PY Two :- Milgram (1963) Behavioural Study of Obedience

HideShow resource information

Milgram (1963) – Behavioural Study of Obedience



  Obedience is complying with the demands of an authority figure. Obedience has to do with the social power and status of an authority figure in hierarchical situations.

Holocaust and WWII

  In August 1944, Adolf Eichmann reported to Heinrich Himmler that his unit had overseen the deaths of approximately 4 million Jews in death camps and that an estimated 2 million had been killed by mobile units.

  Was this brutal behaviour a product of evil and sadistic minds or was this extraordinary behaviour performed by ordinary people?

Eichmann’s Trial

  Eichmann was captured in 1960 and put on trial in Jerusalem, Israel, in 1961. His demeanour was hardly that of the vicious war criminal many had expected. One spectator at the trial claimed “He was not a monster but was terrifyingly normal”. His sadistic behaviour may be best explained in terms of his own claim that he was “just following orders”.

Explaining Obedience

  Many researchers believed that the obedience required to perform the Holocaust was due to the fact “Germans are different”. They believed that Germans tended to have a particular “type” of personality – the authoritarian personality.

   Adorno et al. described these individuals as :

·        Hostile to people of inferior status while being “servile” to those who they perceive to be of a higher status than themselves.

·        Such individuals tend to uphold the norms of the society in which they live and are intolerant of alternative ways of life.

·        Likely to become prejudiced against minority groups as a result of harsh disciplinarian upbringing being displaced on to minority groups.



    Milgram wished to test the “Germans are different” hypothesis – a belief that obedience can be explained in terms of internal, dispositional factors.

    Milgram felt that the situation that many people had found themselves in had led to their cruel behaviour – most people, regardless of nationality, would perform cruel acts upon another, under certain situations.

    Milgram aimed to create a situation that allowed him to measure the process of obedience even when the command requires destructive obedience.




   The participants were 40 males, aged between 20 and 50 years old. They were recruited through a newspaper advert and they were all paid $4.50. They were told they were taking part in research about memory and learning. The participants were from a range of educational levels.


    The study took place in a lab at Yale University. When participants arrived they were greeted by a 31 year old male dressed in a technician’s coat who introduced himself as “Jack Williams, the experimenter”. Also present was a mild-mannered and likeable 47 year old accountant, Mr Wallace, who mentioned he had a heart condition in the past. In fact both of these men were confederates.

    The naïve participant and Mr Wallace drew slips of paper to determine who would be “teacher” and “learner”.


No comments have yet been made

Similar Psychology resources:

See all Psychology resources »See all PY Two :- Milgram (1963) Behavioural Study of Obedience resources »