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Milgram Aims, Procedures and Findings

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Obedience to authority is when we change our behaviour as a result of a direct order from a perceived authority figure. Obedience is necessary to maintain social order and doesn't always result in an aggressive outcome, as it can provide a productive purpose too. Milgram was part of a group of researchers interested in the destructive obedience observed during the holocaust. He wanted to understand this in order to prevent similar situations in the future. He believed that obedience is relevant to our time because, between 1933 and 1945, millions of innocents were killed. The building of gas chambers and concentration camps would not have been possible if a large number of people had disobeyed orders. Many believed that the Germans had carried out these atrocities because 'the Germans are a highly obedient nation who will follow orders whether or not these orders are moral or immoral' Milgram aimed to disprove the 'Germans are different' hypothesis, by testing the conditions under which people would obey instructions even if it went against their moral beliefs. ...read more.


The procedure was explained to both men, and they were told that one would be the teacher and the other would be the learner. The experiment was rigged, so that the real participant was always the teacher. Participants were shown the electric chair apparatus, and the learner had an electrode attached to his wrist, with electrode paste to avoid blisters. Both were told that this was linked to the shock generator in the next room. The teacher of the experiment also received a sample shock of 45 volts in order to maintain authenticity. They were then taken into the next room and shown the shock generator, which went up in 15 volt increments to a maximum of 450 volts. A paired associate learning task was used, where the teacher would read aloud a word of pairs, and then read the first word from each pair again followed by 4 terms. ...read more.


The quantitative data was the percentage of participants administering each level of shock. Milgram concluded that the findings drawn show that people will unwillingly go against their moral judgement and will instead obey the demands of a perceived authority figure. The high levels of obedience observed show that we all tend to obey authority figures in certain situations. Rather than dispositional factors explaining obedience, it is clear that situation factors are possibly more important, and can override our usually good and moral behaviour. Milgram also noted that the extreme obedience observed was the result of the particular conditions under which it occurred, such as being set in Yale University which would make the experiment seem 'worthy', being paid an attendance fee of $4.50 and also the fact that participants were isolated with no one to turn to. Participants had little time for reflection and it was clear that obeying orders caused conflict within them. Participants felt both a desire to avoid inflicting pain and a desire to follow orders from authority. ...read more.

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