Milgrams study of obedience

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  • Created by: ava.scott
  • Created on: 26-04-14 22:02

Procedure and Findings

40 male volunteers were paid $4.50, and told they were involved in an experiemnt on the effects of punishment on learning.

They were paired with a confederate who said they were the learner, and then were put into an adjacent rooms. The teacher(participant) had to administer shocks every time the learner got a question wrong; the shocks increased by 15V each time. If they refused to go on, they were 'prodded' by the researcherto continue.

100% went to 300V, which is when the learner began to shout and scream.

65% went to 450V, the highest dosage, labelled 'dangerous'. 

Most participants found it very stressful and wanted to stop, but depsite their verbal refusal, they usually continued when prodded.

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  • Under certain circumstances, people will obey orders that go against their conscience.
  • When instructed by someone else, people lose feelings of guilt and empathy.
  • The findings could be used to explain WW2 atrocities, as they were under pressure from a powerful authority.
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Seedy Office: 47.5% went to 450V

Learner and Teacher in the same room: 40 % went to 450V

Teacher forces Learners hand onto electric plate: 30V

Another teacher refuses to go on: 10% went to 450V

Instructed by telephone: 20.5% went to 450V

Teacher given an assistant to flick switches: 92.5% went to 450V

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Supporting Evidence


Nurses are gven instruction from an unknown doctor to give administer 4x the recommended amount of an unknown drug. They would be breaking 4 hospital conduct rules, but still 21/22 nurses obeyed.

Rank and Jacobson-

 They repeated Hofling's study, this time with Valium, a known drug, and also gave the nurses the opportunity to confer with other nurses. This time only 2/18 obliged.


Studied the effect of uniforms on obedience. He got a man dressed as ether a milkman, a guard or a civilian. People were much more likely to obey a guard when asked to look after something, or to pay for a parking meter.

Meeus and Raajmakers-

24 participants asked to interview confederate interviewees. They were told to make increasingly harsh 'stressor remarks', and 22/24 ignored the interviewees complaints.

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Challenging Evidence


  • lack of respect for participants- but 84% said they were glad to be involved and only 1.3% had negative feedback.
  • lack of informed consent- this wasn't a guideline at the time, and milgram fully debriefed every participant, so actually very ethical for the time.
  • psychological harm to participants- the findings are unpalatable, making people feel uncomfortable about humans capacity for harm. however, no negative psychological harm was recorded 1 year on.
  • misapplying findings- people argued that Milgram was trying to justify nazi atrocities. milgram recognised that his research did not provide explanation for all obedience.

Time- 1950's America had very strong conventional culture, and wouldn't want to be seen to break the mould- e.g. mcarthyism scare. Would results be different now?

Ecological validity- being in an experiment admistinstrating electrical shocks isn't mundane reality. People may be more or less prone to obedience when in a real life situation. Also, all american, so cannot be generalised to other populations.

Orne and Holland thought that participants knew they weren't giving shocks, however, films of the experiment show genuine anxiety. Also, in Hofling's field study it showed that people were still very prone to obedience.

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