Milgram 1963

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AIM of the study

To investigate what level of obidience would be shown when participants were told by an authority figure to administer electric shocks to another person.

Following both the second world war and the Numremburg war trials (where nazis frequently used the defence of "i was just following orders"). Milgram wanted to check if Germans were different in how much they obeyed compared to Americans.

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  • 40 Males
  • Aged between  20 & 50 years
  • From a range of occupations
  • Drawn from the New Haven areas
  • Recruited through the newspaper and direct mail advertisment which asked for volunteers to particpate in a study of memory and learning as Yale University.
  • They were paid $4.50 just for turning up
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Procedure: Part 1

Volunteers were recruited for a lab experiment investigating “learning” (re: ethics: deception). Participants were 40 males, aged between 20 and 50, whose jobs ranged from unskilled to professional.
At the beginning of the experiment they were introduced to another participant, who was actually a confederate of the experimenter (Milgram). They drew straws to determine their roles – leaner or teacher – although this was fixed and the confederate always ended to the learner. There was also an “experimenter” dressed in a white lab coat, played by an actor (not Milgram).
The “learner” (Mr. Wallace) was strapped to a chair in another room with electrodes. After he has learned a list of word pairs given him to learn, the "teacher" tests him by naming a word and asking the learner to recall its partner/pair from a list of four possible choices.

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Procedure part 2

The teacher is told to administer an electric shock every time the learner makes a mistake, increasing the level of shock each time. There were 30 switches on the shock generator marked from 15 volts (slight shock) to 450 (danger – severe shock).
The learner gave mainly wrong answers (on purpose) and for each of these the teacher gave him an electric shock. When the teacher refused to administer a shock and turned to the experimenter for guidance, he was given the standard instruction /order (consisting of 4 prods):
Prod 1: please continue.
Prod 2: the experiment requires you to continue.
Prod 3: It is absolutely essential that you continue.
Prod 4: you have no other choice but to continue.

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65% (two-thirds) of participants (i.e. teachers) continued to the highest level of 450 volts. All the participants continued to 300 volts.

Milgram did more than one experiment – he carried out 18 variations of his study. All he did was alter the situation (IV) to see how this affected obedience (DV).

IV- independent variable

DV- dependent variable

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Ordinary people are likely to follow orders given by an authority figure, even to the extent of killing an innocent human being. Obedience to authority is ingrained in us all from the way we are brought up. Obey parents, teachers, anyone in authority etc.

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Clearer understanding

milgram obedience IV variations (

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