Last Updated 02 Apr 2020

The Milgram Experiment: Overview

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Stanley Milgram: 'electric shock' experiments (1963) - also showed the power of the situation in influencing behaviour. 65% of people could be easily induced into giving a stranger an electric shock of 450V (enough to kill someone).

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The Milgram Experiment: Overview

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. The Milgram Experiment 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's Experiment Aim: 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. Procedure:

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. Results: 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). Conclusion: 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 enormous import, but they say very little about how most people behave in concrete situations.

I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects’ [participants’] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects’ [participants’] ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation. Factors Affecting Obedience The Milgram experiment was carried out many times whereby Milgram varied the basic procedure (changed the IV). By doing this Milgram could identify which factors affected obedience (the DV). Status of Location| Personal Responsibility| * The orders were given in an important location (Yale University) – when Milgram’s study was conducted in a run-down office in the city, obedience levels dropped. * This suggests that prestige increases obedience. | *  When there is less personal responsibility obedience increases. When participants could instruct an assistant to press the switches, 95% (compared to 65% in the original study) shocked to the maximum 450 volts. * This relates to Milgram's Agency Theory. | Legitimacy of Authority Figure| Status of Authority Figure| * People tend to obey orders from other people if they recognize their authority as morally right and / or legally based. * This response to legitimate authority is learned in a variety of situations, for example in the family, school and workplace. | *  Milgram’s experimenter wore a laboratory coat (a symbol of scientific expertise) which gave him a high status. But when the experimenter dressed in everyday clothes obedience was very low. * The uniform of the authority figure can give them status. | Peer Support| Proximity of Authority Figure| * Peer support – if a person has the social support of their friend(s) then obedience is less likely. * Also the presence of others who are seen to disobey the authority figure reduces the level of obedience. This happened in Milgram’s experiment when there was a “disobedient model”. | *  Authority figure distant: It is easier to resist the orders from an authority figure if they are not close by.

When the experimenter instructed and prompted the teacher by telephone from another room, obedience fell to 20. 5%. * When the authority figure is close by then obedience is more likely. | Methodological Issues The Milgram studies were conducted in laboratory type conditions and we must ask if this tells us much about real-life situations. We obey in a variety of real-life situations that are far more subtle than instructions to give people electric shocks, and it would be interesting to see what factors operate in everyday obedience.

The sort of situation Milgram investigated would be more suited to a military context. Milgram's sample was biased: The participants in Milgram's study were all male. Do the findings transfer to females? In Milgram's study the participants were a self-selecting sample. This is because they became participants only by electing to respond to a newspaper advertisement (selecting themselves). They may also have a typical "volunteer personality" – not all the newspaper readers responded so perhaps it takes this personality type to do so.

Finally, they probably all had a similar income since they were willing to spend some hours working for a given amount of money. Ethical Issues *  Deception – the participants actually believed they were shocking a real person, and were unaware the learner was a confederate of Milgram's *  Protection of participants - Participants were exposed to extremely stressful situations that may have the potential to cause psychological harm

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