Aim: To see whether people would be obedient to an authority figure who was asking them to harm another person. (Specifically related to the Holocaust and the Germans following blindly during WW2)
Sample: Milgram used a sample of 40 males between the ages of 20 and 50 who had responded to an advert in a newspaper offering them $4.50 to partake in the study. Their occupations varied from unskilled to professional, from the New Haven area.
Procedure: When the participants (ppts) arrived at the university they were introduced to another “ppt” (this was in fact an actor or ‘confederate’ named Mr Wallace) and told the fake aim of the study which was to see if punishment can improve learning. The ppt and Mr Wallace then pulled straws to determine who would play the role of either learner or teacher - but it was fixed so Mr Wallace would always be the learner. The two were then lead by an experimenter (another confederate who was wearing a long grey coat), first to a room with an electric chair which the learner (Mr Wallace) would be strapped to then lead into another room with an electric shock generator with 30 switches going up in 15 volt intervals from 15 volts (slight shock) up to 450 volts (XXX) and a chair for the experimenter. The learner was strapped to the electric chair and at the same time the teacher was wired and shown what 45 volts felt like. The learner was given a list of paired word which he had to learn, the teacher would then test the learner by naming one of the words and asking the learner to say the word that matched from a list of four words. If the the learner got the answer right the teacher would move on, if the learner got the answer wrong the teacher was asked by the experimenter to shock him going up a level each time. The learner (Mr Wallace) was never actually shocked but pretended to react every time he was and made a point of getting most of the words wrong. While the ppts were shocking the learner, Mr Wallace would say things such as “I have severe heart problems”, and after 300 volts Mr Wallace stopped reacting to the shocks giving the teacher the impression that he was dead. If the teacher didn’t give a shock there were four prods that the experimenter used (Prod 1: Please continue, Prod 2: The experiment requires you to continue, Prod 3: It is absolutely essential that you continue and Prod 4: You have no other choice but to continue.), if the teacher still wouldn’t shock the learner they were allowed to leave the study.
Quantative - 65% of the 40 ppts went all the way up to 450 volts, and considered to have been obedient. The other 35% stopped between 300 volts and 450 volts but all the ppts did go up to 300 volts. (240 volts comes out of a standard UK plug socket)
Qualitative - During the study the ppts would ask things such as “who will take responsibility if he’s dead?”, they would also pull at their hair, bite their nails and break down in nervous fits of laughter.
Conclusion: Ordinary people are likely to follow obey authoritative figures even if it to the extent that it is killing somebody. This could be because they recognise the authority as morally right or legally based. (legitimate authority)
They may also have obeyed due to the Agent theory, they believed that the experimenter would take responsibility for anything that happened to the learner.
This study was a controlled observation, the advantages of it being a controlled observation is that this study is then relatively easy to replicate as proved when Milgram did the 17(?) other studies and the various other studies that have been done in the last 50 years by different researchers. As quite a bit of the data was quantitative it is really quite easy to analyse as shown in Milgram being able to get a lot of his data into percentages (e.g. 65%).
In Milgram’s study a lot of people argue that a lot of people argue that most of this study wasn’t Ethical, Milgram deceived his ppts in to believing that they were participating in a study about learning and how an electric shock can help to improve your memory, when it was in fact about obedience. Under respect of the core ethics there is ‘Right to withdraw’, only before they began was this true while in the first room but after it began the “experimenter” had four prods (according to Milgram but according to Perry when re-listening to the tapes of the study there were as many as 25 prods in some instances) and only after those four was the ppt allowed to leave. This experiment could have been extremely traumatising and I don’t think that was right but as I was saying this meant that the ppts did not have the immediate right to withdraw. I believe that Milgram did keep all his ppts in complete confidentiality and the ppts did give consent as it was in fact a self-selected sample so they all did consent to being part of the study. According to Milgram all the ppts were debriefed and told the “learner” was in fact still alive and hadn’t once been shocked, this comes under the core ethical principal responsibility, well-being/protection from harm, but as I said before until they were debriefed the ppts did believe they had shocked someone unconscious/dead, and I think that could cause some extremely upsetting feelings. In Milgram’s defence though he didn’t believe, and nor did his psychology students, that so many ppts would go so far as to 450 volts.
Externally this is not Mundane Realism, not something that would happen on a daily basis, when would you actually have to give someone repeated electric shocks? Another thing is that since this study was done in a lab in a university, it is also not the most normal setting so it is not very ecologically valid. The ppts don’t reflect the population as a whole, as they were all American males between the ages of 20-50 though in the Holocaust, the males that worked under Hitler were of the age and gender of the ppts Milgram used.
Milgram had a very unrepresentative sample, he chose only American men, but with various backgrounds, this was him being deliberately ethnocentric, trying to find out whether Americans would be as obedient as the German soldiers in the Holocaust.
The quantitative data consisted of the amount of ppts that went how high up with the voltages. For example 100% of the ppts went all the way up to 300 volts but only 65% went any higher to 450 volts. Quantitative data is easy to analyse and put into graphs and charts, the problem with it though is that Milgram couldn’t use the quantitative data to see any further than the numbers, in his own analysis, Milgram would have had to refer back to other data, which is where the Qualitative Data comes in. The qualitative data would have referred to the moral strain the ppts were feeling, stress resulting in hair pulling, asking questions like “who would be responsible?” The problem is that without the quantitative data again, it wouldn’t make much sense, you need both for the full picture.
FROM AN A LEVEL STUDENT PERSPECTIVE