WJEC AS Psychology PY2 - Milgram (1963)

Revision notes for aims and context, procedures, findings and conclusions, evaluate the methodology and alternative findings

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Milgram (1963) - Aims and Context


  • obedience: performing an action in response to a direct order where the person is issuing the orders is perceived as having a legitimate authority. It is good in order to maintain order and authority but can be bad if someone obeys another that wrongly uses the authority

Importance: obedience can be considered a necessary part of society, for example if people didn't follow laws such as speed limits, there would be accidents and can be used in education/parenting.

Previous Research:

  • millions of innocent people killed in WWII; in 1960, Adolf Eichmann captured by Israel secret service in Argentina, put on trial in Nuremberg and hanged in 1962. Responsible for murder of millions of people however appeared to be quiet, mild-mannered man and not someone to commit acts of evil; like many others, he was following/obeying orders
  • Arendt (1963) said "in certain circumstances an ordinary, decent person can become a criminal"
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Milgram (1963) - Aims and Context

Previous Research:

  • many researchers claim obedience required to carry such acts down to 'Germans are different'
  • Adorno et al (1950) suggested Germans have a particular 'type' of personality: 'the authoritarian personality': typically hostile to people of inferior status, while being servile to those percevied as higher status; Adorno et al suggested authoritarian personalities are prejudiced against minority groups as result of unconscious hostility stemming from harsh and disciplined upbringing that is then displaced onto minority groups


1) Milgram wanted to test whether 'Germans are different' belief was true or not

2) thought obedience is not due to internal, dispositional factors but is due to situational factors

3) aimed to create a situation that allowed him to measure process of obedience, even when command requires destructive behaviour

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Milgram (1963) - Procedures

PARTICIPANTS: Milgram placed advert in a newspaper for volunteers for expt

  • selected 40 males, aged between 20 - 50, range of occupations
  • took place at Yale University
  • believed they were taking part in research about memory and learning; paid $4 and 50c for travel, and told they'd be paid just for coming to the lab, regardless of what happened afterwards


  • 'experimenter' (31 year old man in lab coat) greets pps with stern, impassive appearance , another ps (confederate) was likeable 47 year old man who is paired with real ps
  • drew slips to determine teacher/learner role, rigged: pps would always be teacher
  • both taken to experimental room, where learner is strapped to 'electric' chair apparatus to prevent excessive movement and electrodes placed on a wrist linked to shock generator in adjoining room (confederate not actually shocked) 
  • teacher in adjoining room sat in front of shock generator, there were 30 switches, labelled 15 - 450 volts, every 4 switches written description of shock ('slight shock' etc), teacher was given real sample shock
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Milgram (1963) - Procedures


  • teacher had to administer a shock when learner gave a wrong answer and move to a higher shock level each time
  • learner was told to give a wrong answer approx. once every 3 correct answers and told to make no protest until 300 volts
  • if teacher wanted to stop experimenter had 4 standard 'prods': "Please continue", "The experiment requires that you continue", "It is absolutely essential that you continue", "You have no other choice, you must go on"
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Milgram (1963) - Findings and Conclusions

Results from the Experiment:

  • 65% of pps delivered full shock of 450 volts, 35% disobeyed authority
  • at 300 volts (first time learner 'protests'), 5 pps refused to continue, all pps continued at least to this point
  • many subjects showed nervousness, many showed extreme tension through sweating, trembling, groaning, digging nails into flesh, showed lots of relief when expt finished
  • 14 pps displayed 'nervous laughter/smiling', remarks/behaviour indicating acting against their own values in punishing learner
  • 3 pps had full blown uncontrollable seizures
  • some pps got up and left without saying anything,
  • pps sent follow up qs: 92% pps responded, 84% glad/very glad to take part, 15% neutral, 2% sorry/very sorry to take part, 80% said more expts like this should be carried out, 74% felt had learnt something of personal importance

Conclusions from the Experiment: Milgram concluded "phenomenon of obedience must rest on analysis of particular conditions in which it occurs"; -circumstances in which pps were in created a situation in which it was difficult to disobey

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Milgram (1963) - Findings and Conclusions

 - concluded 13 elements in situation that contributed to these levels of obedience:

  • 1. location of study at prestigious uni provided authority
  • 2. pps assumed experimenter in control and had worthy purpose = should be obeyed
  • 3. pps assumed learner voluntarily consented to take part
  • 4. pps didn't want to disrupt expt as felt obligation due to voluntary consent
  • 5. obligation reinforced as pps being paid
  • 6. pps believed learner role determined by chance so can't complain
  • 7. new situation for pps so didn't know how to behave, if pps had discussed situation with others, may have acted differently?
  • 8. pps assumed pain was minimal/temporal and scientific gains important
  • 9. learner 'played game' till 300 volts, pps assumed willing to continue
  • 10. pps torn between demands of learner and experimenter
  • 11. two demands not equally pressing and legitimate
  • 12. pps had little time to resolve conflict at 300 volts, unaware victim would remain silent after
  • 13. conflict between 2 deeply ingrained tendencies: not to harm someone, and to obey someone perceived with legitimate authorities
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Milgram (1963) - Evaluate the Methodology


  • later studies done on women, other cultures yielded similar findings; later studies shown naturalistic environment similar results, therefore, study can be generalised to women, culture and environment
  • no social desirability bias: obedience and destructive behaviour not socially desirable, hence why told memory/learning study
  • ethics: pps were debriefed, and 84% glad to have taken part
  • Milgram's study stimulated a lot of research in area of obedience, still relevant today


  • all men: androcentric, all American: ethnocentric, low pop. validity as difficult to generalise to women/other cultures HOWEVER(+)
  • low ecological validity as in a lab expt = artificial, low mundane realism as unrealistic task, both difficult to generalise to real world
  • ethics: deception (unaware of true nature of study), failed to protect pps from physical/psych. harm, psych: distress, guilt, anxiety; phy: effects of stress, seizures, high blood pressure, right to withdraw obstructed
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Milgram (1963) - Alternative Findings

1. Milgram SUPPORTS

  • carried out 18 variations of original study, manipulating various variables to see if obedience increased/decreased
  • increasing proximity of expter and pairing teacher with 'assistant' who pressed switches (92.5%) increased obedience
  • increasing proximity of pps (40%), expter leaving room after giving instructions (20%), using run-down office (48%), another pps giving orders (20%), conflicting orders from 2 expts (0%) decreased obedience
  • Milgram found 65% obedience rate in females

SUPPORTS Milgram's original view that situational factors influence obedience rather than an individual's dispositional characteristics, contradicting Adorno et al's Authoritarian Personality Theory of Obedience

2. Hoffing et al (1966) SUPPORTS

  • tried to establish levels of obedience out of lab setting
  • in hospital, 22 nurses instructed by someone called 'Dr.Smith'
  • asked nurses to check drug called Astroten was available
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Milgram (1963) - Alternative Findings

  • maximum dosage was 10m.g., when reported back to Dr.Smith, instructed them to give 20m.g. of drug to patient so it would take effect before arrival
  • all but 1 (95%) of nurses administered drug (placebo)
  • clear power structure in medical settings: nurses obey doctor's orders, although nurses aware about hospital regulations on administering drugs

SUPPORTS Milgram's study as provides ecologically valid evidence; hierarchical structure meant nurses were influenced more by power structure then hospital regulations, like pps in Milgram's study with expter and hurting someone

Rank and Jacobson (1977) CONTRADICTS/SUPPORTS

  • replicated Hoffing et al's study in Australia
  • this time however nurses familiar with drug, real doctor phoned and nurses allowed to speak with others before proceeding
  • only 2 of 18 (11%) would administer the drug

CONTRADICTS/SUPPORTS, in the real world, when people are unsure about obeying, they ask others around them, meaning although situational factors are important in manipulating obedience, right situations may not occur often in real life

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Milgram (1963) - Alternative Findings


  • examined reports of Jozefow massacre in Poland
  • when Nazis given option of not killing Jews (eg digging graves), were in close proximity to victims and whose senior authority figures absent during murders (all factors Milgram believed should reduce obedience), they still obeyed

SUPPORTS/DEVELOPS as suggests there were more than just situational factors involved in obedience (propaganda) and that like Mai Lai massacre in Vietnam, excuse about following orders continues across time and different nationalities (develops)

Sheridan and King (1972) SUPPORTS

  • found that there were similarly high levels of obedience when using real shocks
  • small puppy in same room as pps shocked, even though seen yelping, 75% of pps gave maximum shock

SUPPORTS as pps had no doubt it was real yet still obeyed, although perhaps less concerned about harming an animal than human

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Your PY2 revision notes are all really helpful! Thanks :)

Zoey Jowett

that's ok! i'm glad they've helped you!:)

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