QUESTION: What did Stanley Milgram seek to test in his experiments at Yale University? What were the results? Do you think that the findings would be similar today? Why or why not? Thinking about the information shared in Chapter 2 regarding ethics in research, what are the ethical concerns of the study?
STUDENT #1 (Janzen): Stanley Milgram was a renowned social psychologist at both Harvard and Yale during the 1960’s and 1970’s. His work has influenced the way current social psychologists and sociologists perform their own studies today. With this being said the main thing that Dr. Milgram sought to test in his experiments was how quickly and easily a person would conform if they were told to do something by someone they believed to be an authoritative figure. His results were exactly what he expected, “More than half the participants in the study obeyed the commands to keep going, administering what they believed to be electric shocks up to the maximum voltage until nothing but an eerie silence came from the other room.” (Chambliss & Eglitis, p. 112)
I believe that the findings would be very similar today as they were back in the 1960’s. The phrase that popped into my mind when reading about Dr. Milgram’s experiments was “History repeats itself.” Time after time in our social studies classes throughout the years we always have heard this saying, this is due to the fact that history, does indeed, seem to repeat itself; and along with this phrase is the murmurs from people saying “how could they let this happen” or “why didn’t they just stop them.” It is for these exact reasons that I believe the findings would be similar. It does not matter how much someone talks about being morally and ethically steadfast, what it takes is to be put into a position where that person’s morals and ethics are put to the test, and just as Dr. Milgram showed, most people find it easier to conform to rules set by people they deem to be in positions of power rather than speak up for their own beliefs.
When looking at Stanley Milgram’s experiments as a whole, one could see that there are several ethical concerns that could arise about what he was putting participants through exactly. From a scientific standpoint he did not break any rules, however from the outside looking in it does seem that some of his experiments can be deemed ethically wrong. For instance, making a participant believe that they are causing severe bodily harm to someone every time they pull a lever, can definitely be seen as ethically and morally questionable. Another way his experiments can be seen as ethically questionable is how he tries to link all of his experiments back to “why” the German people went along with the Nazi Party, and “why” the silent majority did not stand up to Hitler’s regime if they felt that what he was doing was truly wrong. In the end, Milgram’s experiments regardless of whether or not people believed them to be ethically questionable, helped open up a wealth of information and a new spectrum into how we look at and study social psychology.
Eglitis, Daina & Chambliss, W. J. (2n.d.). Discover Sociology 2E Custom Interactive E-Book Edition, 2nd Edition. Los Angeles: SAGE.
STUDENT #2(Griggs): Stanley Milgram wanted to know why people could go along with the killings of innocent people. He wanted to see if individuals would conform to authorities figures and “do as they are told” similar to what those in Nazi Germany had stated. The results of the experiment stated that individual’s would follow these orders even when the subjected complained and had audible pain. I am not sure honestly if the results would be similar today. I know the millennial group generally questions the reasoning for things a lot more than any other generation before them. Sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes it can be bad. It is hard to say though what anyone would do in a position of power. I would like to believe that we are becoming more evolved as time goes on and we are not just following blindly. It would be interesting to see a repeat of this study done but, there are large amounts of ethical concerns here. The biggest issue is the deception that is placed upon the individual controlling the shock. Should we be able to deceive those we are testing? I could understand Stanley Milgram’s point of view. If the individuals were aware that they were the true intended test subject they would have reacted a lot differently. Individuals always change their behaviors as they are being watched. One of these other issues of this is the amount of psychological damage that could be done to the subjects that are delivering the shock to the “patient”. Listening to the screams, the pounding on the desk, the moving of the chair, and any excess visual display could result in severe psychological damage or even PTSD eventually over time. I would be interested to see the results of this exam personally with our generation, yet I don’t think that it’s worth it to risk permanent psychological damage to the test subjects.
STUDENT #3 (Smith): Stanley Milgram was testing conformity, specifically obedience. Milgram wanted to find out how far obedience goes, referring to Germans citizens conducting mass killings in World War II. The answer to Milgram experiment was that people with power or authority could get regular people to conform to their orders. Those orders can even involve harming another person and some people will still do it because someone with power told them to do it. In all honesty I think it is possible that the findings would be similar today. Given the directives of human experimentation, the Nuremburg Code, the person getting “shocked” is only acting so it meets its criteria. Also the people have a choice whether to administer the “shock” or not so there is nothing forcing them to do anything. I honestly don’t people have changed enough to really question authority, unless they personally feel they need to. That alone is different from person to person. This day in age a lot of people speak out against authority, but I don’t really think the majority of people will. A lot of people may be obedient just to cause fewer problems especially when dealing with authority. Overall I would bet that the findings would change to drastically at least.