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Aim - The aim of the experiment was to investigate what level of obedience would
be shown when participants were told by an authority figure to administer electric
shocks to another person.
40 males aged between 20 and 50 years of age, recruited from the New Haven area.
They were obtained by responding to a newspaper and direct mail advertisement.
They were paid $4.50 for their participation in the experiment but importantly they
were told that the payment was simply for coming to the laboratory, regardless of
what happened after they arrived. The role of experimenter was played by a
31-year-old biology teacher. He wore a technician's coat and appeared stern and
emotionless throughout the experiment. The victim was played by a 47-year-old
accountant, trained for the role. One participant and one victim (a confederate) were
used in each trial. In order to justify the administration of the electric shocks by the
participant a cover story was used.
The participant was asked to draw a slip of paper from a hat to determine which role
they would play. The draw was rigged so the participant was always the teacher and
Mr. Wallace (the confederate) was always the learner. The teacher (participant) and
learner were taken to an adjacent room and in full view of the teacher (participant)
the learner was strapped into the `electric chair. The participant (teacher) heard the
experimenter tell the learner `although the shocks can be extremely painful, they
cause no permanent tissue damage'.
Learning task- The teacher was asked to read a series of word pairs to the learner,
and then read the first word of the pair along with four terms. The learner had to
indicate which of the four terms was originally paired with the first word.
Shock generator- This machine had 30 switches each labeled with a number from 15
to 450 volts, in increments of 15. There were also labels to describe the intensity. In
order to convince the naïve subject that the shocks were genuine, they were given a
sample shock of 45 volts, on their wrist. The teacher was told to give a shock for a
wrong response and, each time, to move one level higher on the shock generator.
The teacher also had to announce the voltage each time, thus reminding him of the
Preliminary and regular run- A pilot run of the experiment showed that it takes
some time before subjects can get the procedure right so each subject can get the
procedure right so each subject (teacher) was given 10 words to read to the learner
to read to the learner. The learner made 7 shocks, reaching the moderate level of 105
Feedback from the victim- The learner had a predetermined set of responses,
giving approximately three wrong answers to every correct answer. The learner made
no sign of protest of any other comment until a shock level of 300 volts was
reached. At this point he pounded on the wall but thereafter ceased to provide any
further response to questions; the subject usually turned to the experimenter for
advice and was told to wait 5-10 seconds before treating the lack of response as a
wrong answer. After the 315 volt shock the learner pounded on the wall again but
after that there was no further response from the learner.
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Experimenter feedback if the subject turned to the experimenter for advice
about whether to continue, the experimenter was trained to continue giving shocks,
the experimenter was trained to give a series of standard prods which were always
made in sequence. Prod 2 was only used if prod 1 was unsuccessful. If the sujecty
refused to obey prod4 then the experiment was terminated. The sequence was
begun anew on each hesitation.…read more
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It can also be argued that Milgram did not take adequate measures to
protect his participants from the stress and emotional conflict they
experienced. It is possible that being involved in the experiment may have had
a long-term effect on the participants.
In terms of the right to withdraw, it was good that Milgram stated at the
start that the money paid to the participants was theirs regardless of
whether they continued with the experiment.…read more
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The participant felt himself to be similarly obligated to take part in the
procedures as planned.
· Being paid increased the sense of obligation.
· As far as the participant was concerned, the roles of learner and teacher had
been allocated fairly, by drawing lots. Thus the learner could not feel aggrieved
that he had been unfairly assigned his role.…read more