Milgram Obedience Studies 1963


Aim and Sample


  • To investigate the level of obedience when told by an authority figure to give electric shocks
  • To test the idea that Germans are different from others in their willingness to obey barbaric orders during the Holocaust


  • 40 men aged between 20 and 50
  • they were all from the same area of America and middle class
  • self selected --> advertised, 4dollars50 to take part in a study of memory and learning at Yale University
  • educational levels ranged 
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  • laboratory experiment 
  • participants were in a room with the confederate and asked to pick a piece paper (it was fixed, participants ALWAYS got the role of the teacher)
  • the confederate was strapped to a chair and electrodes attached to him
  • the participant was given a slight shock to prove it was real
  • the teacher had to read word pairs out to the learner and then proceeded to recall the first word of a word pair with 4 other words. The learner had to press the correct button for the answer
  • if the learner got it wrong, an electric shock was administered by the teacher 
  • for every wrong answer, the voltage increased by 15 volts (maximum 450V)
  • participants were continually reminded of the voltage and had to read the voltage aloud before the shock was administered 
  • prompts were given if the participant hesistated/refused to administer the shock- 4 in total, if still refused after all 4 the experiment was terminated 
  • responses from the learner and experimenter were scripted/standardised (300/315 volts learner would bang on the door)
  • full debrief given and interviews and questionnaires done after 
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Results and Conclusion


  • 65% of participants carried on to the maximum voltage of 450 volts --> showed extreme stress, sweating, laughing, stuttering etc
  • 100% of participants went up to 300 volts --> some participants even had seizures


  • Situations shape our behaviour, not necessarily an individuals pesonality, situational factors inclue e.g. being at Yale University, worthy cause and status of researcher etc. could lead to the person being obedient 
  • so ^ Germans are not different 
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Evaluation Points


  • The sample size is small, only 40 men between the ages of 20&50 were used. This means it is not representative of the target population and therefore cannot be generalised to women, other ages or other countries/communities/cultures
  • The sample consisted of volunteers. This would mean they were more motivated and obedient. So demand characteristics are increased and so the results may be misleading and so cannot be generalised
  • ^ However, it could be said that this is a good thing because participants gave consent in taking part and therefore it is considered ethical


  • Milgram did different variations of this experiment e.g. proximity of the experimenter and where the experiment took place. All the results were concurrent and therefore it shows results were reliable
  • Milgram used standardised procedures. Scripted prompts were used and tape recorded reactions of the learner. So, variables were controlled- the study can be replicated and tested for reliability. It also shows a clear cause and effect
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More Evaluation Points


  • The study was useful after WW2. It broke down the stereotypes of German people. This is because it showed anyone could harm someone due to being obedient towards a figure of authority
  • The study explains bad events that have happened in society such as WW2 when Germans were ordered to kill innocent people. It shows that people obey orders, even if it involves harming someone, when it comes from someone thought to be of authority


  • The results were objective. Quantitative data was used, for example the no. of volts the participant gave out and percentages. This shows there is a clear cause and effect. No opinions interferred to create an inaccurate conclusion, so the results are high in validity
  • However, the study is low in mundane realism. This is because we do not give out electric shocks to wrong answers in real life. So, the study lacks validity because it is not a normal, everyday task
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More Evaluation Points


  • Participants were hugely deceived. A confederate was used and participants were very stressed. They did not know the real aim of the study
  • However, this ^ could be said to be justified because if participants had known the real aim, demand characteristics would have been produced leading to inaccurate results, invalid data and misleading conclusions. 
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Was Milgram's Study Justified?

  • Other research supports Milgram such as Hofling who found 21/22 nurses were willing to obey barbaric orders from a 'doctor'.
  • There was found to be no long term suffering in participants, most were glad to have taken part
  • Guidelines were not in place then, so technically none were broken
  • It benefitted society massively e.g. stereotypes against Nazi Germany as it proved any nationality was/ is capable
  • It was not a real situation and therefore cannot be applied to real life
  • It took place at a top university and so can be said to be more artificial, unreliable results
  • Accused lack of respect for participants because some were not fully debriefed

Overall, it can be argued that study was justified because other studies have shown the same findings and there were no long term effects on the participants. So, the benefits outweigh the short period of time where stress and discomfort occured.

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Situational Factors

  • Foot in the door --> started experiment and did not know how to disobey, nothing they sad had an effect
  • Buffers --> anything preventing those who obey from being aware of the full impact of their actions
  • Prompts --> 'You must continue' etc
  • Demand Characteristics --> the cues in the experimental setting influenced participants perceptions of what was required of them
  • Gradual Commitment --> generator switches only went up by 15v each time so it was easier to obey
  • Prestigious University --> it took place at Yale University and so participants saw researchers as experts and trustworthy
  • Personal Responsibility --> asked whose responsibility it was if the learner was harmed and visible relief was shown when the experimenter took responsibility
  • Perception of Legitimate Authority --> experimenter seen as a legitimate authority figure- wore a grey labcoat to indicate his position
  • Seen as a Fair Experiment --> participants both drew pieces of paper at the start, had an equal chance of being the teacher or the learner 
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this is dead



that's harsh I thought it was a good resource



The flash card is acc good . it very detailed but make sure when writing in the exams to give peel and structure your answer . 


p point 

E explain 

E evidence or evaluate 

L link  



this is such a life saver

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