Milgram (1963) - Behavioural study of obedience

Milgram's Context & Aims, Findings & Conclusions, Methodology and Alternate Evidence

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  • Created on: 09-02-13 18:35

Context & Aims - Milgram (1963)

Obedience: type of social influence - to act in response to a direct order from a figure with perceived authority (people with uniform)

Contexts:                                                                                                                            1. Adolf Eichmann (1961): oversaw the death of 6 million jews, claims he has only been "following orders", other nazi's who stood trial gave same defence (destructive obedience)       2. Hannah Arendt (1963): "It would have been comforting indeed to believe that Eichmann was a monster…The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were and still are terribly and terrifyingly normal.”                                                                                              3. "Germans are different" hypothesis - Adorno et al (1950): Germans have authoritarian personality (hostile to people of lower status, being servile to those of high status, uphold norms of society and intolerant of anything different). Harsh upbringing (psychodynamic)

Aims: - Test "Germans are different" hypothesis (obedience explained by dispositional factors)                                                                                                                       - Create controlled environment + assess obedience + then alter variables to see what effect they had on obedience.

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Findings&Conclusions - Milgram (1963)

  • Milgram discussed experiment with group of psychology majors&colleagues, asked to estimate how many participant's would give the full 450v. Estimate= 0-3%
  • Quantitaive data = all participant's gave a minimum of 300v (intense shock) - where learner was protesting & banging on wall, 5 particpant's (12.5%) went no further
  • 26 (65%) participant's gave full 450v, rest refused to shock any further than 300v-450v
  • Participant's who didn't disobey = 'obedient' subjects, pp's disobey= 'defiant' subjects
  • 84% glad to take part 
  • 15% were neutral
  • 2% were very sorry to take part
  • 80% said more exp's like this should take place
  • 74% learned something of personal importance

Conclusions - 13 conclusions (state only 3 main ones but mention 10 more)

  • Ordinary people are shakingly obedient to destructive orders
  • In certain situations, people would kill strangers
  • Situation caused people to be highly obedient 
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  • Lab experiment - found a cause&effect
  • High in experimental validity - high control over confounding variables (roles of pp's)
  • High in reliability - Burger (2009) replicated study & found similar results 
  • Took a questionnaire about pp's experiences (quantitative data-easier to analyse)
  • Found qualitative data too (idegraphic, rich and in depth data)
  • Counselling support available for 1 year after


  • Androcentric (gender biased - used all males) & ethnocentric (white americans only)
  • Volunteer sample - same type of people - unrepresentative
  • Deception, lack of informed consent&right to withdraw& from harm (mentally distressed&physical pain - "dig their fingernails into their flesh")
  • Low experimental validity(internal) - some pp's (22.6%&2.4%) doubted or didn't beleive shocks were real
  • Low ecological validity - fatigue effect & lacked mundane realism - not a real life situation
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Alternate Evidence

  • Sheridan & King (1972) - found similar high levels of obedience usuing real shocks, used small puppy as 'victim' (was in same room & could be seen) 75% pp's gave maximum shock (women obeyed more than men)
  • Hofling et al (1966) - nurses telephone by 'Doctor Smith' who instructed nurses to give 20mg of drug called Astroten to patient (nurses not allowed to take instructions over phone) 21/22 (95%) did so. Nurses defence: what doctors expect nurses to do
  • Rank & Jacobson (1977) - asked nurses carry out irregular order, 16/18 (89%) refused, difference: familiar drug used called Valium - more mundane realism
  • Burger (2009) - replicated Milgram's study using similar set-up but didn't allow pp's to exceed 150v once they had shown willingness, found 70% were willing
  • David Mandel (1998) - Reserve Battalion 101 in Poland - commander recieved orders to carry out mass murder of Jews but Trapp said men didn't have to kill but still did it
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