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Social Psychology: Milgram - Study of Destructive Obedience

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Shauna Smith

on 21 April 2014

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Transcript of Social Psychology: Milgram - Study of Destructive Obedience

Social Psychology: Milgram - Study of Destructive Obedience
Context : Destructive Obedience
- Obeying an order that causes harm and distress to another person.

During atrocities committed by Nazi Germany many people displayed
destructive obedience
and obeyed destructive orders that led to the systematic mass murder or minority groups such as: Jews, Romanies, Communists, Trade Unionists and people with disabilities.
Early psychological research into the Holocaust focused on the idea that something about the distinct German culture or personality led to high levels of
and obedience necessary for
to take place - known as the
dispositional hypothesis
. Milgram was also interested in the social processes that take place between individuals and within groups. The idea that we can explain events such as the Holocaust by referring to the social processes operating the situation, rather than the characteristics of the individuals involved - this is therefore known as the
situational hypothesis
Milgram went on to investigate the tendency to obey destructive orders from individuals in position of authority.
Key Words:
- following a direct order
- going along with what someone wants you to do
- behaving in the same way as those around you
Destructive Obedience
- following an order to cause harm or distress to someone, this is generally necessary in order to genocide to take place
- the systematic attempt to wipe out an ethnic group

Dispositional Hypothesis
- the characteristics of the individuals involved in the social situation
Situational Hypothesis
- Reference to the social processes operating the situation
To investigate how obedient people would be to orders from a person in authority that would result in pain and harm to another person.

Specifically -
How large an electric shock participants would give to a helpless man when ordered to by a scientist in his own laboratory.
Milgram described his original study as a lab experiment - however more accurately described as a
pre-experiment as it only had one condition.
The results from that specific condition then served as a baseline for a number of follow up studies.
Lab Enviroument
conducted at
Yale University
Independent Variable:
the orders given by legitimate authority
Dependent Variable:
the level of obedience (obedience levels were
as the maximum voltage given in response to the orders).

40 males (androcentric - participants are all men)
Aged 20-50
All from New Haven district of North America (ethnocentric - all from America)
From a range of backgrounds and held a range of jobs 37.5% manual labourer's, 40% white-collar workers, and 22.5% were professionals.
Sampling Method:
Recruited through a
newspaper advertisement
- therefore mostly
volunteer or self-selecting sample
Participants were recruited through a
newspaper advertisement
- were promised
for their time. It was made clear that the payment was for turning up to the study, it was therefore not necessary they completed the study.
When each participant arrived at
Yale University
he was introduced to a man believed to be another participant.
However he was in fact working for Milgram - 47 year old - Irish - American accountant. He had been chosen for the role as he was mild mannered and likeable. People who help in experiments in this was are known as confederate's or stooge's.
Both men were then briefed on the supposed purpose of the experiment - described as investigating the effect of punishment on learning.
The naive participant (does not know the true purpose of the procedure) and the confederate were informed one would play the role of the teacher and the other the learner.
Drew slips of paper from a hat to allocate roles - however was fiddled so that the participant was always the teacher and the confederate was the learner.
Taken to another room - learner (confederate) was strapped to a chair and electrodes were attached to him.
Both shown electric shock generator, which had a row of switches each labeled with a voltage,
rising in 15 volt intervals
15V up to 450V.
Participants were told the shocks could be extremely painful but not dangerous - they were each given a
45V shock to demonstrate
Small wall between
teacher (participant)
learner (confederate)
, so the teacher could hear but not see the learner.
Procedure was administered by an experimenter, 31 year old male biology teacher - believed to have legitimate authority - wore a white lab coat and appeared emotionless throughout.
teacher read out word pairs
and to test the learner on his recognition of which word went together, each time the learner made a mistake, the experimenter ordered the teacher to give a shock - the shocks
increased by 15V for each mistake
The confederate (learner) didn't actually receive any shocks, however there was no way the participant (teacher) would know this.
Up to
300V the learner did not signal any response
to the shocks,
at 300V and 315V he pounded on the wall.
then remained silent and did not respond to any further shocks or questions
. Suggesting that he was hurt, unconscious or even dead.
When participant's turned to the experimenter for guidance - they told the teacher to take no response as an incorrect answer and to give futhur shocks.
If the teacher protested against giving any shocks the experimenter would give a series of
verbal prods
to encourage them to continue:
Prod 1: Please continue or Please go on, Prod 2: The experiment requires that you continue, Prod 3: It is absolutely essential that you continue, Prod 4: You have no other choice, you must go on.
Prod 2 could only be used if the prod 1 was unsuccessful and so on.
Even if the participant refused to continue and withdrew or continued right up to the last 450V shock they were considered to have completed the procedure.
They were then interviewed, de-hoaxed then debriefed.
During the interview they were asked on a
scale of 0-14
how painful the last few shocks they administered were.
They were then informed the shocks were not real, the leaner was unharmed and informed of the real purpose of the study was to investigate obedience.
Both qualitative and quantitative data was gathered.
- average voltage that participants went up to and the number of participants that went up to a given voltage. The average voltage given by participants was 368V. All participants admitted 300V shocks or more and 65% of participants gave the full 450V shock. In the participants post experiment interviews, the average rating of how painful the shocks were was 13.42 out of a maximum 14.
- comments and protests participants made during the procedure, also through the form of observations of their body language. Most participants showed signs of tension. Signs included: groaning, sweating, biting lips and stuttering. Fourteen giggled nervously. One had a seizure and the procedure was stopped. Most participants protested against the procedure, although the verbal prods were in most cases sufficient.

One observer noted:
I observed a mature and initially poised business man enter the lad smiling and confident. Within 20 minutes he was reduced to a twitching stuttering wreck, who was rapidly approaching the point of nervous collapse.
: Milgram drew two main conclusions:
1. People are more obedient to destructive orders than we might expect and considerably more than the psychology students suggested in their estimates. Majority of people are willing to obey destructive orders.
2. People find both receiving and obeying destructive orders highly stressful. They obey in spite of their emotional responses. The situation triggers a conflict between two deeply ingrained tendencies to obey those in authority and not to harm people.

Results support situational hypothesis rather than the dispositional hypothesis.
Before carrying out the main study, Milgram told psychology students about his procedure. Involving 40 males ordered to administer electric shocks to a helpless man (actual an actor) who they believed to be a fellow participant. The electric shocks would increase in intensity by 15V each time up to 450V. Students estimated only 3% of particiapnts would obey order and give all shocks.
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