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Participants in the study Essay

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Of the 40 participants in the study, 26 delivered the maximum shocks while 14 stopped before reaching the highest levels. It is important to note that many of the subjects became extremely agitated, distraught and angry at the experimenter. Yet they continued to follow orders all the way to the end. So 65% of the participants in Milgram’s study delivered the maximum shocks. There were also questions asked regarding the ethics of the study, if we compare it to the British Psychology Society’s summary of ethics guidelines (1990) for the conduct of psychological experiments.

General Distress – Distress to participants must be avoided but does not seem to be the case in this research with participants concerned they are harming the learner. Informed Consent – this must be gained with an explanation of the research where ever possible. In this study to the give the participant a full explanation would not have had the results that they got in the first place. They would have caused questions regarding the validity of the research. This then leads us to:- Deception – They were not fully aware of what was going on or the aims and objectives of the research so therefore they were deceived.

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Debriefing – Milgram fully debriefed the participants and did this extensively and out of all of the participants that 84% were glad to have participated, while only 1% regretted their involvement. The right to withdraw – the participant does have this right but this was not really the case here as here when a participant wanted to stop the experiment, the experimenter probed the subject to continue, pressure was added to continue the study so as not to affect the data. Protection of Participants – now this is from both physical and psychological harm which was not the case in either component.

This study would not be able to be completed today due to the ethical issues affecting this but as you saw in the results that it did prove that people would obey even after they believe it’s wrong. Now if we look at Zimbardo’s (1971) in his study “The Stanford Prison Experiment” he was looking to see people conforming to social roles according to what people believe about a given situation. So for example this was how the ‘prisoners’ would obey the ‘guards’ orders if they believed that they were in jail. The reason that this appealed to Zimbardo was he was a former class mate of Milgram and was interested in expanding on his research.

Zimbardo set the experiment by first placing an advert in the paper asking for male students to participant in a prison life experiment. The students who applied there were 24 in total they were selected from larger group that had applied for the study because they had no psychological issues, medical condition and no criminal backgrounds. They were all agreed to be in for one to two weeks for the experiment. The experiment was due to last two weeks but this had to be stopped early due to what was happening to the participants.

The guards became abusive and prisoners began to show signs of extreme anxiety and stress. Neither the prisoners nor the guards were advised on how to interact with the each other. The guards began to behave like real life guards but they were also aggressive towards the prisoners, and the prisoners became passive and depressed. Five of the prisoners began to experience such severe negative emotions, that they had to be released from the study early. According to Zimbardo and his colleagues, experiment shows the powerful role that a situation can play in human behaviour.

Because the guards were placed in a position of power, they began to behave in ways they would not normally in their everyday lives or in other situations. The prisoners, placed in a situation where they had no real control, became passive and depressed. The experiment could like Milgram’s could not be repeated by researchers today because it fails to meet the standards established by numerous ethical codes which I am going to look at now, by comparing the experiment to the British Psychology Society’s summary of ethics guidelines (1990) for the conduct of psychological experiments.

General Distress – this was caused to both the prisoners and the guards, as the prisoners were humiliated and the guards became more and more aggressive which was caused by them wanting to do what they were supposed to do. Informed Consent – This was again something that they were unable to do as this may have had an effect on the results of the experiment, the participants were aware of certain things like that they were part of a prison experiment but not the aims and objectives of the experiment.

Deception – due to the fact they the participants were not fully aware of what was going on and what was expected or wanted means there is a certain level of deception in the experiment. Debriefing – Zimbardo did debrief all of the participants but there has been suggestions that this was not enough or a through as Milgram’s debriefing process. Right To Withdraw – Like during the Milgram experiment the participants did have the right to withdraw but when they asked or showed that they wanted to leave they were persuaded to stay.

Eventually a few of the participants had to be allowed to leave early as they were beginning to show extreme stress. Protection of Participants – this was the biggest area that was had ethics question raised, the participants were under a lot of stress, they began to believe the things that were being said to them and how they were being spoken to, they began to lose their identity which again caused stress, many of the participants became emotional under this pressure and some even became aggressive. The guards were inflicting this on them but this was situational.

The experiment came to an end early when another psychologist realised on how far this had gone. Even Zimbardo himself said that he began to believe that he was the prison warden not the lead psychologist. Despite the criticism that this study received it is still important in psychology and how a situation can influence behaviour. The study more recently was brought to light when there were questions being asked of soldier’s treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib, and many people and even Zimbardo himself suggested that this may have been the real world example of what he was trying to achieve through research.

To conclude there are many things that influence behaviour in people, wither that be their own beliefs and opinions or other people being around them at the time, they way in which people work is very complex and the study although brilliant at the times with the break through that they made into the social side of psychology have raised questions over the ethical issues that are also something to be looked at.

Today the studies would not have been able to take place and in some ways this is a shame as we would not may be have had the knowledge that we have now because of them. Yet if they had thought of other ways around to come up with the same type of results then this would have been better for all of the subjects concerned. I think the research that was done was invaluable and that psychologists will always believe this just the questions over the methods leave a small black cloud over something rather brilliant.


Books Cardwell, Clark, Meldrum, Wadeley. – Psychology A2 for AQA (Fourth Edition) – HarperColins. Gross, Richard – Psychology, the Science of Mind and Behaviour -Hodder and Stoughton Gross, Richard. , McIlveen, Rob. , Coolican, Hugh. , Clamp, Alan & Russell, Julia. – Psychology – a new introduction for A2 – Hodder and Stoughton. Websites http://wilderdom.com

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