kept pressing the buttons as long as Milgram asked them to. Some even kept going after they thought they had killed the other person. The test subjects were offered no reward for following the instructions, and there was no penalty if they didn’t follow them. Their only motivation to listen to Milgram was that he was a scientist and he said “please”. Maybe it really is a magic word…
Although Milgram’s experiment is controversial, his finding remain popular and some have used them to answer questions such as “why do people join cults?” and “why do people follow dictators?”. And they definitely make Killgrave and his abilities seem that much scarier.
So the next time someone wants you to do something, think hard about who’s asking before you say “yes”.