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Outline and Evaluate Milgram's research into Obedience - 16 Marks
Obedience is a type of social influence in which an individual follows a direct order usually from an authority figure who has the power to punish when obedient behaviour is not followed.
Milgram conducted this experiment in order to test out his ‘Germans are different’ hypothesis he wanted to know why Germans were willing to kill Jews during the holocaust he thought that it may have been because Germans were evil and that Americans were different. Milgram's aim was to see whether people would obey a legitimate authority figure when given the instructions to harm another human being.
He recruited 40 male participants between the ages of 20-50 to take part in his study and used a volunteer sample as he advertised in a local newspaper. Two participants were assigned either the role of teacher or learner this selection was fixed so the teacher always being the true participant and the learner being a confederate known as Mr.Wallace. The teacher was asked by the experimenter, who wore a lab coat, to administer electric shocks to the learner each time he gave an incorrect answer in actuality these shocks were harmless but the ‘teacher’ was unaware. These shocks increased every time the learner gave a wrong answer, from 15 - 450 volts. At 315v the learner pounded on the wall and then fell silent. The experimenter (Mr. Williams) wore a grey lab coat and his role was to give a series of orders/prods when the participant refused to administer a shock. There were four prods given in order to encourage the participant to continue with the experiment.
He found that all the participants continued to deliver shocks up to 300v, and 65% continued to 450v. Milgram concluded that Germans were not different and that all humans are capable of blind obedience to unjust orders due to the environment. These results were drastically different from a control group that prior to the experiment suggested that only 3% of the participants would continue to 450 volts.
A strength of this study is that good external validity which is shown through Hoffling et al (1966) who conducted a study in a hospital. Twenty-Two nurses were telephoned by a doctor who ordered them to administer a lethal dose of a drug to a patient this went again hospital regulations as nurses were not authorised to take orders over the phone, the instructions were given by an unknown doctor, and that the dose was twice the amount recommended, but still 21/22 (95%) of the nurses obeyed with the order, therefore, supporting the idea that Milgram's idea that obedience towards an authority figure does occur in real-life settings. Another strength of this study is that it can be replicated in a French documentary Le jeu de la mort Milgram's study was replicated in a game show where participants were paid to give shocks this study concluded that 80% of participants delivered the highest voltage shock.
A weakness of this study is that it contains low internal validity. Orne and Holland said that participants didn't believe the setup and guessed that the study was in fact fake. Perry looked at the tapes of the participants and suggested that participants showed physical doubts.
Another limitation associated with this study is the ethical issues associated with it participants were initially informed that the experiment was a memory test however it was actually a test measuring obedience also it was very difficult for participants to withdraw from the experiment due to the use of the prods. Finally, the participants showed signs of mental and physical distress during the experiment some even having seizures meaning that participants were not protected from harm however it is said that deception and removing the participant's right to withdraw were essential for the experiment to produce valid results. Furthermore, all participants were debriefed once the experiment had concluded and it was reported that 84% were glad to have taken part.