Stanley Milgram (1963)
Experiment: Focusing on the conflict between obedience to authority and personal conscience. Investigate: Whether Germans were particularly obedient to authority figures as this was a common explanation for the Nazi killings in World War II. Milgram selected participants for his experiment by advertising for male participants to take part in a study of learning at Yale University. The procedure was that the participant was paired with another person and they drew lots to find out who would be the ‘learner’ and who would be the ‘teacher’. The draw was fixed so that the participant was always the teacher, and the learner was one of Milgram’s confederates (pretending to be a real participant).
The learner (a confederate called Mr. Wallace) was taken into a room and had electrodes attached to his arms, and the teacher and researcher went into a room next door that contained an electric shock generator and a row of switches marked from 15 volts (Slight Shock) to 375 volts (Danger: Severe Shock) to 450 volts (XXX).
Milgram (1963) was interested in researching how far people would go in obeying an instruction if it involved harming another person. Stanley Milgram was interested in how easily ordinary people could be influenced into committing atrocities for example, Germans in WWII.
Volunteers were recruited for a lab experiment investigating “learning” (ethics: deception). Participants were 40 males, aged between 20 and 50, (bias: All male) whose jobs ranged from unskilled to professional. At the beginning of the experiment they were introduced to another participant, who was actually a confederate of the experimenter (Milgram). They drew straws to determine their roles – leaner or teacher – although this was fixed and the confederate always ended to the learner. There was also an “experimenter” dressed in a white lab coat, played by an actor (not Milgram). The “learner” (Mr. Wallace) was strapped to a chair in another room with electrodes. After he has learned a list of word pairs given him to learn, the "teacher" tests him by naming a word and asking the learner to recall its partner/pair from a list of four possible choices.
The teacher is told to administer an electric shock every time the learner makes a mistake, increasing the level of shock each time. There were 30 switches on the shock generator marked from 15 volts (slight shock) to 450 (danger – severe shock). The learner gave mainly wrong answers (on purpose) and for each of these the teacher gave him an electric shock. When the teacher refused to administer a shock and turned to the experimenter for guidance, he was given the standard instruction /order (consisting of 4 prods): Prod 1: please continue. Prod 2: the experiment requires you to continue. Prod 3: It is absolutely essential that you continue. Prod 4: you have no other choice but to continue.
65% (two-thirds) of participants (i.e. teachers) continued to the highest level of 450 volts. All the participants continued to 300 volts. Milgram did more than one experiment – he carried out 18 variations of his study. All he did was alter the situation (IV) to see how this affected obedience (DV).
Ordinary people are likely to follow orders given by an authority figure, even to the extent of killing an innocent human being. Obedience to authority is ingrained in us all from the way we are brought up. Obey parents, teachers, anyone in authority etc.
Milgram summed up in the article “The Perils of Obedience” (Milgram 1974), writing: “The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of...