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One Historically Famous Social Psychologist (Stanley Milgram)

The obedience studies conducted by Stanley Milgram are among a small number of studies conducted in the area of psychology that have been able to effectively capture the imagination of the general public and provoke significant reflection on ethical issues to the same degree. The work of social psychologist Stanley Milgram is widely regarded as a seminal example of the ambiguity and unease with which human beings respond to authoritative figures and social pressures. The experiments have been widely documented and examined in various textbooks, giving students a firm grasp of the phenomenon.

Milgram conducted his obedience experiments at Yale University in the early 1960s to determine how willing people were to follow orders (Gudehus, 2021). The historical context of World War II and the atrocities committed during the Holocaust provided the initial impetus for the study. Milgram’s studies looked into the idea that people who would otherwise have no desire to behave cruelly or violently might be driven to do so by an authoritative figure. These experiments have received much attention and have been discussed at length in introductory psychology textbooks, solidifying their place as cornerstones of the field. In these experiments, participants were given the role of “teacher” without their knowledge and instructed to administer electric shocks of increasing severity to a “learner” (a confederate) who gave the wrong answer. The students’ replies were prerecorded; there were no actual shocks, but the participants were taught to believe otherwise. Despite the learner’s obvious suffering, bodily discomfort, or even unconsciousness, a sizeable proportion of participants showed a readiness to persevere in giving electric shocks. This finding represents Milgram’s study (Gudehus, 2021). The above result, which was considered shocking, suggested that ordinary people might be convinced to do terrible actions while seeming to follow orders from higher-ups.

Experimental Procedure

The experimental technique in Milgram’s obedience experiments is a crucial topic in psychology textbooks. It examines experiment design in depth. In these trials, participants were assigned “teacher” and “learner,” but the “learner” was a confederate. In reaction to wrong replies, the “teacher” shocked the “learner.” Unknown to participants, the shocks and “learner’s” answers were prerecorded (Gudehus, 2021). These shocks start with minor discomfort and proceed to severe agony, according to textbooks. This phase tested people’s willingness to shock others even while the “learner” begged for the experiment to end. Using a fake shock generator and prepared answers from the “learner,” Milgram’s experimental design is crucial.

Ethical Concerns:

Textbooks extensively discuss Milgram’s obedience experiments’ ethical issues. These studies have been criticized for causing subjects psychological anguish. Many participants were deceived into thinking they were hurting someone, which caused emotional distress. The experiment’s nature should have been disclosed to participants, raising additional ethical problems. These ethical issues and some participants’ long-term emotional effects have changed study ethics rules. Textbooks generally note that Milgram’s work led researchers to adopt stricter ethical standards for human subject investigations.

Results and Implications:

Psychology textbooks highlight Milgram’s obedience experiments’ significant results owing to their impact. These trials showed that many volunteers would follow the authority figure, even if it hurt the “learner.” This terrifying insight shows how leadership and obedience shape human behavior (Gudehus, 2021). This discovery emphasizes the malleability of human conduct under authoritative influence and raises important considerations concerning the morality of authority figures, according to textbooks.

Variations and Replications:

Introduction to psychology textbooks include Milgram’s experiments’ variants and replications. These studies are vital since they examine obedience variables. Some studies study how peers, authoritative figures, or experimental settings affect participants’ obedience. Textbooks explain obedience’s nuances by showing these variances. They indicate that obedience may be impacted by several situational and contextual circumstances, making the issue more engaging and complicated.

Debriefing and Ethical Reform:

Milgram’s debriefing procedure to reduce participants’ emotional suffering is often the final topic in obedience studies textbooks. Ethical experimentation requires debriefing to protect participants’ emotional well-being. Discussion also centers on Milgram’s influence on human subject research ethics. His investigations into ethical problems and psychological suffering changed human subject research. Milgram’s work has far-reaching ramifications for psychology and research ethics beyond his studies.

Russell’s (2023) journal paper provides a more in-depth look at Milgram’s obedience studies than textbooks. Russell’s “Disconcerting Insights” goes beyond primary textbooks to examine Milgram’s experiments and the Holocaust. Russell starts with a historical framework for Milgram’s studies. After WWII, while the world was reeling from the Holocaust, Milgram’s experiments began. Russell claims that Milgram’s work was heavily impacted by the Holocaust and the issue of how regular individuals might be implicated in such atrocities. Because Milgram’s experiments are so important in psychology and historical and ethical debate, contextualization is crucial. The article then links Milgram’s tests to Norbert Elias’ “civilizing process.” theories. According to Elias, social standards and self-regulation have developed to repress and regulate impulsive, violent conduct. Russell contends that Milgram’s research on loyalty to authority contradicts Elias’s thesis by showing that under some settings, people may return to primitive, obedience-driven actions that transcend society’s standards.

Russell’s paper links Milgram’s experiments to Nazi Holocaust perpetrators (2023). The tests reveal how power officials may manipulate regular people into brutality, he claims. Russell extrapolates Milgram’s results to propose that the obedience experiments’ psychological mechanisms might explain Holocaust perpetrators’ actions. This link implicitly asks whether Milgram’s experiments can be used to comprehend real-world historical events, which is contentious. Milgram’s experiments and the Holocaust’s ethics are also examined. Milgram’s trickery and participants’ emotional discomfort raise ethical issues. Russell (2023) contrasts this with the inexplicable Holocaust ethical breaches to make readers consider the gravity of ethical lapses. Russell’s study also examines Milgram’s continuing influence on psychology (2023). It explains how Milgram’s studies changed research ethics and shaped human subject experimentation. Milgram’s experiments warned researchers of the moral and ethical risks of pushing human behavior.


Gudehus, C. (2021). Appropriations of social psychological studies in genocide research exemplified by references to Solomon E. Asch’s study of independence and conformity. Journal of Genocide Research, pp. 1–19.

Russell, N. (2023). Disconcerting insights: Milgram’s obedience experiments, elias’s civilizing process, and the perpetration of the Holocaust. Open Journal of Social Sciences11(05), 436–466.


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