Describe and Evaluate Psychological Research Into Obedience

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Obedience results from pressure to comply with authority. Children are taught to obey from an early age by their care givers, in order for them to conform in society. The authoritarian rule continues through their education and working life, and is then passed on to the next generation. This essay will focus on the work of the American psychologist Stanley Milgram. It will also look at other studies into obedience that evolved from Milgram’s experiments from the early 1960s.

Stanley Milgram is one of the leading researchers into the psychology of obedience. Rice et al (2008) and was interested why thousands of German soldiers blindly obeyed orders that resulted in the death of millions of Jewish people during World War II. However if a soldier is obeying orders from their superiors, then should responsibility for the consequences be held to those superiors? But evidence suggests that there was a mass willingness of tens of thousands of people to cooperate with the Nazi regime, even to the extent of shopping neighbours to the Gestapo. Rice et al (2008). The Allies saw the Germans as an authoritarian, militaristic and obedient nation. Suggesting an explanation for this extreme behaviour. Adorno et al (1950) claimed that it was the authoritarian personality that was responsible for the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany. Milgram was sceptical of this, believing that obedience was owed more to the situation than to the national character of a particular nation. So in the early 1960s Milgram conducted a series of experiments to support his theory.

The aim of Milgram’s Study of Obedience (1963) was to investigate how far people would go in obeying an authority figure. He advertised in local newspapers. The ad was for participation in a study of learning at Yale University. Participants would be paid $4.50 just for turning up. Through the ads, Milgram had signed up 40 males between the ages of 20 to 50 with various occupations, and all came from a range of educational backgrounds.

Believing they were participating in the effects of punishment on learning, the participants were brought to a laboratory setting at Yale, where they would be individually tested. Here they met with the experimenter, dressed in a grey laboratory coat, who appeared stern and impassive throughout the experiment (Class Handout 1). The other participant present would be a confederate to the experiment, and through a fixed lottery, would always be given the role of learner. The participant would then see his apparent peer be strapped to a chair and then the experimenter would attach electrodes to him. The participant was given an initial trail shock of 45 volts, then moved behind a partition. The experiment required the participant to ask the confederate questions on word pairs. For each mistake that was made, the participant was to administer an electric shock to the learner, gradually increasing the voltage from 15 volts up to a lethal 450 volts. The only contact with the learner was through an intercom. Throughout the test, the participant would be observed by the experimenter.

During the experiment the learner would constantly make mistakes. As the voltage would increase with each incorrect answer, at specific levels, the learner would protest about the shocks. Beginning with moans and groans, begging to be released, kicking the wall and at 315 volts there would be no further responses (Class Handout 1. As the shocks, and responses, increased many of the participants became upset. Three of the participants had uncontrollable seizures, one being so severe that the experiment had to be halted Rice et al (2008). Any questions the participants asked the experimenter during the test, whether it be a request to stop the experiment or asking about the welfare of the learner, would result in the experimenter responding with four verbal prods to continue. Only after the fourth prod would the experiment would finish or when the maximum amount...
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