Obedience to authority

Social psychology is a field of psychology in which a number of social behaviors are examined.  Among these are: Obedience to authority, Conformity, Prejudice, Groupthink and Aggression.  Throughout the years there have been a number of experiments that have stood out for a number of reasons in terms of their results and application to social behavior.  Please choose from ONE of the following:

  1. Milgram’s shock experiment: Obedience to authority
  2. The Stanford Prison Experiment
  3. Blue Eye/Brown Eye Experiment


There is a plethora of information available about each of these.  I would like you to answer the following questions:

  1. What was this experiment about?    
  2. What were the results?  
  3. What were the positives and negatives from this experiment?  For example, do you feel it was ethical?  Do you think the same results would be obtained today?
  4. What did you learn from this experiment?  Were you surprised by the results?  


PSYC 201 – Principles of Psychology

Milgram’s shock experiment: Obedience to authority


The obedience to authority study was conducted by the Stanley Milgram in the year 1963. The study was very important, especially in the psychology classes. The experiment was conducted after the Second World War (Milgram 1963). This was in response to the trials for the Nazi war survivors. The trials were characterized by the common defense which stated that “they were following orders.” the experiment was set to determine whether an individual would be obedient to following of orders from their seniors even if they had a feeling that the orders were morally wrong. The main objective of the study was to determine how different individuals respond to the authority’s instruction in doing something which is not comfortable in doing (Milgram 1963). The experiment comprised of three participants namely; the Experimenter, the teacher and the learner. The teacher acted as the participant while the learner was the actor in the experiment. The study was aimed at determining the impact of the punishment especially on learning ability.

Results from the experiment

The experiment led to a mixed reaction from the participants. In the experiment, some teachers failed to continue with the shock at early stages even after been advised to do so before the start of the experiment. The experimenter termed the response as the norm (Schultz et al., 2007). Also, in the study, the experimenter found that the minority population questioned the authorities. Another finding indicates that there are sixty-five percent (65%) of the participants (teachers) who were will to proceed to the highest voltage level. Generally, the participant felt a relief after finding out they did not harm actor. Emotional cries were experienced by the teachers upon seen the students alive. The participant who willingly obeyed and reached the 450volts switch enjoyed using the button until the experiment is over.

The participants of the experiment were categorized into three categories; obeyed and justified, obeyed and blamed and rebel. According to the participants who were justified with action, they blamed the actor for the failure. Others argued that it was just experiment and nothing would have happened. On the hand, the participant who obeyed the order but felt blamed themselves for the act argued in case of similar actions in future the will challenge the authorities. Lastly, the rebels were the minority group of the participant who questioned the authority and felt there was a need to protect the learner.

Generally, the experiment confirmed that ordinary individual has high chances of committing unwilling acts just because they are orders from the authority.

Positives and negatives from the experiment


Firstly, the experiment expressed clearly how individuals behave and how the authority power influences the different people (Milgram 1963). It also helps people understand how the authority affected the obedience. For instance, the experiment doesn’t allow any participant to withdrawal from the exercise when they have started.

Secondly, the experiment was highly controlled hence leading to the high internal validity which led to the establishment of the cause and the effect. The experiment used a laboratory approach which used independent measure designs. Through the use of the laboratory, it means that there was controlled observation which portrays the truth (Milgram1974).

Thirdly, the study acquires the results and the participant are returned back to normal states. For examples, after the experiment, Milgram debriefed the teacher concerning the health of the actors (learners) and made follows ups to ensure that the participant is reinstated into their normal living and with no psychological harm.

Fourth, the experiment conducted by the Milgram (1974) concerning the shocks helps in understanding why descent individuals are pushed in doing bad acts. The experiment makes it clear and it affirms the major guiding principle which is known to as the contemporary social psychology. The experiment is very important, especially in the psychology field. Through this, we can conclude that the situation determines the acts of a person (Brown 2006). For example, in the experiment, some participants could not continue using shock to the learner but because of the pressure exerted to them, they participant unwillingly continue.

Fifth, the study of the Milgram (1963) concerning the obedience of the people to the authority has raised a lot of concern especially from different scholars who have focused their researches on the psychology field. According to Blass (1991) the Milgram work has led to increased research of the natural lives of people and how their environment affects them. This is clearly indicated in the Milgram’s work whereby it shows how people’s behavior is influenced by the authority and power.


The experiment is not externally since the majority of the participant may have pretended in their action since they knew it was an experiment. These make it portray wrong results which would have different in real life (Milgram 1963). These limits the generalization of the study findings because it contains some untrue information.

The Milgram’s shock experiment was not ethical. Milgram could have tested his experiment without causing distress to the participants. According to Cialdini & Griskevicius (2010), the ethics standards, it is a requirement that a person who participates in research need not be deceived and he/she must be told the consequences of the study. Also, the ethics standards require the volunteer to operate willingly and also withdraw willingly (Brown 2006). The Milgram experiment indicated that the Majority of the volunteers were stressed and negatively affected by the experiment. For instance, in the study, some participants were distressed some sweating and other trembling. It was indicated that the three participants experienced uncontrollable seizures.

Also, the experiment conducted by the Milgram (1974) was unethical since it forces the participant to continue with the project when they were not willing. Through forcing the participants in the study it might have an impact on the study’s final results.

The experiment results differed with the reality and the findings cannot be generalized. For instance, the volunteers were paid $ 4.50 for turning to the experiment (Milgram 1963). These means that the payment influence the end result of the study hence making the experiment finding irrelevant.

The study is gender biased and its population validity is low (Cialdini & Griskevicius 2010). Example, in the experiment, carried out by Milgram was gender biased since they only have the male participants were selected that is 40 males aging between 20to 50. The finding from the study cannot be generalized to represent the female since a female would have reacted differently from males in the experiment. This lowers its validity.

Lesson learned from the experiment

The experiment from the Milgram study is very important, especially in the current dynamic world. The study clearly indicates that the power and orders from the authorities have certain effects. The effects can be either positive or negative. In my take, the study is not ethical but I feel that the individual personality determines the obedience to the authority/seniors. In the current world, people might decide to follow the authority without having a second thought because they think that they will be punished for the failure and also they are frightened.


Blass, T. (1991). Understanding Behavior in the Milgram Obedience Experiment: The Role of the Personality, Situation, and their Interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, pp. 398–410.

Brown, J.D. (2006). Social Psychology. McGraw-Hill: Boston. See p. 275 for a discussion of this continuum.

Cialdini, R. B., & Griskevicius, V. (2010). “Social Influence.” In R.F. Baumeister & E.J. Finkel (Eds.,) Advanced Social Psychology: The State of the Science (pp. 385–417) (quote from p. 404).

Milgram, S. (1963). Behavioral study of obedience. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67, 371-378.

Milgram, S. (1974). Obedience to authority. Harper-Collins Publishers: New York.

Schultz, P.W., Nolan, J.M., Cialdini, R.B., Goldstein, N.J., & Griskevicius (2007). The Constructive, Destructive, and Reconstructive Power of Social Norms. Psychological Science, 18, pp. 429–434.