Obedience To Authority By Stanley Milgram

2669 words - 11 pages

Stanley Milgram’s 1963 studies into obedience have provided important and shocking insights into the power of authority. The study set out to discover how obedient people really are. Debate and controversy have surrounded the study since the results were first published. Predictions made by psychologists before the experiment proved dramatically inaccurate. The experiment led volunteers to believe they were administering increasingly painful and dangerous electric shocks to another volunteer for the purposes of a study on memory. The memory study was a ploy, the real focus was on the behaviour of participants inflicting pain on another person. Participants often acted against their own moral judgements and obeyed authority, even when begged by the “victim“ to stop. The study demonstrated the power of authority derived from the situation. This essay will examine his studies and some of his conclusions published in his book Obedience to Authority (1974) and compare them to findings in other works. It will discussing and evaluate the aims, experimental methods, findings, ethics and ecological validity of his work.

The study set out to test “the Germans are different” hypothesis, this stated that the acts of genocide carried out by ordinary Germans during WWII was a result of a national character flaw; that the culture of Germany led its citizens to be more obedient and therefore more prone to brutality under the guise of “I was just following orders”. The experiment tried to create an environment where authority would come into conflict with morality. Original predictions estimated that of the participants only around 1% would fully obey, Milgram found levels around 65%. He then conducted 17 variations each changing small aspects to see how it affected levels of obedience.

In the first experiment participants were told they were taking part in a study on the effects of punishment on memory at Yale University. The experimenter would show the participant along with a confederate a shock generator with voltages of 15v to 450v (30 switches in 15v increments). Participants were told this was connected to a chair in another room. They then drew lots to decide who would be the “teacher” in charge of shocks and who the “learner” receiving shocks (the outcome was rigged for the participant to be the teacher). The confederate was then strapped into the chair, and the participant was given a sample shock of 45v from the generator (the only real shocks given during the experiment) and the experiment would begin. Word pairs were read out which the teacher would ask questions on through an intercom. Wrong answers received a shock which increased with each incorrect response. If the participant reached 450v they would repeat that level twice before the experiment was concluded. Any questioning or refusal to continue was met with standard answers from the experimenter such as “although the shocks are painful, there is no permanent tissue damage” or “the...

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