Outline and evaluate research into obedience to an authority figure

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Milgram advertised for volunteers. Advert specifically asked for males aged 20-50, all backgrounds, excluding university and college students, in attempt to make results as generalisable as possible. Told taking part in memory experiment. Research carried out at Yale University, participants paid $4 on arrival for their time. 40 male participants selected. Participants introduced in pairs to experimenter, drew straws to be teacher or learner. One of the pairs =confederate, straws rigged so real participant always teacher. The experimenter explained teacher would test learner’s memory. When learner answered incorrectly, asked to give electric shock. Learner was strapped to chair, wired up to electric shock generator. Teacher believed electric shock generator was real, given a 45 volt electric shock. Electric shock generator row of switches marked 15 to 450 volts with adjectives describing how severe shock was, and 435 and 450 volts were labelled “XXX”.

The real participant was taken to an adjacent room where he was unable to see the ‘learner’ and could only hear him through a loud speaker. Every time the ‘learner’ answered incorrectly, the participant was instructed by the experimenter to deliver the next highest electric shock, starting with 15 volts. At 75 volts the participant heard the ‘learner’ say, “Ugh,” at 120 volts the learner protested, “Hey this really hurts,” at 150 volts the learner was distressed and asking to be let out, at 270 volts he started screaming in agony, and after 345 volts the learner became silent. If the participant hesitated or objected to giving a shock, the experimenter used prods including, “The experiment requires you to continue.”, “It is absolutely essential that you continue.” or “You have no other choice, you must go on.” Unknown to the participants, no electric shocks were given and the ‘learner’s’ responses were simply a tape recording.

Milgram had estimated that only 4% of participants would obey orders to give the maximum 450 volt shock, however an astonishing 65% of participants delivered electric shocks up to the maximum 450 volts even though the ‘learner’ went through the stages of protest, agony, and silence.

Ordinary people will, under certain situational pressures, obey orders from authority figures even though they go against their conscience and moral values.

Variations on Milgram’s basic procedure:

                Proximity of authority figure. When the experimenter gave orders by telephone rather than face to face, the obedience rate dropped to 20%. People are therefore more likely to follow orders when the authority figure is present, but when the authority figure is in a remote location it is easier for people to disobey.

                Proximity of victim. In the initial experiment the victim was in a different room to the participant delivering electric shocks. However when the participant was able to see the victim, the obedience rate dropped to 40%, and if the


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