The
enfound Project
Stanley Milgram 1963
A Study of Obedience

Introduction

The idea that society might be influencing people's behaviour had been suggested by Bandura in 1961 and although his study was not part of the social approach to psychology, it did indicate that we might model our behaviour on what we see around us. Milgram's study took place in the midst of civil unrest and the African-American Civil Rights Movement. !963 was the same year that Jessie Jackson delivered his famous, "I have a dream", speech. It was a time of sex, drugs and rock and roll. In the UK, in 1957, the British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, made an optimistic speech telling fellow Conservatives that "most of our people have never had it so good". By the sixties look what was happening....

 


Background

Now consider the following videos which centre around the concept of obedience and demonstrate some of the examples of blind obedience that have taken place.


Description

It is very easy for us today to say that this experiment would never work nowadays, but would it? As you read through this account try to imagine what it would have been like in those days for the subjects taking part.

The advert on the right is one of those used by Milgram. The offer of a payment of $4.50 is the equivalent of about $35 today and so represents a pretty good payment for just one hour of your time. It does not hint at anything sinister simply that there are investigating memory. Suppose someone at your local university was offering £30 for an hour of your time plus travel costs, would you think it worthwhile? Notice alsos that it does not specifically mention which sex his is looking for that is, to some extent, hidden in the type of jobs he describes. At the time this advert appeared, women were still considered to be part of the kitchen furniture, and not likely to be doing the job of a labourer!

Milgram ended up with 40 males all between the ages he wanted who were invited to attend a session at Yale University to take part in the experiment. The word, "experiment" is used loosely here because, as all good psychology students know, is was not an experiment in itself but one condition in a much larger experiment, this was a controlled observation. How would this compare to you being invited to attend Oxford University to take art in an important experiment? Would you feel honoured or important?

 

In order to reassure the subjects that everything was fair and random the participants were told that one of them would be the teacher and the other the learner. The names were drawn from a hat and the real participant always became the teacher. They were then led into the laboratory, deliberately passing the open door of the learner’s room where they could see him being handcuffed to electrodes.

Milgram ended up with 40 males all between the ages he wanted who were invited to attend a session at Yale University to take part in the experiment. The word, "experiment" is used loosely here because, as all good psychology students know, is was not an experiment in itself but one considiton in a much larger experiment. How would this compare to you being invited to attend Oxford University to take art in an important experiment? Would you feel honoured or important?

Maybe the participants would be feeling a sense of great relief having passed the learner being coupled up to something so apparently barbaric.

Milgram ended up with 40 males all between the ages he wanted who were invited to attend a session at Yale University to take part in the experiment. The word, "experiment" is used loosely here because, as all good psychology students know, is was not an experiment in itself but one considiton in a much larger experiment. How would this compare to you being invited to attend Oxford University to take art in an important experiment? Would you feel honoured or important?

 

 


Take some time to to read the original study which you can download here.

The Milgram study into obedience was conducted as a result of Stanley Milgram's interest in why people did terrible things to other people just because they were told to by an authority figure, for example the Holocaust. Initially he believed that it was a characteristic of the person themselves, a dispositional factor, that made them obedient. Later, after his study, he came to realise that it is the situation that people find themselves in, a situational factor, that made them behave in a particular manner.

If we consider the results of the Milgram study for a moment he believed that the situational hypothesis ( a person’s behaviour is determined by their situation) was supported because a very large percentage of the participants behaved in a similar manner. They also reported that this was not something they would normally do, thus further indicating that it was the situation that caused their behaviour.

It was mentioned earlier that the Milgram Experiment was controlled observation. The experimental part came from the fact that Milgram did conduct other experiments where an independent variable was manipulated. The remoteness of the researcher was tested, the nationality/gender of the teacher asn the remoteness of the learner from the teacher. The levels of obedience dropped as the perceived measure of distance between either the researcher and teacher or the teacher and the learner increased. There were no significant difference in levels of obedience between nationalities or gender, lending further support to the situational hypothesis. Another finding from the other experiments was that, if the teacher had the opportunity to confer or discuss their situation with other teachers, the levels of obedience dropped considerably.

A total of 18 experiments were run by Milgram with differing condition..

Milgram's Alternative Experiments
Numbers 1 - 4 Number 8 Number 10 Numbers 17 & 18
The distance between the experimenter and the teacher was increased. Experiment 2 instructions were given by telephone. The same experiments were conducted but only using women as participants This was the same as the original but conducted in a commercial office in Bridport, Connecticut with no relationship to Yale University. Other teachers were present in the room. In 17 2 teachers were present reusing to comply. In 18 1 other teacher was present who always complied.
The greater the perceived distance the less compliance was demonstrated. The same levels of obedience were found as in the original experiment. However, did report greater feelings of stress. Not a significant change but obedience was down to 47.5% In 17 the experimental teacher also refused to comply. Obedience down to 10%. In 18 the experimental teacher complied fully and the experimental teacher complied to 92.5%

Evaluation

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Conclusion

 


Key Terms