To examine obedience in a real life social setting- a hospital.
The study was set in a psychiatric hospital in the USA. 22 nurses on night duty were the participants. An unknown 'doctor', who was a confederate, telephoned the hospital and spoke to a nurse. He instructed them to give medication to a patient.
The medication was a drug with a maximum dosage of 10Mg (which was shown on the label of the bottle). The doctor instructed the nurse to give a dosage of 20Mg to the patient and said that he would sign the relevent authorisation papers when he arrived in the hospital in 10 minutes time. This was done with each of the 22 nurses.
21 out of 22 of the nurses obeyed the telephone instruction and began to prepare the medication before they were stopped and the situation was explained to them.
In their roles as nurses, they followed the social norm to accept orders from the higher authority of the doctors without questioning their judgement. This shows that obedience is commonplace in everyday life.
This experiment shows the importance of responsibility in relation to obedience. As the doctor claimed that he would sign the authorisation papers when he arrived, the responsibility was removed from the nurses, making them more likely to obey.
It was unethical. Paricipants did not have the opportunity to give informed consent as they did not know that they were participating in an experiment.
However... the experiment does show how obedience is found in real life situations. It has high ecological validity because it is a field experiment.