Social Influence Research - Do the Ends Justify the Means?
To what extent does the importance of social influence research,
justify the methods used in its investigation?
The debate about ethics in psychology focuses on two areas: protection
of participants and benefiting society. This is a double obligation
dilemma as if some psychologists are not allowed to do certain
experiments because of ethical restraints; this can cause problems
with validity. In social psychology, these psychologists have an
obligation to use their research skills to advance our knowledge of
human behaviour, for the ultimate aim of human betterment.
Milgram’s study into obedience involved participants becoming a
‘teacher’ and applying an electric shock to the ‘learner’ (who was a
confederate) when they answered a word association question
incorrectly. The participant was not aware that the shocks they
administered were false and some believed they may have killed a man.
In this instance therefore, the code of conduct and ethical guidelines
published by the British Psychological Society (BPS) and American
Psychological Society (APS) in 1993 were broken in more than one way.
The participants’ right to withdraw was disabled as the prods given by
the experimenter (such as “please continue” etc) made the participants
feel that they had no choice but to continue. The were also involved
in deception as they thought they had administered real shocks and
were not informed of the confederate being present. This study,
however, was conducted in the 1950’s and the ethical guidelines were
not in position and therefore this study may be published in modern
day text books. Conversely, Milgram’s study has benefited society as
it has informed us that Milgram’s original aim – which was to find out
why the holocaust happened and whether the obedience levels were so
high because that was how German society operated – that not only are
the German’s capable of obedience to this level, but all societies
around the world also.
The findings of this research seem to justify the ethical guidelines
broken as this experiment is a crucial insight into understanding the
extent to which people obey. Also, this experiment would not have
worked if it had followed all rules as the participants would have
known the shocks were false and therefore the experiment would not
have been so impactive. The participant would know he/she was not
harming the learner in anyway and therefore be much more willing to
Zimbardo’s prison experiment was a lab based experiment involving