Stanley Milgram

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Aim + Methodology


  • to see how obedient people would be when ordered to give electric shocks increasing in intensity to a helpless victim, causing pain and possible harm. 


  • Carried out in Yale University
  • Lab experiment
  • Newspaper advert called out for men to take part in a 'memory and learning' experiment
  • Paid $4.50 for 1 hours work
  • 40 men, between 20-50 years old, various jobs 
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  • Each participant arrived at the university, met by another man who said he was taking part in the experiment
  • Mr Wallace- 47 year old man with a heart condition was a confederate- not a participant.
  • The experimenter was a 31 year old male biology teacher
  • genuine participant = teacher
  • confederate= learner
  • Practiced a word association memory test
  • Learner was taken to another room
  • Real shock was given to both teacher and learner so they could feel the force of the shocks.
  • Electric shock generator 15 volts- 450 volts in 15 volt increments
  • Teacher would ask memory questions, and if answered wrong would give an electric shock.
  • The shocks increased by 15 volts each mistake
  • No real shocks were being administered as the electric shock machine was not attached.
  • The teacher could hear the learner's reactions to all shocks
  • These were prerecorded and played throughout the study 
  • Learner was silent up until 300 volts where he pounded on the wall and verbally protested, all teachers were advised to carry on despite this. 
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Procedures continued

The experimenter gave a series of verbal prods when the teachers protested. These were;

  • Please continue
  • The experiment requires that you continue
  • It is absolutely essential that you continue
  • You have no choice, you must continue

All teachers were informed that the shocks were painful but would not cause damage.

When the procedures were complete, the teacher was debriefed and introduced to the confederate. 

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Quantitative Data 

  • Prior to the study, psychologist estimated that 1% of men would be fully obedient 
  • However, 65% of the men were fully obedient. 

Qualitative Data

  • majority of participants showed signs of stress; protesting, walking around, sweating
  • 14 displayed nervous laughter
  • some got angry, cried
  • 3 men had seizures
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Participants found it difficult to disobey because of;

  • Prestigious location of the university 
  • Trusted the experimenter
  • Due to volunteering, participants felt they couldn't disrupt by leaving 
  • Little time to resolve ill feelings
  • Unsure how to behave in the situation
  • Scienctific gains outweighed the costs 
  • Internal conflict; not to harm someone/go against orders
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✘ Orne and Holland- the participants did not believe the electric shocks were real 

✘ Perry found through Milgram's original notes that the participants were suspicious of the shocks as the experimenter was so calm

✓ Milgram Stated that 75% of participants believed they were administering electric shocks


✘ Baumrind- damage inflicted could not be justified in any way

 ✓ Milgram stated that he did not know how distressed participants would become as he did not anticipate they would proceed to the end of the study 

✘ Perry- failed to protect his participants as he waited over a year to fully debrief some participants

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