Stanley Milgram's Obedience Experiments Essay

1619 words - 6 pages

The complexities of a human’s willingness to submit to another person’s will have intrigued mankind since the formation of societal groups. Only in recent history has there been any studies conducted which so completely capture the layman’s imagination as the obedience experiments conducted by Stanley Milgram. As one of the few psychological experiments to have such an attention grabbing significance, Milgram discovered a hidden trait of the human psyche that seemed to show a hidden psychotic in even the most demure person. Milgram presents his startling findings in “The Perils of Obedience”. Publication created a great deal of discussion, with one of the more vocal critics being Diana Baumrind, who details her points of contention in the article “Review of Stanley Milgram’s Experiments on Obedience”. More than forty years later debate is still raging over Milgram’s methods, and their effects on modern psychological experiments. Ludy Benjamin and Jeffry Simpson review Milgram and Baumrind’s articles, as well as explore the effects of each argument on contemporary psychological investigation in their article “The Power of the Situation”. By first exploring what Milgram is attempting to discover in his investigation of obedience it is possible to better understand the significance of the results and how he chose to present them. Secondly, examination of the experiments results, both expected and unexpected, demonstrates the lasting impact of Milgram’s methods and results. Finally, through the analysis of the significance of Milgram’s experiment, understanding of its effects on today’s psychological experiments and ethics can be gained.
Humanity has been fascinated by the ability of a charismatic leader to cause followers to set aside moral codes that would seem to be inherent in all of humanity. By causing a skewing of perceived reality, these leaders can cause great harm, an example of which is Hitler and the Holocaust. Prompted by this phenomenon, Stanley Milgram investigates this “potent impulse overriding training in ethics, sympathy, and moral conduct.” (Milgram 314) Milgram set up an experiment in which he intended “to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist.” (Milgram 314) Thereby, observations could be made of how long a person would continue to inflict pain. “To extricate himself from this plight, the subject must make a clear break with authority.” (Milgram 315) The basic premise of the study being to learn how an ordinary person reacts when put under pressure to cause great physical harm to a stranger through a series of simulated electrical shocks. However, the subjects are under the impression that they were participating in a study of memory and learning. This is where Diana Baumrind takes issue with Milgram’s study. She feels that “by volunteering, the subject agrees implicitly to assume a posture of trust and obedience.” (Baumrind 326)...

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