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Background & Aim

  • Milgram was fascinated with Nazi Germany and wanted to understand how the Holocaust could have happened.
  • Milgram proposed the hypothesis that 'Germans are different', suggesting that Germans have a basic character defect which causes them to blindly obey authority figures.
  • Consequently Milgram wanted to test this hypothesis.
  • Milgram's aim was to investigate what level of obedience would be shown when participants were told by an authority figure to administer electric shocks to each person.
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Method, Procedure & Controls

  • A controlled observation was used.
  • A self-selected sample of 40 males aged 20-50 were obtained via a newspaper advertisement requiring participants to take part in a study into the effect of punishment on learning.
  • Participants were assigned the role of teacher via a fixed lottery and witnessed the 'learner' being attatched to the chair with electrodes and were told the shocks were painful but not harmful.
  • The teacher was then taken to the next room where they were seated in front of the shock generator.
  • The teacher was given a sample shock of 45V.
  • The teacher was instructed to test the learner's ability to recall a series of word-pairs, for every incorrect answer the teacher was instructed to administer an electric shock which would be increased by 15V each time.
  • The experimenter encouraged the teacher to obey by giving a standardised series of verbal prods.
  • The learner is classed as obedient when they administer 450V.
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  • All of the 40 participants obeyed the experimenter up to 300 volts (when victim hit wall and stopped responding).
  • 65% of participants delivered the maximum 450 volts.
  • Many of the participants showed signs of distress.
  • Some sweated, trembled, bit their lip, dug their fingernails into their flesh, displayed nervous laughing and three of them had seizures.
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Conclusions & Implications

Milgram stated that participants obeyed due to various factors, such as:

  • Took place in a prestigious university.
  • Participants believed it was for a worthy purpose.
  • Teacher believed that the 'learner' had volunteered.
  • Equal chance of being selected as either teacher or learner.

Individuals will obey authority figures even when they know that what they are doing is morally wrong.

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