Research Into Obedience

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Discuss Research Into Obedience (12 marks)

Milgram did a lab experiment, varying different situational pressures to see which had the greatest effect on obedience. He told 40 male volunteers that it was a study of how punishment affects learning. After drawing lots, the real participant was assigned the role of 'teacher'. The learner was a confederate. The teachers job was to administrate a learning task and deliver 'electric shocks' to the learner (in another room) if he got a question wrong. The shocks began at 15 volts and increased in increment of 15 volts to a maximum of 450 volts. The results showed 65% of Miligram's participants delivered the full (and fatal) 450 volt shock. Even though the learner gave out an agonised scream at 285 volts, refusal to answer at 315 volts and only ominous silence after that. So why did the participants obey? Most participants groaned, protested, fidgeted, argued and in some cases, seized by fits of nervous, agitated giggling. These findings demonstrate that ordinary people are astonishingly obedient to authority, even when asked to behave in an inhumane manner. This suggests that it is not evil people people who commit atrocities but ordinary people who are just obeying orders. In other words, many crimes against humanity may be the outcome of situational rather than dispositional factors. It appears that an individual's capacity for making independent decisions is suspended when they find themselves in a subordinate position within a powerful social hierarchy (in this case the relationship with the experimenter). Moreover, Milgram conducted variations to his original study and found the following: Proximity of the victim decreased obedience presumably because it removed the psychological buffer between action and consequence. With the learner in the same room as the participant, obedience levels dropped to 40%. In the touch proximity condition, obedience levels dropped to 30%. Proximity of authority...
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