Because Milgram's work was criticized for ethical considerations, given the stress that many of his subjects felt as they inflicted what they thought was excruciating pain on another person, the researchers in Poland used a lower simulated pain threshold.
"When we ask people how they would behave in such circumstances they almost [always] say, 'Well, I wouldn't do that. Maybe someone else but not me,'" Tomasz Grzyb, a social psychology researcher at SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities and one of the study's authors, told Seeker. "But in the real situation, a majority just follow the orders made by authority."
"For the first time in history, as far as we know, we put a woman as a person receiving electric shocks," Grzyb added. "We wanted to check if this new situation somehow influenced people's behavior. It turned out that it changes nothing."
A full 90 percent of participants were willing to deliver the highest level of shock possible when instructed to do so by one of the researchers. The gender of the person receiving the shock had little effect on their decision. The results showed that not much has changed in 50 years.
The presence of authority is the key factor in this type of experiment, Gryzb explained "What we show in our study is an exceptional role of situation and authority standing nearby," he said. "Almost all of our participants declared huge discomfort during study. They wanted to refuse, but they just weren't able to."
Before beginning the experiment, researchers had hypothesized that Polish people in particular might be more willing to refuse authority than other cultures given the popularity of certain "historical myths" regarding their resistance to oppression, whether under the Nazis or the Soviets. But this history had no apparent effect on a Polish person's ability to refuse authority.
"You must know that in Poland there is a long tradition of thinking about Poles as 'first to fight,' 'resistant,' and 'immune to persuasion,'" Grzyb remarked. "We found that we are exactly the same as others."
Other researchers have conducted experiments like this all over the world with similar results.
"Milgram studies [have been] replicated in many cultures - individualistic, collectivist, goal-oriented, Western, Arabic, and so on," Grzyb said. "In all of these cultures, the level of obedience was terrifyingly high."
If anything can be learned from such work, he suggested, it's that society is responsible for allowing these circumstances to exist.
"What our study really shows is that in some circumstances all of us are able to hurt innocent people," said Grzyb. "This teaches us something - that we are responsible for creating mechanisms and rules which don't allow such circumstances to happen."