Common Objectives Of Milgram’s Obedience And Stanford Prison Experiment

What effects do authority and role have on a common person? Do their behavior and decision making change drastically under the of influence others, or when they find themselves in a different position other than the usual common person? The purpose / objectives of both Milgram’s Obedience to Authority and Zimbardo's Stanford Prison experiment, although different, are related in that they both exercise the psychological effects of the average person and how well they can play into their roles that they are given.

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The experimental designs of both experiments were vastly different, Milgram masks his experiment as to build false trust between the subject. The procedures between the two experiments were also very different based on the two groups of the experiment. The results of both experiments were similar in that they both showcased the negative part of society, the side that people tend to overlook and the side people would not want to see. While both experiments try to answer two seemingly different, but related questions, they both highlight the different social phenomena that the average person has without knowing.

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Milgram's obedience to authority experiment shows how an average person is ready to yield to authority, whereas Zimbardo’s experiment displays how an average person can play into the role that they are given.

The objectives / primary purpose of each experiment are different, as each experiments are both motivated by different reasons. The objective of Zimbardo’s experiment is primarily to find out the effects that role plays and how willingly or easily a person can fit / adapt to the role that they are given. This greatly differs from the objective of Milgram’s experiment, which was to find out to what extent would a person go to inflict pain on another person if given the order to by someone with authority. These two objectives clearly differ from each other, as Milgram’s experiments attempt to see to how far someone would blindly obey authority even if against their own conscious / will. Milgram’s experiment was also motivated / influenced and compared to the holocaust in which soldiers repeatedly denied being at fault as they were simply taking orders from above, this experiment from Milgram also strives to show how or why the holocaust happened even though some people might have been against it. Although having different goals and objectives for their experiments on the outside, they are both related as both experiments look to document different social phenomena that affect the average person, like blind obedience to authority and the effects that roles play on an average person despite having no prior experience in that role.

Because both experiments are different, their experimental design and procedures are different save for a few minor details. At first, the participants for both experiments were similar. Milgram’s experiment at first only tested Yale undergraduates regardless of gender, but after some criticism he shifted to a broader audience, workers and your more average people around the age of 20-50. “People drawn from every stratum of New Haven Life came to be employed in the experiment: professionals, white-collar workers, unemployed persons, and industrial workers.” (Milgram 363.) Zimbardo’s experiment started with male college students only, and stayed that way although some people dropped out of the experiment. How the participants are grouped in Milgram’s experiment is blatantly skewed; the participants, despite“drawing a straw” to make it look random, is always guaranteed to play the role of the teacher and the “learner” for the experiment is actually working with Milgram. Milgram’s experiment foundation was based on a lie; subjects were unaware that they were the true test subjects of the experiment. They were deceived and developed a level of trust with the experimenter by being shown that the “shock generator” did work at 45 volts, “Each subject is given a sample 45-volt shock from the generator before his run as a teacher [. . .] The teacher is a genuinely naive subject who has come to the laboratory for the experiment. The learner, or victim, is actually an actor who receives no shock at all.” (Milgram 631.) This is vastly different from Zimbardo’s experiment in which participants were already aware that they were the true test subjects of the experiment. In Zimbardo’s experiment, there were 21 participants who were grouped fairly, to select groups they flipped a coin on a 50/50 chance in order to determine who would take on the guard or prisoner role, it was completely random in contrast to Milgram’s experiment, whose subjects would always play the same role as the teacher. Perhaps one of the biggest differences in the experimental design is the fact that Zimbardo actively played a role in his own experiment, as the superintendent of the prison. Perhaps becoming too absorbed in his role, unlike Milgram who did not actively take part in the experiment, and only did the observing from afar. This is a key difference between the two experiments because it completely changes the view of the experimenters; as an experimenter you’re supposed to take objectivity out of these experiments, as opposed to Zimbardo who was clearly more biased playing the authoritative role in relation to the prison guards and prisoners. In the basic experimental designs for both experiments, the “subjects” are made to be helpless. The teacher in Milgram’s experiment believes that the fake subject is helpless as he is strapped onto a chair and has a “heart disease.” In Zimbardo’s experiment the prisoners are also made to be helpless by stripping them of their clothes and identities and forcing all the prisoners to wear smocks. The “authority” figures in both experiments were also changed in order to look a bit more professional and intimidating. The “experimenter” in Milgram’s experiment wore a white lab coat in order to look more like a superior being, someone with authority, which is similar to how the guards in the Stanford Prison experiment were made to look more professional, they were all given a uniform, a club and sunglasses so they could not make eye contact with the prisoners and also to exert their power as the prisoners lost power.

Although being different experiments, the results of both experiments were more than what Zimbardo and Milgram predicted. In Milgram’s experiment he thought that the subjects would not go over a certain volt and at some point refuse to continue shocking the learner. “Before the experiments, I sought predictions about the outcome from various kinds of people----psychiatrists, college sophomores, middle-class adults, graduate students, and the faculty in behavioral sciences. With remarkable similarity, they predicted that virtually all the subjects would refuse to obey the experimenters.” (Milgram 362-363.) However their predictions were wrong and “60 percent of them were fully obedient,” (Milgram 363) although some refuted that this was merely a behavioral trait in yale students due to their competitive nature, after tests with regular citizens, “The experiment’s outcome was the same as we had observed among the students.” (Milgram 363.) In the Stanford Prison experiment, Zimbardo originally planned to have the experiment run for 14 days, but shut down the experiment after only 6 days. The experiment simulation became so real that the guards and prisoners were heavily immersed in their roles. It is also implied that the experimenter himself, Dr. Zimbardo was also heavily immersed in his role as the superintendent, so immersed in the experiment that he let the guards cross the line and did no effort to control them. Zimbardo was so into his role that he failed to see how obnoxious the experiment had become and had to have his girlfriend help him realize how unethical the experiment had become. According to Philip G. Zimbardo, “Christina Maslach, a recent Stanford Ph.D. brought in to conduct interviews with the guards and prisoners, strongly objected when she saw our prisoners . . . Out of 50 or more outsiders who had seen our prison, she was the only one who ever questioned its morality. Once she countered the power of the situation, however, it became clear that the study should be ended.” The subjects of both experiments also faced a lot of stress and anxiety throughout the experiment. In Zimbardo’s experiment, around half of the original prisoners had to opt out of the experiment due to stress, anxiety and emotional problems one prisoner after another. Which could be similarly related to Milgram’s experiment where subjects also suffered stress and anxiety while pulling the lever, some even to the extent of having seizures and twitching. Subjects in both experiments also showed sympathy for the other group. In Milgram’s experiment, many subjects were hesitant and did not actually want to shock the learner, hence the stress and anxiety that they experienced. This is somewhat similar to the guard situation in that a few guards actually did not like playing their role as that wasn’t who they truly were, but nevertheless, both groups fit into their role perfectly despite not wanting to play their role.

Although these two experiments emphasize on two different social phenomena that many average people harbor without knowing, Milgram’s experiment shows us how a majority of people because they find pleasure in receiving good feedback / praises, actually want to please authority. To the extent of hurting someone else when given the order to do so by someone with authority. “The subjects do not derive satisfaction from inflicting pain, but they often like the feeling they get from pleasing the experimenter.” Moreover, people like satisfying authority, but they also like the feeling of helping someone of higher importance. “At the end of the session he tells the experimenter how honored he has been to help him, and in a moment of contrition, remarks, “Sir, sorry it couldn’t have been a full experiment.” (Milgram 369.) People are also more willing to carry out an order if they do not feel that they are responsible. According to Milgram, when there is a division of labor, things change.

“PROZI: I refuse to take responsibility. He’s in there hollering!”

“PROZI: . . . who’s going to take the responsibility if anything happens to that gentleman?”

“EXPERIMENTER: I’m responsible for anything that happens to him. Continue, please.”

“PROZI: all right.”

Zimbardo’s experiment shows how even without prior experience or knowledge, with just social stereotypes an average person can quickly adapt and fill that role that they are given. “The media had already provided them with ample models of prison guards to emulate.” (Zimbardo 393.) Although different experiments, these conclusions show us a similar social phenomenon involving authority. Both experiments show us how powerful and influential an authority figure can be, as people are likely to bend over to authority, even in a mock prison experiment where none of it is real, prisoners still yielded to authority.

Although having initially different goals and different methods in order to induce their subjects, both experiments documented both different but related social phenomena that many people exhibit, which is how people can fit into their role perfectly when given to them and how many people will be willing to obey authority figures. This is important because these 2 experiments displays the absurd amount of mental power that authorities have, why we are willing to yield to them and the power that a role plays on a regular person. Although many people do not know it, these experiments show us how an average people would be willing to hurt another person mindlessly if asked to do so under authority or if they were asked to play the role of someone who could cause harm to another person.

Updated: Feb 22, 2024
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Common Objectives Of Milgram’s Obedience And Stanford Prison Experiment. (2024, Feb 22). Retrieved from

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