Milgram Experiment: From obedience to authority

Introduction to the Milgram Experiment

One of the most challenging study demonstrated the association between obedience and authority designed by Stanley Milgram (1963). In the Milgram experiment, the main purpose was to find the obedience behavior of people. Basically, the experimental hypothesis arose by considering the Germans as a common figure where they were obedient to authority in World War II (WWII). The hypothesis of Milgram looks for an answer for those questions (a) how far people go on obeying instructions in the case of harming other people and (b) how ordinary people can become an authority figure.

The total sample size for the experiment was 40 men (N = 40) between 20 and 50 years of age. At the beginning of the experiment, two roles, learner and teacher, were introduced to the participants. Although the learner was always the confederate, an additional experimenter actor was present in a grey lab coat. The experimental conditions consist of two rooms that one for the learner strapped to an electric chair and another for the teacher and the experimenter where an electric shock generator was placed in that room. Furthermore, the list of word pairs given to the learner as a task by the teacher. During the word pairs recall in the given task, each mistake result in the increase in electric shock. Since the learner was the confederate, he purposely gives wrong answers. In this process, when the teacher rejects to give an electric shock, the experimenter warns the teacher by prodding such as ‘please continue, the experiment requires to continue, it is essential to continue and you must continue’. According to the results, two-thirds of the participants go on to the highest level of 450 volts, despite knowing that it will harm the learner.

Research, Critical Evaluation, and Concluding Remarks

            The most striking results of this experiment can be summarized as follows (a) people have a tendency to obey orders given by authorities, where we see this event in the teachers that continue to punish the learner at the end of the experiment, (b) The obeying condition might even be immoral and can result in catastrophic events such as killing the innocent people occurred in WWII.  We do actually see the obedience event in suicide bombers where they obey the authorities such as religious and political figures. Similarly, Haslam and Reicher (2012) argued that people obey authority figures when they strongly believe in those beliefs. Therefore, when the human being is forced to believe in something by psychological manipulations, it is easy to become the obedient.

            According to Milgram (1974), two states of behavior were observed in the participants in the experiment. In a social situation, the autonomous state reflects the own actions of people where these events are dependent on the responsibility of oneself. However, the agentic state represents the people who allow the others to govern their actions. In that case, the person is able to believe the orders and authority no matter what happens. Therefore, these people are easy to control and manipulate in social environments.

            Many other variables may influence the conditions in the Milgram experiment. For example, the color of the lab coat was grey, which confers an authority figure on the participants. The everyday clothes as well as the room conditions, and the roles given to the experimenters might reduce the experimental accuracy. As mentioned above, all the experimenters were male, which causes sample bias in the experimental condition. According to Smith and Bond (1998), it is wrong to generalize findings of the Milgram experiment because social behavior might be altered in different cultures.

            The Milgram experiment can be speculated on ethical issues. First, the unethical condition can be considered as the deception of the subjects. Since the subjects are believed to give the electric shock to the real participants, this illusion event might be considered unethical. Second, the given electric shock condition creates highly stressful pressures on the participants. Hence, the psychological harm created by the potential stressful conditions is absolutely unethical for the participants. Lastly, participants would have the opportunity to withdraw from the experiments when they would like to leave. However, the prods given to the participants forced them to continue the experiment, which can additionally be considered as an unethical situation.

            Overall, the Milgram experiment shocks the world by investigating the tendency of the people from obedience to authority. Social psychology is an important area in terms of understanding the human being as a social organism where they obey the social rules. Milgram demonstrated the influence of obedience under authority. Therefore, people are forced to obey the rules and are governed under the authority. These unconscious conditions, of course, negatively influence the population by giving harm. Consequently, people must be aware of the outcomes of the power in order not to be controlled. I strongly believe that education is the easiest solution to prevent this problem.         


Haslam, S. A., & Reicher, S. D. (2012). Contesting the “nature” of conformity: What Milgram

and Zimbardo’s studies really show.

Milgram, S. (1963). Behavioral study of obedience. Journal of Abnormal and Social

Psychology, 67, 371-378.

Milgram, S. (1974). Obedience to authority: An experimental view. Harpercollins.

Smith, P. B., & Bond, M. H. (1998). Social psychology across cultures (2nd Edition). Prentice


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Türkiye'nin kendimce en güzel şehirlerinden birinde, Denizli'de, dünyaya geldim. Liseyi Denizli Anadolu Lisesi'nde okudum. İzmir Yüksek Teknoloji Enstitüsü (İYTE) Moleküler Biyoloji ve Genetik mezunuyum. Glasgow Üniversitesi'nde İmmunoloji ve Enflamatuvar Hastalıklar üzerine yüksek lisansımı burslu olarak yaptım. Lisans hayatım boyunca Lodz Üniversitesi, Göteborg Üniversitesi ve Toronto Üniversitesi'nde araştırmalara katıldım. Bu çalışmalar sonucunda Cardiovascular Research ve Journal of Dental Research'te yayınlanan çalışmalarımız var. Öykü yazmayı seviyorum. Öykü Fanzin'de yayınlanan öyküm ve İYTE'de almış olduğum bir "birincilik" bir de "ikincilik" ödülüm var. Almanca öğreniyorum, İngilizce konuşabiliyorum, keman çalmayı öğreniyorum. Amacım Türkiye okuyucusuna bilimi sevdirmek, zaman buldukça eğlencesine bilimsel haberleri paylaşmak.

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