Obey At Any Cost

Title of Research: Obey at Any Cost
Date of Study: 1963
Name of Researcher: Stanley Milgram
Theoretical Propositions:
Milgram's primary theoretical basis for this study was that humans have a tendency to obey those who have authority over them, even if moral and ethical codes are violated. He believed, for example, that many individuals who would never intentionally cause someone physical harm would do so if ordered by a powerful authority figure.
To carry out the experiment, Milgram designed a shock generator- a large electronic device with 30 switches labeled with voltage levels from 30 volts increasing at 15-volt intervals to 450 volts. These switches were labeled in groups that described their level of shock: slight shock, moderate shock, severe shock, etc. This machine was actually a simulated shock generator, and no one actually received any shocks.

The subjects of this study were 40 males between the ages of 20 and 50 who were recruited through newspaper ads and direct-mail solicitation asking for participants for a psychology study in Yale University. There were 15 skilled or unskilled workers, 15 businessmen, and 9 professional men. The subjects were paid $4.50 and were told that this payment was simply for coming to the laboratory. In addition to the subjects, there were two other key participants: a confederate in the experiment posing as another subject, and an actor playing the part of the experimenter.

1. When the subject arrived at the Yale laboratory, he was seated next to the confederate. Then the experimenter explained to the subjects that this was a study on the effect of punishment on learning (which is obviously a cover story). Both the subject and the confederate drew pieces of paper to determine who would be the teacher and who would be the learner. Each time, the subject became the teacher and the confederate became the learner.
2. The learner was then taken to the room and was, with the subject watching, strapped into a chair and wired up with electrodes connected to the shock generator in the adjoining room. The shock would be administered if the learner answers wrong to a question.
3. The learning task was thoroughly explained to the teacher and the learner. It involved teh learning memorizing connections between various pirs of words. The teacher was instructed by the experimenter to administer an electric shock each time the learner answered incorrectly. Moreover, for each incorrect response, the teacher was to move up one level of shock on the generator.
4. The learner-confederate's responses were preprogrammed to be correct or incorrect in the same sequence for all the subjects. Furthermore, as the amount of voltage increased with incorrect responses, the learner began to shout his discomfort from the other room, and at the 300-volt level, he pounded on the wall and demanded to be let out. These behaviors and words were all preprogrammed as well. After 300 volts, the learner became completely silent and refused to answer any more questions. The teacher was instructed to treat this lack of response as an incorrect response.
5. Whenever the subjects turned to the experimenter for guidance, the experimenter ordered teh subject to continue, in a series of commands increasing in severity.
6. A measure of obedience was obtained simply by recording the level of shock at which each subject refused to continue. Since there were 30 switches on the generator, each subject could receive a score of 0 to 30.
7. Due to concern that some subjects might suffer psychological distress from having gone through the ordeal, the subjects were debriefed on the study, including the deception that was involved.
Milgram asked a group of Yale University seniors who were psychology majors, as well as several colleagues to make a prediction of the results. The estimates ranged from 0% to 3%, with an average of 1.2%. However, the results contrasted greatly. Upon command of the experimenter, every subject continued at least of the 300-volt level, which was when the confederate banged on the wall to be let out and stopped answering. Although 14 subjects defied orders and broke off before reaching the maximum voltage, 26 out of 40 subjects, or 65%, followed the experimenter's orders and proceeded to teh top of the shock scale. During the process, however, subjects exhibited signs of extreme stress and concern.
Significance of Findings:
When Milgram did other series of related experiments he found out that physical and emotional distance of the victim from the teacher. He discovered that when the victim is in a different room with the teacher, the obedience level was 90% but when the victim was in the same room with the teacher, the obedience level dropped down to 30 %. Plus, the closer the experimenter with the teacher, the greater the obedience.
Critics argue that the experiement caused unacceptable levels of stress to the subjects and its lasting effect was in question. When the subjects learn that they were part of an experiment, they may have felt used, deceived and embarrassed. Critics said that since the teachers were in an environment that they are not usually used to and they are in a dependent relationsihp with the experimenters, the obedience level does not necessarily reflect the obedience in real life. Thus, they arued that his experiment is invalid and could not be fully justified.
Recent Applications:
Blass reviewed all the research that was related to Milgram's original experiment and he found out that over the last 40 years, the obedience rates have not changed significantly even though Americans have come less respectful to authority and are more likely to rebel to behaviors they disagree with. Herrera expressed that deception is a necesary part of certain psychological studies but it is somewhat a sinister excercise. However Kagel disagreed by saying that we use deception in our everyday lives including in interpersonal relationships . While most people feel uneasy about the idea that deception is commonplace, people some what agree to Kagel's argument.

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