Criticisms: Gina Perry

Gina Perry’s responses to Milgram’s experiment

Gina Perry, an Australian psychologist, once regarded Milgram as a “misunderstood genius who’d been penalized in some ways for revealing something troubling and profound about human nature.” But by the end of her research on Milgram’s experiments she said, “By the end of my research I actually had quite a very different view of the man and the research” (NPR, 2013).

Perry interviewed a few study participants decades after the exam, one un-named participant was quoted telling her “The thought of quitting never… occurred to me” (NPR, 2013).

Two things Perry addresses are what she called the “powerful parable” and the concern that 65 percent is the only significant measurement addressed. “Perry believes that despite all its ethical issues and the problem of never truly being able to replicate Milgram’s procedures, the study has taken on the role of what she calls a ‘powerful parable’” (Cherry, 2008). Meaning, that Milgram’s work inspired other researchers to explore what makes people follow orders and what leads them to question authority. While the parable is not necessarily a criticism, she does criticize the statistics that are greatly publicized. Milgram had a total of 18 experiments, each having a different rating for obedience and disobedience. However, 65 percent obedience is always mentioned when discussing Milgram’s experiments. What Perry criticizes about this is that this 65 percent only applies to the first, baseline, study, not the other 17 studies.

Gina Perry (Photo Credit: ABC)

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).

 

 

Criticisms: Participants Knowledge

Did the participants know it was all a hoax?

“They were all shocked in the findings. They suggested that the participants knew that no shocks were being administered, but they played along so as not to ruin the study” (Forsyth, 2010, p. 248). Many social psychologists felt that trust was a large factor in regards to this experiment. However, many of these social psychologists felt that trust was a factor that made the participants know the shocks were not real.

What did they expect to find?

What Milgram and other thought they would discover versus what they truly discovered

Milgram was certain that very few participants would actually carry out the orders of the experiment (to 450-volts). “So he was surprised when 26 of the 40 (65 percent) individuals who served as teachers in the initial experiment administered the full 450-volts to the presumably helpless learner” (Forsyth, 2010, p. 244). Only a few predicted that anyone would give a shock greater than 180-volts. A panel of psychiatrists, college students, and middle-class adults were asked by Milgram to make predictions about the results of the experiment. “Most people, including both experts and laypersons alike, were surprised by the level of obedience Milgram discovered in his research” (Forsyth, 2010, p. 247).

Experiment Results (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

An Experiment with Shocking Results

The Obedience Experiment

The Shock Generator (Photo Credit: Jeffry Ricker, Ph.D.)

The baseline study (I will define baseline study as his first initial experiment) done for his experiment, which was then followed by seventeen variations to the experiment, showed that 65 percent of participants would adhere to authority. Milgram had 40 men come to Yale and they were “assigned” either a “learner” or “teacher” role, not knowing that the learner role was truly a confederate. In the baseline study, the teacher was in a room with a man in a lab coat and would perform a memory test with the learner. For each wrong answer the learner was to give, the teacher would administer a shock. “The generator had 30 different switches running in 15-volt increments from 15 to 450-volts. The higher levels of shock were labeled in big letters as ‘Intense Shock’, ‘Extremely Intensity Shock’, ‘Danger: Severe Shock’, and, ominously ‘XXX’” (Jones, 2006, p. 397). Once the shock hit 300-volts, the learner would pound, vigorously, on the laboratory walls, this was repeated at 315-volts, but not heard from again after that level.

Milgram’s 17 variation experiments duplicated the baseline experiment with slight variations. Experiment 2 was a voice-feedback, where the teacher could hear the learner’s complaints from an adjacent room. Experiment 3 focused on proximity, placing the learner in the same room as the teacher, only a few feet away from one another. Experiment 4 was a touch-proximity, where the teacher and learner were in the same room and the teacher had to physically make the learner touch the shock plate.

The 3 variations of the experiment altered how many participants carried out the acts of obedience. “35 percent of the subjects defied the experimenter in the Remote condition, 37.5 percent in Voice-feedback, 60 percent in Proximity, and 70 percent in Touch-Proximity” (Milgram, 1974, p. 53). Other variations of the experiments changed whether or not the man in the lab coat (who was a high school biology teacher) was present in the room and the location of the physical experiment (moved it off of Yale’s campus).

 

Justifications for Milgram: Jerry Burger

Milgram experiment 2.0

Jerry Burger (Photo Credit: Gina Perry)

Jerry Burger conducted a similar experiment based off of Milgram’s obedience research. In 2006, Burger was able to test 70 men and women by modifying aspects of the Milgram situation. Burger used a “facsimile of the original shock machine, an innocent male victim who cried out in pain and demanded to be released, and an experimenter who delivered well-rehearsed prods if participants balked” (Forsyth, 2010, p. 248). Burger also would not allow participants to administer great than 150-volts. 82.5 percent of men continued past 150-volts in the 1960s, while 70 percent of men and women went to 150-volts in 2006 (Forsyth, 2010, p. 248). While there was a decline, it was not a significant one.

Burger published his findings in the American Psychologist. Burger made the slight change in deference (subjects stopped when participant believed he administered 150-volt shock) to meet ethical standards since developed and implemented since 1963. In order to make his experiment more real, he screened out people who were familiar with Milgram’s experiments.

Many people expected Burger’s experiment to have a more drastic change (greater disobedience) in contrast to Milgram’s 1960s experiments. Many people thought there would be a drastic change because much has changed since 1963. For instance, civil rights and antiwar movements taught Americans to question authority (Cohen, 2008). However, Burger was not surprised by the lack of difference between the two experiment’s results. Burger believes that the mindset of the individual participant (including cultural influences) is less important than the “situational features” that Milgram built into his experiment (Cohen, 2008). The question then arises: How do we prevent more Holocausts and genocides and other cruelty if this is how most people behave (obey authority)? Burger says: “teaching people about experiments so they will know to be on guard against these tendencies, in themselves and others” is how we can prevent such things (Cohen, 2008).

 

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: 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).

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).