Explanations for Obedience - Milgram (1963)

In 1963, Stanley Milgram conducted a landmark psychological investigation on obedience, aiming to uncover whether ordinary American citizens would comply with an unjust order from an authority figure, even if it meant inflicting pain on another person.

Milgram's sample comprised 40 male participants from diverse occupations and backgrounds, all volunteers who responded to a local newspaper advertisement offering $4.50 for participation in an experiment on 'punishment and learning.'

Upon arriving at the laboratory at Yale University, participants encountered the experimenter and another participant, Mr Wallace, both of whom were confederates. The experimenter explained that one person would be randomly assigned the role of teacher, while the other, a learner. However, the real participant was consistently assigned the role of the teacher. The task involved reading word pairs to the learner, located in an adjacent room, and administering electric shocks for each mistake, increasing the voltage after each error.

To create a sense of realism, the teacher observed the learner being strapped to an electric chair and received a sample electric shock. Unbeknownst to the teacher, the learner wasn't physically restrained, and their responses were predetermined. As the electric shocks intensified, recorded screams from the learner became more pronounced. At 180 volts, the learner complained of a weak heart; at 300 volts, he demanded to leave, banging on the wall, and at 315 volts, he fell silent, creating the illusion of unconsciousness or even death.

The experiment persisted until the teacher refused to continue or the maximum voltage of 450 volts was reached. If the teacher attempted to stop, the experimenter issued a series of prods, such as 'The experiment requires that you continue.' Post-experiment, participants underwent debriefing.

Milgram's findings revealed that all real participants administered shocks of at least 300 volts, and 65% continued until the full 450 volts. The conclusion drawn was that, under certain conditions, ordinary people would obey unjust orders.

**Evaluation**

Milgram's study faced considerable ethical criticism, particularly for violating principles of deception, the right to withdraw, and protection from harm. Participants were deceived about the true nature of the experiment, believing it focused on 'punishment and learning,' while withdrawal from the experiment was challenging due to experimenter prompts. Many participants reported stress and anxiety, raising concerns about their psychological well-being. Despite debriefing, some participants felt guilt over their potential harm to others. However, Milgram's deception and removal of the right to withdraw were deemed essential for testing obedience and producing valid results. Moreover, a majority of participants expressed satisfaction with their involvement in scientific research.

Ecological validity concerns emerged as Milgram conducted the study in a laboratory, a controlled environment vastly different from real-life scenarios of obedience. The experiment's focus on administering electric shocks may not accurately reflect more subtle instructions people encounter in everyday obedience situations. Consequently, generalizing Milgram's findings to real-life obedience scenarios remains uncertain.

Population validity criticism stemmed from Milgram's use of a biased sample comprising 40 male volunteers. This limitation hinders the generalization of results to other populations, particularly females, raising questions about potential gender-based differences in response to similar situations.
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