Milgram’s Experiment: Conclusion

Conclusion

Milgram’s obedience experiments have had a mixed reception in psychology.

On one hand there is recognition of the importance of the work but this is tempered by real concerns about the ethics of his procedure, doubts about the meaning of the results and particularly an almost disregard of Milgram’s attempts to explain his results (Lunt, 2009, p. 63).

Many of the criticisms Milgram received were extreme, but may have been missing the main point that his experiments demand our attention, provoke us to think and raise important questions about power and subjectivity (Lunt, 2009, p. 63).

Whether the ethical arguments and other arguments made are valid against Milgram’s experiments, one thing is for sure, he taught everyone something about obedience. His interest in the Holocaust sparked his initial interest of obedience to authority and today it is proven that anyone is susceptible to obedience to authority. “To a remarkable degree, Milgram’s early research has come to serve as a kind of all-purpose lighting for discussions about the human heart of darkness” (Baker, 2013).

Milgram’s Response: Questionnaire

Questions from Milgram’s Questionnaire:

 

Table 7.1 Now That I Have Read the Report, and All Things Considered,…

  1. I am very glad to have been in the experiment.

Defiant Subjects, 40.0%, 146 participants

Obedient Subjects, 47.8%, 139 participants

Total, 43.5%, 285 participants

  1. I am glad to have been in the experiment.

Defiant Subjects, 43.8%, 160 participants

Obedient Subjects, 35.7%, 104 participants

Total, 40.2, 264 participants

  1. I am neither sorry nor glad to have been in the experiment.

Defiant Subjects, 15.3%, 56 participants

Obedient Subjects, 14.8%, 43 participants

Total, 15.1%, 99 participants

  1. I am sorry to have been in the experiment.

Defiant Subjects, 0.8%, 3 participants

Obedient Subjects, 0.7%, 2 participants

Total, 0.8%, 5 participants

  1. I am very sorry to have been in the experiment.

Defiant Subjects, 0

Obedient Subjects, 1.0%, 3 participants

Total, 0.5%, 3 participants

 

Table 7.2 During the Experiment,…

  1. I was extremely upset.

Defiant Subjects, 8.7%, 32 participants

Obedient Subjects, 12.0%, 35 participants

Total, 10.2%, 67 participants

  1. I was somewhat nervous.

Defiant Subjects, 48.8%, 179 participants

Obedient Subjects, 51.6%, 150 participants

Total, 50.0%, 329 participants

  1. I was relatively calm.

Defiant Subjects, 38.2%, 140 participants

Obedient Subjects, 30.2%, 88 participants

Total, 34.7%, 228 participants

  1. I was completely calm.

Defiant Subjects, 4.4%, 16 participants

Obedient Subjects, 6.2%, 18 participants

Total, 5.2%, 34 participants

 

Table 7.3 Since the Time I Was in the Experiment,…

  1. I have been bothered by it quite a bit.

Defiant Subjects, 7.7%, 28 participants

Obedient Subjects, 6.2%, 18 participants

Total, 7.0%, 46 participants

  1. It has bothered me a little.

Defiant Subjects, 29.6%, 107 participants

Obedient Subjects, 28.9%, 84 participants

Total, 29.2%, 191 participants

  1. It has not bothered me at all.

Defiant Subjects, 62.7%, 227 participants

Obedient Subjects, 65.0%, 189 participants

Total, 63.6%, 416 participants

 

(Blass, 2004, p. 125-127)

Milgram’s Response: Ethics

Milgram justifies his studies

Milgram responded that the subjects were debriefed and told they actually had not been harming anyone after the experiments. Milgram said that his was not a study designed to create stress. Upon seeing high levels of stress, he investigated for any potential harm, which he found no indication of injurious effects in subjects. Milgram preformed the “dehoaxing” debriefing and reconciliation, making it a part of the research procedure because of the high stress levels (Controversy in Ethics of Obedience Research).

Criticisms: Participants

Two participants of the experiments speak out about experience

William Menold participated in Milgram’s study in 1961 after he had just been discharged from a Regimental Combat Team in the U.S. Army. Menold said, “It was hell in there,” describing Milgram’s experiment. “A fleeing thought occasionally crossed his mind about whether the ‘thing was real or no… but it was so well done… I bought the whole thing.’” Menold said when asked if he thought the experiment was real. “He ended up fully obedient: ‘I went the whole nine yards.’ During the experiment, he recalls ‘hysterically laughing, but it was not funning laughter… it was so bizarre. And I mean, I completely lost it, my reasoning power.’ He described himself as an ‘emotional wreck’ and a ‘basket case’ (Blass, 2004, p. 115-116).

Herbert Winer, another former subject spoke to a group at Yale about his experience in the experiment. He stated, “To my dismay, [the learner] began to stumble very early in the game… it was quite clear that before we got very far, the level of shock was going to be increasing… this was the end of the fun part. It is very difficult to describe… the way my feelings changed, and the conflict and tension arose.” Winer discussed when the learner began to complain about “his heart condition” and how the experimenter prodded him to continue. Winer said, “And so I did, for a couple of times, and finally my own heart condition went into an extremely tense and conflicted state… I turned to the chap in the gray coat and said, ‘I’m sorry but I can’t go on any further with this…’” (Blass, 2004, p. 116).

Milgram’s Response: Diana Baumrind

Milgram writes back to Baumrind’s concerns

In 1964 Milgram used the American Psychologist to respond to Baumrind’s concerns about the unethical experiment, his ambition, and his breach of trust. Milgram was in agreement that the experiment upset and distressed some of the participants, but still defended his experiment as ethical. Milgram made it clear in his writing that it was not his intentions to induce stress in his experiments. To verify his intentions, he presented the results of some follow-up procedures. Milgram sent each of his participants a report about the experimental procedure. Appended to the report was a questionnaire asking participants to reflect on their experience. Milgram ended up with 92 percent of subjects returning the questionnaires; with almost 84 percent saying they were glad to have participated and only 1.3 percent said they were sorry they had participated (Blass, 2004, p. 125-127).

Criticisms: Ethics

Were Milgram’s experiments unethical?

One of the most important controversies in regards to his research had to deal “with the ethics of immersing participants in a highly stressful situation without their prior consent and deceiving them into believing that they had hurt, and possibly harmed, an innocent human being” (Blass, 1998, p. 50-51). Half a century later, the rage over the controversy of ethics and meaning of Milgram’s experiments continues. For example, there was a 3-day academic bun fight at Nipissing University in Canada called the 2013 Obedience to Authority Conference to discuss issues that still arise in regards to the experiments (Chin, 2013).

Participation in the Stanley Milgram Experiments (Photo Credit: Derek Gregory)

An ethical issue that received attention was the deception Milgram lead on. Subjects thought they were participating in an experiment on learning and memory, where Milgram was studying the effects of punishment on learning. Not until the (what Milgram called) debriefings did participants know they had not actually hurt anyone. However, many critics believe debriefing was not enough because it did not prevent any subsequent psychological damage that could have affected participants. The realization that they could administer such lethal levels of shock to another human being could have long-term negative psychological effects on the subjects (Controversy in Ethics of Obedience Research). Milgram’s experiment really ignited a debate particularly in social sciences about what was acceptable to put human subjects through (NPR, 2013).

 

 

Milgram’s Response: Ethics

Milgram justifies his studies

Milgram responded that the subjects were debriefed and told they actually had not been harming anyone after the experiments. Milgram said that his was not a study designed to create stress. Upon seeing high levels of stress, he investigated for any potential harm, which he found no indication of injurious effects in subjects. Milgram preformed the “dehoaxing” debriefing and reconciliation, making it a part of the research procedure because of the high stress levels (Controversy in Ethics of Obedience Research).

Criticisms: Ethics

Were Milgram’s experiments unethical?

One of the most important controversies in regards to his research had to deal “with the ethics of immersing participants in a highly stressful situation without their prior consent and deceiving them into believing that they had hurt, and possibly harmed, an innocent human being” (Blass, 1998, p. 50-51). Half a century later, the rage over the controversy of ethics and meaning of Milgram’s experiments continues. For example, there was a 3-day academic bun fight at Nipissing University in Canada called the 2013 Obedience to Authority Conference to discuss issues that still arise in regards to the experiments (Chin, 2013).

Participation in the Stanley Milgram Experiments (Photo Credit: Derek Gregory)

An ethical issue that received attention was the deception Milgram lead on. Subjects thought they were participating in an experiment on learning and memory, where Milgram was studying the effects of punishment on learning. Not until the (what Milgram called) debriefings did participants know they had not actually hurt anyone. However, many critics believe debriefing was not enough because it did not prevent any subsequent psychological damage that could have affected participants. The realization that they could administer such lethal levels of shock to another human being could have long-term negative psychological effects on the subjects (Controversy in Ethics of Obedience Research). Milgram’s experiment really ignited a debate particularly in social sciences about what was acceptable to put human subjects through (NPR, 2013).