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  • Created on: 06-05-16 18:07

Milgram (1963)

AIM      To investigate how far people would go obeying an instruction if it involved harming another person

PARTICIPANT         40 male participants aged between 20 and 50 in jobs ranging from unskilled to professional

PROCEDURE             Participants drew lots for their roles. It was rigged so that the participant was always given the role of teacher and a confederate was always the learner. Another confederate acted as the experimenter and was dressed in a lab coat. Participants were told they could leave the study at any time. The learner was strapped into a chair in a separate room to where the teacher was. The teacher had to give them an increasingly severe 'shock' when he mad a mistake on a memory task. The teachers were not told the shocks were fake. Shocks began at 15volts and rose 30 levels to 450volts. At 300volts the learner stopped giving responses to questions. The teachers were instructed to shock them if no answer was given. If the teacher confronted the experimenter about not wanting to continue the experimenter gave one of four responses:  'Please continue'/'Please go on', 'The experiment requires that you continue', 'It is absolutely essential that you continue' or 'You have no other choice, you must go on'

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Milgram (1963) Contin.

FINDINGS       At the end of the experiment, no participants had stopped before 300volts. 12.5% of the participants stopped at 300volts and 65% continued to 450volts.

Observations indicated participants experienced extreme tension/stress; signs shown included sweating, trembling, biting their lips, groaning and digging fingernails into the palms of their hands. Three participants had 'full-blown uncontrollable seizures'.

CONCLUSION               The findings were unexpected as Milgram asked a group of 14 psychology students what the thought the participants behaviour would turn out like. They estimated no more than 3% would continue to 450volts.

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Milgram Eval. Strengths

Replications support the findings - In a French documentary contestents in a reality television game show were paid to give 'shocks' - when told to do so - to confederates. 80% continued to 450volts. Their behaviour was similar to that of Milgrams participants - High reliability

Can be generalised - Milgram suggested the lab-based relationship between the experimenter and the participant was a reflection of real-life authority relationships. Hofling (1966) found that levels of obedience in nurses on a hospital ward to unjustified demands by doctors were very high - High external validity

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Milgram Eval. Limitations

Demand charcteristics may have affected the results - Orne and Holland (1968) suggested participants guessed the shocks were fake. This means they could have been acting the way the felt the experimenter wanted or continued to the maximum voltage because they knew they were not harming anyone. Thid would also mean Milgram was not testing what was intended - Lacks internal validity

Social Identity Theory acts as an alternative explanation to Milgram's - Obeidience is about group identification. Milgrams participants identified with the experimenter and when obedience fell they identified with the victim. This would mean participants did not give shocks due to obedience but because they identified with the experimenter as a scientist.

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Explanations: Situational Variables

Milgram conducted varations of his original study, changing situational variables.

PROXIMITY    In the proximity variation the teacher and learner were in the same room through the experiment rather than adjoiming rooms (teacher could hear but not see learner). In the touch proximity variation the teacher had to force the learners hand onto a shock plate. In the remote instruction proximity variation the experimenter left the room and instructed the teacher over the phone.

The percentage of fully obeidient participants for the: proximity variation was 40%, touch proximity variation was 30%, remote instruction proximity variation was 20.5%. In the remote instruction variation participants frequently pretended to give shocks or gave weaker shocks than the ones they were ordered to give.

LOCATION    The location was changed to a run-down building rather than the university setting of the original study.

The percentage of fully participants for the location variation was 47.7%. This indicates that the experimenter held less authority in this setting.

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Explanations: Situational Variables Contin.

UNIFORM       In this variation the experimenter was called away and the role of experimenter was taken over by a 'ordinary member of the public' that was dressed in everyday clothes rather than a lab coat.

The percentage of fully obedient participants for the uniform variation was 20%. This suggests that uniform acts as a strong visual authority symbol and a cue for obedient behaviour.

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Explanations: Situational Eval. Strengths

There is research support - Bickman (1974) looked at the effect of authority on obedience. A confederate dressed as either a security guard, a milk man or in a suit and tie. It was found passers-by were more willing to provide a coin for the parking meter (etc.) to a security guard. They were twice as likely to obey the guard than the suit and tie. This supports Milgram's suggestion that uniform conveys authority - High reliability

Milgram's study has been replicated in other cultures - Miranda (1981) found over 90% obedience in Spanish students which means Milgram's findings are not limited to American males. However Smith and Bond (1998) suggested that replications cannot be generalised to everywhere because replications were conducted in areas culturally similar the the US - High ecological validity

Milgram's study has control over variables - Milgram systematically altered one variable at a time to test effects on obediece. Other variables were kept consistent. The control ensures obedience is due to the manipulation of the independent variable. It makes it easier to establish a cause-and-effect relationship - High validity

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Explanations: Situational Eval. Limitations

Demand characteristics may have been more likely in Milgram's variations - Orne and Holland (1968) suggested participants may have guessd the procedure was faked due to extra experimental manipulation. It is possibe the results were due to participanys 'play acting' rather than obedience - Lacks validity

Milgram's conclusions can provide an obedience alibi - The conclusions make it possible for the situation is responsible for behaviours and not the person. Mandel (1998) suggested it is offensive to survivers of the Holocaust as it means Nazis were just obeying orders and were victims of situational variables beyond their control. The situational perspectiv is dangerous because it ignores the roles that discrimination, racism and prejudice played in the Holocaust.

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Explanations: Social-Psychological Factors

AGENTIC STATE         An agentic state occurs when people act on behalf of another person. In an agentic state a person feels no personal responsibility for their actions. The opposite to the agentic state is an autonomous state. Someone in an autonomous state behaves accoriding to their own principles and feels responsible for their actions.

The agentic shift occurs when a person shifts from the autonomous state to the agentic state. Milgram suggested this occurs when people percieve others as an authority figure. The authority figure has power because of their position in a social heirarchy. 

Binding factors reduce the moral strain of obeying orders. They are aspects of a situation that allow the person to ignore or minimise the damaging effect of their behaviour and reduce the moral strain they feel. Milgram suggested a number of strategies people use, such as shifting blame to the victim or denying damage they are doing to victims.

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Explanations: Social-Psychological Factors Contin.

LEGITAMACY OF AUTHORITY           People obey people that are at the top of a social heirarchy. Most societies are structured hierarchcally; people in certain positions hold authority over others. Authorities have legitamacy through society's agreement. Most people accept that authority figures should exercise social power over others because it allows the society to function smoothly. People hand control of their behaviour to authority figures due to trust and through upbringing.

Charismatic leaders use their legitamate powers for destructive purposes. 

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Explanations: Social-Psych Eval. Strengths


There is research support - Blass and Schmidt (2001) showed students a film of Milgram's study and asked them to identify who was responsible for harm to the learner. Students blamed the experimenter rather than the participants. The students recognised legitimate authority as the cause of obedience


Useful account of cultural differences in obedience - Countries differ in obedience to authority. Kilham and Mann (1974) found 16% of Austrailians continued to 450volts; Mantell (1971) found 85% of Germans continued to 450volts. Authority is more likely to be accepted as legitimate in some cultures. This reflects how different societies are structured and children raised to perceive authority figures - High validity

It can explain real-life obedience - Kelman and Hamilton (1989) suggested the My Lai massacre is explained by the power heirarchy of the US Army. The army has authority by the US Government and the law; soldiers assume orders given by the heirarchy are legal

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Explanations: Social-Psych Eval. Limitations


Agentic shift doesn't explain many research findings - Some participants did not obey. In Hofling's (1966) study, nurses should have shown anxiety as they gave responsibility over to the doctor because they understood their role in a destructive process; this did not happen. Agentic shift can only account for some obedience situations

Cannot acount for the behaviour of the Nazis - Mandel (1998) described German Reserve Police Battalion 101 - men shot civilians in a small town in Poland; they did this even though they were not directly ordered to. This means they were not powerless to disobey

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Explanations: Dispositional Explanations


High levels of unquestioning obeidience is pathological. Authoriatarian personalities include extreme respect for those above them and contempt for inferiors. It origintes in childhood, through events such as harsh parenting. This generally includes extreme strict disipline, expectation of absolute loyalty, impossibly high standards and severe critism. Authoritarian personality is also characterised by conditioned love - the parents love depends on the behavour of the child.

These experiences create resentment and hostility in the child, but they cannot express these feelings directly against their parents because they fear reprisals. Hostility towards or a fear of the parents is displaced onto those who are socially inferior. This is scapegoating; it explains the hatred of people seen as socially inferior.

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Adorno (1950)

AIM            To investigate unconscious attitudes towards other racial groups in order to understand the anti-Semitism of the Holocaust

PARTICIPANT                     2000 middle-class white Americans

PROCEDURE        Several scales were developed to help measure the authoritarian personaities. These included the potential for fascism scale (F-scale). Examples from the scale include, 'Obedience and respect for authority are the most important virtues for children to learn' and 'There is hardly anything lower than a person who does not feel great love, gratitude and respect for his parents'.

FINDINGS         Authoritarians, who scored high on the F-scale and other measures, idetified with 'strong' people and were contemptuous of the 'weak'. They were consicous of their own and others' status and showed excessive respect and deference for those of higher status. Authoritarians also had a cognitive style where here was no 'fuzziness' between catergories of people. They had fixed and distinctive stereotypes about other groups.

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Explanations: Dispositional Eval. Strengths

There is support for the link between the authoritarian personality and obedience - Elms and Milgram (1966) interviewed fully obedient participants; all scored highly on the F-scale. It is possible the link is just a corelation between measured variables and a third factor may be involved.

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Explanations: Dispositional Eval. Limitations

The explanation is limited - Millions of people in Germany showed high levels of obedience and anti-Semitic behaviour but did not have the same personality. Social Identity Theory is a more realistic explanation as it would mean most Germans identified wih the anti-Semitic Nazi state and adopted its views

The F-scale is politically biased - Christie and Hahoda (1954) suggested the F-sacle aims to measure tendency towards extreme right-wing ideology. Adorno's theory is not a comprehensive dispositional explanation of obedience to authority as it does not explain obedience to left-wing authoritarianism

The explanation is based on flawed methodology - Greenstein (1969) suggested the F-scale has methodological errors, for example the items are worded in the same 'direction' so the scale just measures the tendency to agree to everything. Researchers also knew the participants test scores when they interviewed them which means they knew who had an authoritarian personality. The results are likely to be biased as the researcher also knew the hypothesis of the study - Lacks validity

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