Milgram Studies of obedience to authority (1974)
Aim: Milgram was interested in researching how far people would go in obeying an instruction if it involved harming another person. Stanley Milgram was interested in how easily ordinary people could be influenced into committing atrocities for example, Germans in WWII.
Participants: Participants were 40 males, aged between 20 and 50, whose jobs ranged from unskilled to professional. Milgram selected participants for his experiment by advertising for male participants to take part in a study of learning at Yale University. He tries to focusing on the conflict between obedience to authority and personal conscience.
Prodedure: Volunteers were recruited for a lab experiment investigating learnin.
At the beginning of the experiment they were introduced to another participant, who was actually a confederate of the experimenter (Milgram). They drew straws to determine their roles – leaner or teacher – although this was fixed and the confederate always ended to the learner. There was also an “experimenter” dressed in a white lab coat, played by an actor.
The “learner” (Mr. Wallace) was strapped to a chair in another room with electrodes. After he has learned a list of word pairs given him to learn, the "teacher" tests him by naming a word and asking the learner to recall its partner/pair from a list of four possible choices.
The teacher is told to administer an electric shock every time the learner makes a mistake, increasing the level of shock each time. There were 30 switches on the shock generator marked from 15 volts (slight shock) to 450 (danger – severe shock).
The learner gave mainly wrong answers and for each of these the teacher gave him an electric shock. When the teacher refused to administer a shock and turned to the experimenter for guidance, he was given the standard instruction consisting of 4 prods:
Prod 1: Please continue.
Prod 2: The experiment requires you to continue.
Prod 3: It is absolutely essential that you continue.
Prod 4: You have no other choice but to continue.
Result: 65% of participants (i.e. teachers) continued to the highest level of 450 volts. All the participants continued to 300 volts.
Milgram did more than one experiment – he carried out 18 variations of his study. All he did was alter the situation (IV) to see how this affected obedience (DV).
Conclusion: Ordinary people are likely to follow orders given by an authority figure, even to the extent of killing an innocent human being. Obedience to authority is ingrained in us all from the way we are brought up. Such as parents, teachers, anyone in authority.
Strenghts: As the experiment was conducted in a laboratory setting, it allowed the experimenter to have a high level of control. This is useful as it makes the results more reliable as we can say that we can observe the effects of Milgram’s commands to the participants clearly.
Weakness: Participants of Milgram’s study were deceived as they were told the experiment was about “the effects of punishment on learning” and were made to believe that they were giving real electric shocks to participants. (Milgram thought this necessary for the study because if the participants knew about the true aim of the study, demand characteristics would be introduced, and the findings of the study would be useless.)
Asch's Studies of comformity (1956)
Aim: Solomon Asch (1951) conducted an experiment to investigate the extent to which social pressure from a majority group could affect a person to conform.
Participants: There were 123 male students from Swarthmore College in the USA participated in a ‘vision test’. They believed they were participating in a visual discrimination task.
Procedure: Asch used a lab experiment to study conformity, whereby 123 male students from Swarthmore College in the USA participated in a ‘vision test’. Using the line judgment task, Asch put a naive participant in a room with four to six confederates. The confederates had agreed in advance what their responses would be when presented with the line task. The real participant did not know this and was led to believe that the other seven participants were also real participants like themselves. Each person in the room had to state aloud which comparison line (A, B or C) was most like the target line. The answer was always obvious. The real participant sat at the end of the row and gave his or her answer last. In some trials, the seven confederates gave the wrong answer. There were 18 trials in total and the confederates gave the wrong answer on 12 trails (called the critical trials). Asch was interested to see if the real participant would conform to the majority view.
Results: Asch measured the number of times each participant conformed to the majority view. On average, about 32% of the participants who were placed in this situation went along and conformed with the clearly incorrect majority on the critical trials. Over the 12 critical trials about 75% of participants conformed at least once and 25% of participant never conformed.
Conclusion: Why did the participants conform so readily? When they were interviewed after the experiment, most of them said that they did not really believe their conforming answers, but had gone along with the group for fear of being ridiculed or thought "peculiar". A few of them said that they really did believe the group's answers were correct.
Apparently, people conform for two main reasons: because they want to fit in with the group (normative influence) and because they believe the group is better informed than they are (informational influence).
Strengths: The strength of this study is that the experiment was simple so it was easy to record the results. The experiment also well demonstrated Asch’s theory.
Weakness: The weakness of Asch’s study is that it was not completely controlled. Another weakness is that it deceivable.
Zimbrado's Stanford Prison experiment (1971)
Aim: To investigate how readily people would conform to the roles of guard and prisoner in a role-playing exercise that simulated prison life.
Zimbardo (1973) was interested in finding out whether the brutality reported among guards in American prisons was due to the sadistic personalities of the guards or had more to do with the prison environment.
Participants: From more than 75 people who responded to the ad, 24 students were chosen: 12 to role play prisoners (9 plus 3 alternates) and 12 to role play guards (also 9 plus 3 alternates). These students had no prior record of criminal arrests, medical conditions, or psychological disorders.
They played the roles of prisoners and guards.Students were screened for psychological normality and paid $15 per day to take part in the experiment.
Procedure: Participants were randomly assigned to either the role of prisoner or guard in a simulated prison environment. Prisoners were arrested at their own homes, without warning, and taken to the local police station.
Guards were also issued a khaki uniform, together with whistles, handcuffs and dark glasses, to make eye contact with prisoners impossible. No physical violence was permitted. Zimbardo observed the behavior of the prisoners and guards.
Here they were treated like every other criminal. They were fingerprinted, photographed and ‘booked’. Then they were blindfolded and driven to the psychology department of Stanford University, where Zimbardo had had the basement set out as a prison, with barred doors and windows, bare walls and small cells. Here the deindividuation process began.
When the prisoners arrived at the prison they were stripped naked, deloused, had all their personal possessions removed and locked away, and were given prison clothes and bedding. They were issued a uniform, and referred to by their number only. Their clothes comprised a smock with their number written on it, but no underclothes. They also had a tight nylon cap, and a chain around one ankle.
There were 3 guards to the 9 prisoners, taking shifts of eight hours each (the other guards remained on call)
Within a very short time both guards and prisoners were settling into their new roles, the guards adopting theirs quickly and easily.
Within hours of beginning the experiment some guards began to harass prisoners. They behaved in a brutal and sadistic manner, apparently enjoying it. Other guards joined in, and other prisoners were also tormented.
The prisoners were taunted with insults and petty orders, they were given pointless and boring tasks to accomplish, and they were generally dehumanized.
The prisoners soon adopted prisoner-like behavior too. They talked about prison issues a great deal of the time. They ‘told tales’ on each other to the guards. They started taking the prison rules very seriously, as though they were there for the prisoners’ benefit and infringement would spell disaster for all of them. Some even began siding with the guards against prisoners who did not conform to the rules.
Over the next few days the relationships between the guards and the prisoners changed, with a change in one leading to a change in the other. Remember that the guards were firmly in control and the prisoners were totally dependent on them.
As the prisoners became more dependent, the guards became more derisive towards them. They held the prisoners in contempt and let the prisoners know it. As the guards’ contempt for them grew, the prisoners became more submissive.
As the prisoners became more submissive, the guards became more aggressive and assertive. They demanded ever greater obedience from the prisoners. The prisoners were dependent on the guards for everything so tried to find ways to please the guards, such as telling tales on fellow prisoners.
One prisoner had to be released after 36 hours because of uncontrollable bursts of screaming, crying and anger. His thinking became disorganized and he appeared to be entering the early stages of a deep depression. Within the next few days three others also had to leave after showing signs of emotional disorder that could have had lasting consequences. (These were people who had been pronounced stable and normal a short while before.)
Zimbardo (1973) had intended that the experiment should run for a fortnight, but on the sixth day he closed it down. There was real danger that someone might be physically or mentally damaged if it was allowed to run on. After some time for the researchers to gather their data the subjects were called back for a follow-up, debriefing session.
- Some situations can exert powerful influences over individuals, causing them to behave in ways they would not, could not, predict in advance.
- Situational power is most salient in novel settings in which the participants cannot call on previous guidelines for their new behavior and have no historical references to rely on.
- Situational power involves ambiguity of role boundaries, authoritative or institutionalized permission to behave in prescribed ways or to disinhibit traditionally disapproved ways of responding.
- Role playing -- even when acknowledged to be artificial and temporary -- can still come to exert a profoundly realistic impact on the actors.
- Good people can be induced, seduced, initiated into behaving in evil (irrational, stupid, self destructive, antisocial) ways by immersion in "total situations" that can transform human nature in ways that challenge our sense of the stability and consistency of individual personality, character, and morality.
Strengths: A further strength was in the way that Zimbardo collected data. He used a number of qualitative approaches such as observation (sometimes overt and sometimes covert) interviews and questionnaires.
Weakness: The only deception involved was to do with the arrest of the prisoners at the beginning of the experiment. The prisoners were not told partly because final approval from the police wasn’t given until minutes before the participants decided to participate, and partly because the researchers wanted the arrests to come as a surprise. However this was a breach of the ethics of Zimbardo’s own contract that all of the participants had signed.