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5 Cards in this Set

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Context & aims

Throughout history, there have been atrocities involving human inhumanity to other humans. Arguably the most infamous was the holocaust during World War Two where millions of Jews were murdered. At Auschwitz which was one of the Nazi death camps, there was up to 12000 deaths a day.

Adolf Eichmann over saw approximately 4 million Jews, he was charged of implementing the 'final solution' in 1960. At his trial his claimed that he was 'only obeying orders'. Many researchers believed that the obedience required to carry out the holocaust was due the fact that 'Germans are different'. They believed that Germans tended to have a particular 'type' of personality, the authoritarian personality. This concept was proposed by Adorno et al (1950), he thought that individuals who are typically hostile to people of inferior status while being 'servile' to those who they perceive as a higher status than themselves. Adorno suggested that authoritarian personalities are likely to become prejudiced against minority groups as a result of a harsh disciplinarian upbringing and this is displaced on to minority groups such a Jews or black people.

Milgram wished to test the 'Germans are different' hypothesis- the belief that obedience can be explained in terms of internal dispositional factors. He also aimed to create a situation that allowed him to measure the process of obedience even when the command required destructive behaviour.


Adolf Eichmann

Germans are different

Authoritarian personality

Adorno et al



Milgram placed an advertisement in a newspaper, from the people who responded he selected 40 males between the age of 20 and 50 years. The advertisement led participants to believe that they would be taking part in research about memory and learning. The men in the sample has a range of jobs, varied in level of education . Each man was paid $4.50 for his participation in the study.

The study took place in a lab at Yale university. When participants arrived they were greeted by an 'experimenter' who was dressed in a technician coat. Another 'participant' was already in the lab, Mr Wallace, both of these men were confederates of Milgram. The participants drew slips of paper to decide who would play the teacher told and who would play the learner, this was rigged so the naive participant was always the teacher and the accomplice was always the learner. They were taken into the experimental room where the learner was strapped into an electric chair. An electrode was placed on the learners wrist, linked to a shock generator in the adjoining room. The shock machine had 30 switches showing an incremental rise in voltage, starting at 15 volts going up to 450 volts which is a potentially fatal shock. The experimenter gave the teacher a sample shock to demonstrate the machine was real. Once the study began the teacher was told to administer a shock when the learner gave a wrong answer and to escalate a higher level of shock each time. The learner was told to give 3 wrong answer to every correct one. They were told to make no comment or protest until the shock level was 300 volts was reached, at this point he should pound on the wall but make no further comment. The experimenter was trained to give a sequence of 4 standard prods if the teacher hesitates about delivering the shock for example 'please continue. After the research was completed the teacher was thoroughly 'de hoaxed' and the experimenter interviewed them.




Shock machine

Learning task

Feedback from learner

Feedback from experimenter



Findings & conclusions

Prior to the study Milgram surveyed 14 Yale psychology students. They estimated that 0-3% of the participants would administer 450 volts.

At 300 volts, 5 (12.5%) of the participants refused to continue. This was the point at which the learner made to only protest, all participants had continued to this point. 26 out of 49 participants (65%) administered the full 450 volts. 35% of the participants defied the experimenters authority. Many subjects showed nervousness and a large number showed extreme tension. 14 participants displayed nervous laughter and smiling, 3 participants had full blown uncontrollable seizures. One participant had such a violent convulsion that the session had to be stopped. Participants were sent a follow up questionnaire, 84% were glad/ very glad they had taken part 2% were sorry/very sorry they had taken part, 80% said more experiments like this should take place.

Milgram concluded that it is the circumstance in which the participants found themselves that amalgamated to create a situation in which it proved difficult to disobey.

Prior to study

Experimental results

Signs of extreme tension

After the study




Method- lab environment

Experimental validity- Orne & Holland (1968) claimed that this research lacks experimental validity as the participants did not believe the shocks were real. It would not have made sense that someone in a learning environment would relieve a fatal shock, this increases the chance of demand characteristics especially because they were paid, they felt obliged to go along with the situation as they had entered a social contract.

Ecological validity- a further issue concerns the extent to which it is reasonable to generalise the findings of this study to the real world, the study was conducted in a highly contrived, sterile situation l. In one way, thus criticism is groundless because the fact that the study is in a lab is irrelevant. Milgram set out to test obedience to authority, and he could have done this in any situation where there is clear authority figure that people think they ought to obey. On the other hand, you might argue that obedience to authority does not occur in real life in such overt ways m, nor is it extreme.

Sampling- selected his participant via a newspaper advertisement, this is a volunteer sample. Although Milgram did select a sample that reflected a variety of backgrounds, all of his initial sample was male.

Ethical issue- Baumrind (1964) claimed that Milgram caused psychological damage to his participants That could not be justified. Milgram defended himself in several ways, first he did not know prior to the study that such high levels of distress would be caused. Second he did consider ending the study when he observed the participants behaviour, but decided that there was no indication of injurious effects. Third, 84% of the participants said afterwards that they were glad to have participated. Also it is not clear whether participants had the right to withdraw.







Alternative evidence

Sheridan and King (1972) found similar high levels of obedience using real shocks. A small puppy was used as the victim to whom real electric shocks of increasing severity were administered. Even though the puppy was in the same room and could be seen yelping as the shocks were given, 75% of participants delivered the maximum shock. Surprisingly the women obeyed more than men did.

Burger (2009) conducted a partial replication of Milgrams study using a similar set-up to some of the later variation, but he did not allow the volunteers to carry on beyond 150 volts once they had shown their willingness to do so. He found that 70% of participants taking part were willing to push the 150 volts button knowing it would cause pain to another human.