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I will now write about two social studies carried out to investigate how people obey to authority and what affects this. Firstly I will explain an experiment carried out by Milgram. He placed a newspaper advertisement offering $4.50 for an hours work, in response to this an individual turns up to take part in a Psychology experiment investigating memory and learning. He is introduced to a stern looking experimenter in a white coat and a rather pleasant and friendly co-subject. The experimenter explains that the experiment will look into the role of punishment in learning, and that one will be the “teacher” and one will be the “learner.” Lots are drawn to determine roles, and it is decided that the individual who answered the ad will become the “teacher.” (The drawing of lots was rigged, so that the actor would always end up as the “learner.”)
Your co-subject is taken to a room where he is strapped in a chair to prevent movement and an electrode is placed on his arm. Next, the “teacher” is taken to an adjoining room which contains a generator. The “teacher” is instructed to read a list of two word pairs and ask the “learner” to read them back. If the “learner” gets the answer correct, then they move on to the next word. If the answer is incorrect, the “teacher” is supposed to shock the “learner” starting at 15 volts.
The generator has 30 switches in 15 volt augmentations; each is labelled with a voltage ranging from 15 up to 450 volts. Each switch also has a rating, ranging from “slight shock” to “danger: severe shock”. The final two switches are labelled “XXX”. The “teacher” automatically is supposed to increase the shock each time the “learner” misses a word in the list. Although the “teacher” thought that he/she was administering shocks to the “learner”, the “learner” is actually a student or an actor who is never actually harmed.
It was found that at times, the worried “teachers” questioned the experimenter, asking who was responsible for any harmful effects resulting from shocking the learner at such a high level. Upon receiving the answer that the experimenter assumed full responsibility, teachers seemed to accept the response and continue shocking, even though some were obviously extremely uncomfortable in doing so.
The theory that only the most ghastly monsters on the merciless fringe of society would submit to such cruelty is disclaimed. Findings show that, “two-thirds of this studies participants fall into the category of ‘obedient’ subjects, and that they represent ordinary people drawn from the working, managerial, and professional classes (Obedience to Authority).” Ultimately 65% of all of the “teachers” punished the “learners” to the maximum 450 volts. No subject stopped before reaching 300 volts.
Here I have included an image of how the experiment was laid out:
Milgram also conducted several follow-up experiments to determine what might change the likelihood of maximum shock delivery. In one condition, the touch-proximity condition, the teacher was required to hold the hand of the learner on a “shock plate” in order to give him shocks above 150 volts.
The most interesting finding from this follow-up experiment is that 32% of the subjects in the proximity-touch condition held the hand of the learner on the shock plate while administering shocks in excess of 400 volts. Further experiments showed that teachers were less obedient when the experimenter communicated with them via the telephone versus in person, and males were just as likely to be obedient as females, although females tended to be more nervous.
There was another main study carried out to analyze obedience in a real life scenario, this was done in a hospital with nurses. It was conducted in the following way the study was set in a psychiatric hospital in the America. The participants were 22 nurses on night duty.
An unknown ‘doctor’, who was a confederate, telephoned the hospital and spoke to a nurse. He instructed them to give medication to a patient. The medication was a drug with a maximum dosage of 10Mg (which was shown on the label of the bottle). The doctor instructed the nurse to give a dosage of 20Mg to the patient and said that he would sign the relevant authorisation papers when he arrived in the hospital in 10 minutes time. It was hospital rules to not take these kinds of orders on the telephone.
This was done with each of the 22 nurses. The result was that 21/22 of the nurses obeyed the telephone instruction and began to prepare the medication before they were stopped and the situation was explained to them.