The Milgram Study
Obedience is a vital part of social life. People manage to survive in certain communities because of the presence of some authority, which commands them to do things that are sometimes against their desire. One of the most illustrious studies in psychology concerning obedience was the Milgram study, which was carried out by Stanley Milgram in 1961. The purpose of Milgram’s experiment was to focus on the conflict that emerges between obedience to a higher authority and individual conscience (Banyard & Flanagan, 2013). Milgram was interested in understanding how far people are willing to go in obeying instructions even though such instructions are meant to harm another person.
Specifically, Milgram intended to investigate whether participants were capable of exhibiting obedience to a given authority figure who commanded them to administer electric shocks to other people. The study attained its objectives because people are likely to obey orders if they identify their authority as morally right or legally based. Milgram realized that it was relatively easy to ask individuals to torment others as long as the higher authority had requested them to do so (Ellis, Abrams, M. & Abrams, L., 2009). The study illustrated how people are unwilling to challenge those who abuse power.
- Ethics in Research
Milgram’s study led to the questioning of ethics in research, as the experiment resulted in deception and psychological harm to participants. Modern ethical standards are against deception of participants. During debriefing, some participants claimed that the experiment was quite stressful. In some instances, Milgram observed ethics because he agreed to debrief the participants concerning the research and he remained close to them even after the study to evaluate their progress. This implied that the study succeeded in averting longstanding psychological effects on the contributors. Milgram supported his experiment and dismissed ethical criticism, which he claimed was influenced by unwelcome truths concerning human nature.
In my opinion, an experimental study of this caliber should not have been allowed because it was against ethical standards of research. According to Fisher (2012), the IRB regulations necessitate investigators to safeguard the rights, as well as the welfare of research participants. General moral principles are integrated into the APA Ethics Code which expounds on the aspects of beneficence, justice, and respect. Milgram’s study did not observe the aspect of beneficence, which requires investigators to obtain maximum benefit for science but in addition to minimizing risk or harm to participants.
- Theories in Milgram’s Study
Milgram’s study can be analyzed using several theories, which explain people’s behavior towards authority. According to Milgram’s Agency Theory, people are likely to portray the autonomous state of behavior or the agency state of behavior when exposed to a social situation. For people to portray an agency state, the authority giving orders has to be qualified in directing their behavior and actions. This is the core reason why people tend to conform to the real world. The person receiving the order has to be guaranteed that the authority will be liable for whatever happens.
The participants in Milgram’s experiment were in the agentic state since they were informed that the responsibility was in the hands of the experimenter and not them. The social impact theory is applicable to Milgram’s study, as the theory asserts that the likelihood of an individual to respond to social influence increases with the strength of the influencing group, closeness to the group, and the size of the influencing group. In most cases, authoritative governments are always close to the people so that they can counter cases of rebellion before they become uncontrollable.
Another theory that can utilized to assess the Milgram study includes identity theory, where the effects of moral identity are demonstrated in three different social perspectives: (1) when individuals are on their own (2) when individuals belong to a group, and (3) when individuals become part of a group where they are coerced by other members to behave immorally (Carter, 2013). However, the study does not adhere to the currently established ethical standards because it applied deception and inflicted psychological harm on the participants.
- Application of Outcome
Obedience to societal norms, as well as expectations may be necessary but not beneficial to everyone. Most stable societies manage to remain so because people do what their leaders expect from them. If people fail to pay tax, which is perceived as a necessary evil, society would cease to function. Social norms postulate behaviors that seem desirable or legitimate in the collective view. Thus, people who exhibit unruly behavior are perceived to go against social norms, leading to disobedience of authority (Begue et al., 2015). Milgram was critical towards obedience to authority, particularly in relation to the Holocaust because he knew that even good people can be swayed by bad leaders to carry out unethical practices, such as torturing inmates to get information.
Deviance is a violation of social norms because it creates division and disorder among members of society. However, deviance can assist to bring change, for instance, in rebelling against dictatorial leadership, because it happens in a gradual manner. As long as people are confidence of their own judgments, they should not allow others to influence them to make wrong decision (Sutton & Douglas, 2013). The deviant in-group critics are perceived as constructive, as they are capable of transforming bad behaviors into positive ideas.
- Application to Others
Milgram’s study depicted that ordinary individuals are bound to comply with orders to impose pain on others. Citizens pay taxes not because they want to, but rather because they are aware of its role in running national affairs. Leaders need to understand what influence negative behavior among the youth has, to know the appropriate strategies that can solve their problems. Gradual commitment plays a role in the level of obedience, as participants seemed to agree to additional voltage, as applying the full voltage would have affected the level of agreeableness. This can be applied to instilling discipline in children, who cannot serve jail terms in prison.
The influence of other people can have an impact on those who make decisions and, consequently, the thinking patterns in society. Although individuals’ genes influence their behavior, the social environment plays a leading role in decision making. In this era of social media, decision making bodies must be keen on knowing how they make decisions concerning young people, who are largely influenced by their friends in social media sites.
Milgram conducted an experiment on obedience with the intention of assessing whether individuals would obey a legitimate authority system even when they are requested to do something that goes against their morals. The study revealed how individuals are likely to adhere to a higher authority to carry out activities that may not support their moral values. Milgram’s study can be utilized to make decisions that focus on social norms rather than moral standards. Leaders are usually influenced by other leaders within their circles or even outside their group to make decisions concerning different age-groups in society.
Banyard, P., & Flanagan, C. (2013). OCR psychology: AS core studies and psychological investigations. New York, NY: Psychology Press.
Begue, L., Beauvois, J. L., Courbet, D., Oberle, D., Lepage, J., & Duke, A. A. (2015). Personality predicts obedience in a Milgram paradigm. Journal of Personality, 83(3), 299-306.
Carter, M. J. (2013). Advancing identity theory: Examining the relationship between activated identities and behavior in different social contexts. Social Psychology Quarterly, 76(3), 203-223.
Ellis, A., Abrams, M., & Abrams, L. (2009). Personality theories: Critical perspectives. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications.
Fisher, C. B. (2012). Decoding the ethics code: A practical guide for psychologists. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.
Sutton, R. & Douglas, K. (2013). Social Psychology. Palgrave Macmillan.