Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Most People Will Administer Shocks When Prodded By 'Authority Figure'

Date:
December 22, 2008
Source:
American Psychological Association
Summary:
Nearly 50 years after one of the most controversial behavioral experiments in history, a social psychologist has found that people are still just as willing to administer what they believe are painful electric shocks to others when urged on by an authority figure.

Nearly 50 years after one of the most controversial behavioral experiments in history, a social psychologist has found that people are still just as willing to administer what they believe are painful electric shocks to others when urged on by an authority figure.

Jerry M. Burger, PhD, replicated one of the famous obedience experiments of the late Stanley Milgram, PhD, and found that compliance rates in the replication were only slightly lower than those found by Milgram. And, like Milgram, he found no difference in the rates of obedience between men and women.

Burger's findings are reported in the January issue of American Psychologist. The issue includes a special section reflecting on Milgram's work 24 years after his death on Dec. 20, 1984, and analyzing Burger's study.

"People learning about Milgram's work often wonder whether results would be any different today," said Burger, a professor at Santa Clara University. "Many point to the lessons of the Holocaust and argue that there is greater societal awareness of the dangers of blind obedience. But what I found is the same situational factors that affected obedience in Milgram's experiments still operate today."

Stanley Milgram was an assistant professor at Yale University in 1961 when he conducted the first in a series of experiments in which subjects – thinking they were testing the effect of punishment on learning – administered what they believed were increasingly powerful electric shocks to another person in a separate room. An authority figure conducting the experiment prodded the first person, who was assigned the role of "teacher" to continue shocking the other person, who was playing the role of "learner." In reality, both the authority figure and the learner were in on the real intent of the experiment, and the imposing-looking shock generator machine was a fake.

Milgram found that, after hearing the learner's first cries of pain at 150 volts, 82.5 percent of participants continued administering shocks; of those, 79 percent continued to the shock generator's end, at 450 volts. In Burger's replication, 70 percent of the participants had to be stopped as they continued past 150 volts – a difference that was not statistically significant.

"Nearly four out of five of Milgram's participants who continued after 150 volts went all the way to the end of the shock generator," Burger said. "Because of this pattern, knowing how participants react at the 150-volt juncture allows us to make a reasonable guess about what they would have done if we had continued with the complete procedure."

Milgram's techniques have been debated ever since his research was first published. As a result, there is now an ethics codes for psychologists and other controls have been placed on experimental research that have effectively prevented any precise replications of Milgram's work. "No study using procedures similar to Milgram's has been published in more than three decades," according to Burger.

Burger implemented a number of safeguards that enabled him to win approval for the work from his university's institutional review board. First, he determined that while Milgram allowed his subjects to administer "shocks" of up to 450 volts in 15-volt increments, 150 volts appeared to be the critical point where nearly every participant paused and indicated reluctance to continue. Thus, 150 volts was the top range in Burger's study.

In addition, Burger screened out any potential subjects who had taken more than two psychology courses in college or who indicated familiarity with Milgram's research. A clinical psychologist also interviewed potential subjects and eliminated anyone who might have a negative reaction to the study procedure.

In Burger's study, participants were told at least three times that they could withdraw from the study at any time and still receive the $50 payment. Also, these participants were given a lower-voltage sample shock to show the generator was real – 15 volts, as compared to 45 volts administered by Milgram.

Several of the psychologists writing in the same issue of American Psychologist questioned whether Burger's study is truly comparable to Milgram's, although they acknowledge its usefulness.

"…there are simply too many differences between this study and the earlier obedience research to permit conceptually precise and useful comparisons," wrote Arthur G. Miller, PhD, of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

"Though direct comparisons of absolute levels of obedience cannot be made between the 150-volt maximum of Burger's research design and Milgram's 450-volt maximum, Burger's 'obedience lite' procedures can be used to explore further some of the situational variables studied by Milgram, as well as look at additional variables," wrote Alan C. Elms, PhD, of the University of California, Davis. Elms assisted Milgram in the summer of 1961.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Psychological Association. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal References:

  1. Jerry M. Burger. Replicating Milgram: Would People Still Obey Today? American Psychologist, Vol. 64, No. 1
  2. Arthur G. Miller. Reflections on 'Replicating Milgram. American Psychologist, Vol. 64, No. 1
  3. Alan C. Elms. Obedience Lite. American Psychologist, Vol. 64, No. 1

Cite This Page:

American Psychological Association. "Most People Will Administer Shocks When Prodded By 'Authority Figure'." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 December 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081219032645.htm>.
American Psychological Association. (2008, December 22). Most People Will Administer Shocks When Prodded By 'Authority Figure'. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081219032645.htm
American Psychological Association. "Most People Will Administer Shocks When Prodded By 'Authority Figure'." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081219032645.htm (accessed October 21, 2014).

Share This



More Science & Society News

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

CDC Revamps Ebola Guidelines After Criticism

CDC Revamps Ebola Guidelines After Criticism

Newsy (Oct. 21, 2014) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued new protocols for healthcare workers interacting with Ebola patients. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Robots to Fly Planes Where Humans Can't

Robots to Fly Planes Where Humans Can't

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 21, 2014) Researchers in South Korea are developing a robotic pilot that could potentially replace humans in the cockpit. Unlike drones and autopilot programs which are configured for specific aircraft, the robots' humanoid design will allow it to fly any type of plane with no additional sensors. Ben Gruber reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
WHO: Ebola Vaccine Trials to Start a in January

WHO: Ebola Vaccine Trials to Start a in January

AP (Oct. 21, 2014) Tens of thousands of doses of experimental Ebola vaccines could be available for "real-world" testing in West Africa as soon as January as long as they are deemed safe in soon to start trials, the World Health Organization said Tuesday. (Oct. 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Urgent-Care Clinics Ill-Equipped to Treat Ebola

Urgent-Care Clinics Ill-Equipped to Treat Ebola

AP (Oct. 21, 2014) Urgent-care clinics popping up across the US are not equipped to treat a serious illness like Ebola and have been told to immediately call a hospital and public health officials if they suspect a patient may be infected. (Oct. 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Science & Society

Business & Industry

Education & Learning

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins