To investigate what happens when a nurse is ordewred to carry out a procedure which goes against her professional standards.
22 identical boxes of capsules with the name of Astrofen were placed on 22 psychiatric wards in both private and public hosptals, the astrofen were actually placebos (made up of glucose) though this was not apparent. On the box it was stated "maximum dosage 10 mg" with each capsule being 5mg.
Whilst a nurse was on duty a doctor who was in fact a confederate "Dr Smith" phoned the ward and instructed the nurse to give 20mg of Astrofen to his patient "Mr Jones" who was also a confederate
The doctor then told the nurse he would be there in ten minutes to observe Mr Jones and to sign the authrorisation forms to give medication. For the nurse to comply with this she would be breaking three basic rules of procedure:
- The drug to be given was above the maximum daily dosage of 10mg.
- The drug should only be given after the authorisation form is signed.
- The nurse needs t o be sure Dr Smith is a genuine doctor.
A real doctor nearby observed the actions of the nurse following the call; would she comply, refuse or try to contact another doctor. This real doctor was then there to debrief the nurse
There was a big difference from what the nurses said they would do in an interview and what they did in real life.
21 out of 22 obeyed without hesitation!
11 of these admitted to being aware of the maximum dosage when filling in a questionnaire afterward.
The results concluded that there is potential for nurses to be encouraged to question the decision of doctors if they feel a decision is not right.
+ The hospital ward was a natural setting for the nurses so the study is high in ecological validity
+ The stud is highly valid because the task was realistics the nurses themselves agreed that such an issue could arise.
+ The study used strong controls the pill were kept in the same place and each nurse received the same instructions.
+ The study supports Milgram's Agency theory as the nurses' actions were consistent with being in the agentic state.
- The study broke the ethical guideline of informed consent as the nurses were observed without permission which caused upset
- The study took place in 1966 where there were profound gender role differences which means it cannot be generalised to todays society where gender roles are more equal.