Obedience & Milgram

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  • Obedience - Milgram, 1963
    • What did Milgram do?
      • Milgram set out to investigate whether ordinary people will obey a legitimate authority even when required to injure an innocent person
        • He was interested in the circumstances under which people might be induced to act against their consciences by inflicting harm on other people
      • Milgram used 40 male participants in a volunteer sample. He told his participants they were taking part in a study of how punishment affects learning. The study took place at Yale University and participants were paid $4.50.
      • As well as the real participant there were two confederates: an experimenter (the authority figure) and a 47 year old accountant (learner)
      • The participants were told to administer increasingly strong electric shocks each time the learner got a question wrong.
      • If the participant asked to stop, the experimenter had a set of 'prods' to repeat to discourage the participants from leaving
    • What did Milgram find?
      • Before the experiment, Milgram asked psychiatrists, psychology students and colleagues to predict how far the particpants would go before refusing.
        • Consistently they predicted that nearly all the participants would refuse to obey the experimenter. They expected very few to go beyond 150 volts and about 4% to go to 300 volts. Only apathological fringe of about 1 in 1000 were expected to continue to 450 volts.
      • In fact, 65% of the participants continued to 450 volts, the maximum voltage, far beyond what was marked 'Danger - severe shock'.
        • All participants went to 300 volts, and only 12.5% stopped at that point, the point where the learner first objected.
    • Conclusions of Milgrams study
      • It suggests crimes against humanity may be the outcome of situational rather than dispositional factors.
      • These findings demonstrate that ordinary people are astonishingly obedient to authority, even when asked to behave in an inhumane manner. This suggests that it is not evil people who commit atrocities but ordinary people who are just obeying orders.
      • It appears that an individuals capacity for making independent decisions is suspended when they find themselves in a subordinate position within a powerful social heirarchy.
    • Obedience to authorioty refers to a type of social influence whereby somebody acts in response to a direct order from a figure with perceived authority. There is also the implication that the person receiving orders is made to respond in a way that they would not otherwise have done without the order.


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