Introduction of participants administered the maximum 450v shocks

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Last updated: September 17, 2019

Introduction 100Obedience is a form of social influence where an individual listens to the commands of someone of higher authority. During the World War II Nuremberg War Criminal trials, those accused of genocide justified their actions by claiming they were just following orders from higher authority. Adolf Eichmann, a logistical genius, who played a big role in the Holocaust said he was surprised that Jewish people hated him as all did was follow orders. A year after Eichmann’s trial, Stanley Milgram (1963)  carried out an experiment to investigate whether Germans were more likely to be obedient and follow commands given by higher authority.

However he soon discovered that we are all obedient to those of higher authority and power. Method 200Milgram (1963) recruited 40 men aged 20 to 50 using newspaper adverts. They were told they would be paid $4.50 for simply turning up to a laboratory in Yale University. He wanted to investigate whether participants would give severe electric shocks to a person if an experimenter told them to. Participants were given the role of a teacher and instructed to generate shocks every time a wrong answer was given by the learner.  The shocks were fake and both the learner and the experimenter were confederates. The maximum level of shocks to administer was 450 volts.

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Learners gave the wrong answer on purpose and pleaded to be released and complained about heart conditions when given shocks. The experimenter wore a technicians coat and gave prods such as ‘you have no choice but to carry on’ when the participants refused. Milgram also conducted 18 variation studies in which a total of 636 participants have been studied. Variations included uniform, change of location, proximity and social support.Results 150Milgram found 65% of participants administered the maximum 450v shocks while 100% administered up to 300v. Only 5 participants out of 40 refused to go above 300v.

Obedience decreased dramatically when the experimenter did not wear his lab coat suggesting uniform is a strong factor in increasing obedience. Changing location from a prestigious University laboratory to a privately rented office had some effect on obedience with 48% still administrating maximum shocks. When proximity changed, obedience decreased. When the experimenter issued the instructions via the phone, only 21% participants administered the maximum shock.  When there were two other teachers (confederates) who refused to obey, obedience levels dropped to 10%. This shows socal support also plays a role in obedience.Discussion 250The main criticisms of Milgram’s study were the ethical issues.

Participants were deceived into believing the shocks were real. They did not know the true nature of the study and after the debriefing session they may have experienced psychological harm as they didn’t know they were capable of hurting someone. Although they had the right to withdraw, prods given by the experimenter made it hard for them to stop the study. For example, ‘it is absolutely essential that you continue’, made the participants feel like they can’t withdraw. The importance of ethics and the need to safeguard the wellbeing of participants should have been acknowledged.Orne & Holland (1968) accused Milgram’s study of lacking ‘experimental realism’. The participants may not have believed that the shocks were real as the experimenter remained cold and distant even when the learner cried out in pain. This shows deception may not have worked which makes any conclusions drawn invalid.

Mandel (1998) argued that Milgram’s study was not relevant to real-life atrocities thus lacking ecological validity. Conclusion 50

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