Evaluation of Milgramís work
traditional to split this into two main section
Methodology or validity
Experimental (or internal) Validity
By now you
should know what validity means! Did the participants taking
part in the study actually believe that they were administering
electric shocks to Mr Wallace? Orne & Holland (1968) believe
that participants volunteering to take part in psychological
studies must realise that the real purpose of the study is going
to be disguised. In this case why would the experimenter stand
by and let poor old Mr Wallace cry out in pain without stepping
in. More to the point, why isnít the experimenter delivering
the shocks? Why pay a volunteer to do the job instead. Orne
and Holland make a number of claims, each of which is refuted by
participants realised that the set up was a sham.
participants in later studies report afterwards that
they thought it was genuine.
participants obeyed because of the lab conditions,
simply doing as was expected of them.
criticism seems to be missing the point. Milgram was
trying to show that the situations we find ourselves in
could cause obedience.
due to payment in advance and the idea that a contract
had been entered into.
happen in everyday life. Presumably the SS were paid
for their services in WW II.
following procedure would seem to support Milgram:
& King (1972) carried out a similar procedure but used a
puppy as the Ďlearner.í The puppy carried out a learning
exercise and each time it made a mistake it would receive an
electric shock. Participants, acting as the teacher, were led
to believe that the shocks were becoming increasingly severe, as
in Milgramís original procedure. In fact the puppy was getting
a small shock each time, just enough to make it jump and show
obvious signs of receiving a shock. Eventually the puppy
receives an anaesthetic to put it to sleep, and the participants
think theyíve killed it. 54% of male and ALL of the female
participants continue to give it electric shocks up to the
maximum! The participants can be in no doubt that the puppy is
receiving the shocks, so answering Orne & Hollandís first
Ecological (or external) Validity
results of the experiment be generalised to situations outside
of the laboratory setting? Since the person in the white lab
coat was an authority figure, then Milgram believes that it
does. After all he was trying to show that we do obey such
figures in real life.
The next two
studies (Bickman and then Holing) show that obedience as
described by Milgram does seem to take place in more natural
(1974). People in the street are asked to pick up a piece
of litter or stand on the other side of a bus stop etc. The
person doing the asking is dressed either as a milkman, a
civilian or a guard. People were more likely to obey the guard,
showing, presumably, the power of uniform or of perceived
set up an
experiment (natural, field or quasi?), in which a nurse
receives instructions over the phone, from a Dr Smith, to
administer 20mg of a drug Astroten to a patient Mr. Jones. This
instruction breaches three rul
nurse did not know Dr Smith
nurse did not receive written authority
twice the maximum dose suggested on the bottle.
this, 21 out of 22 nurses were prepared to administer the drug.
Since this is a natural setting, it does have ecological
validity, and as such is telling us something about obedience in
reference, there are clearly ethical problems with the study:
a. Nurses were deceived
b. There was no consent
No right to withdraw.
Rank and Jacobsen (1975) carried out a similar study on nurses
but found very different results; this time only 2 out of 18
nurses obeyed the instruction to administer a dose of valium.
On this occasion the drug was familiar, and the nurses were able
to consult other nurses. A more natural situation than the one
Hofling provided for his unwitting participants.
Ethics of Milgram
(aaggghhh overload, overload!!!)
not taken to protect participants from physical or
were unexpected. Before starting Milgram asked
professionals for their opinions. Most thought the
teacher would stop when the learner protested.
The right to
withdraw from the experiment was not made clear to
phrases such as ĎYou have no choice, you must go on,í
would suggest participants did not have a choice.
believes that they did have the right to withdraw, in
fact, some did.
experiment should have been stopped.
not believe the distress caused was sufficient to
participants gave their consent to take part, this was
not informed since they did not know the purpose of the
study or what it would entail. Deception was used.
refers to deception as Ďtechnical illusions.í Without
them the experiment would have been meaningless
points worth making in an essay on ethics of Milgram.
main defence centres on the debrief that all participants
received afterwards. During this participants were reassured
about their behaviour:
were reunited with an intact Mr Wallace
were assured that no shocks had been given
were assured that their behaviour was normal. (Picture the
scene, 'its okay Mr Smith, we all have maniacal, homicidal
tendencies and feel the need to electrocute to death mild
mannered accountants with dickey tickers!').
received a full report of the procedure and findings
were all sent a questionnaire.
questionnaire: a staggeringly high 92% returned the
glad or very glad that they'd taken part.
claimed that they'd learned something of 'personal
were sorry or very sorry that they'd taken part.
later, 40 of the participants were interviewed by a psychiatrist
who concluded that none of them had suffered long term harm.
psychologists are still uneasy about the procedure. Wrightman &
Deux (1979) say that Milgram reports with awe and relish the
extreme degrees of tension that his subjects experienced. For
example: they would 'sweat, stutter, tremble, groan, bite their
lips and dig their fingernails into their flesh. Full blown,
uncontrollable seizures were experienced by three subjects.'
It is also
worth mentioning that Milgram did not breach ethical guidelines,
since they did not exist at the time! In fact it was Milgram's
study that was largely responsible for the introduction of such
codes of conduct.
Aronson (1988) says he asks his University students how many of
them would behave like Milgram's participants. Typically 1%
believes they would! This figure is the same as 1963, when,
before conducting his experiment, Milgram asked students and
psychologists to predict how many would deliver 450 Volts.
Milgram was awarded the prize for 'Contribution to Psychological
Research' by the American Association for the Advancement of
Milgramís findings stand up in practice?
(1998) used the case of Major Wilhelm Trapp of the Reserve
Police Battalion 101 to dispute the validity of Milgramís
findings. In 1942 in the Polish village of Jozefow Major Trapp
was given orders to take a large group of Jews to the edge of
the village and have them shot. Although the members of his
battalion were given the chance to say no and be assigned to
other duties, few did and the massacre went ahead. Over a four
year period the Police Battalion 101 killed 38,000 Jews.
this to Milgramís findings:
to victims reduces obedience (Moving Mr Wallace closer)
of the battalion walked to the edge of the village with the
victims and shot them face to face.
of authority figure is needed for obedience (Experimenter
figures were present. The soldiers walked to the killing site
with no others except the victims
of allies reduces obedience (Other disobedient stooge present)
Some of the
battalion dropped out (didnít obey) and the others were aware of
this and presumably aware that they could do the same.
discretion (Letting teacher decide the shock to give)
the massacre suggests that every step was taken to ensure that
every Jew was killed. In this case no steps were taken to
reduce suffering despite the soldiers not being directly