Study on Obedience: The Milgram Experiment

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800 words

Downloads: 51

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Amongst many human behavior studies ever done, a very famous one, was one on obedience in psychology, the Milgram experiment. This was done by the psychologist Stanley Milgram, an experiment in which he focused on the complex conflict between obedience to authorities and the extent of personal conscience. He examined the justifications that defended actions of genocide by those accused of Word War II. He discovered that during the Nuremberg War Criminal trials, the defenses were often based on “obedience”, which basically meant they were just following orders from superiors, their intentions were not really consciously theirs. He wanted to answer the question “Could it be that Eichmann and his million accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders? Could we call them all accomplices?' (Milgram, 1974).

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This experiment was recreated up to 18 times, and since the beginning, it has received a lot of backlash because of its unethical aspects. It was labeled as deceptive because the participants actually believed that they were electrocuting real people, and were blindsided by the fact that the “learner” was part of Milgram’s team. It also caused a lot of exposure to stressful situations when they felt the need to continue “harming” the other person, which at some point could have caused physiological damage, as we can see, the majority of them were very visibly distressed. Another thing was the fact that the participants were not really given the option to withdraw at any time if they wanted to, when shown any signs of hesitation, the official would say “please continue”, 'it is essential that you continue”, “the experiment requires that you continue” or “you have no other choice, you must go on”.

Regardless of all these and more unethical aspects, the experiment contributed greatly to knowledge in the Human Sciences. We got to see and understand more human conduct under these types of circumstances. Random ordinary people, regardless of the time they live in, are more likely to obey orders given by an authority figure, in some cases, to the extent of killing innocent human beings. Obeying authorities is something that is in all of us since we are born, and we tend to obey people if we are to recognize their own authority morals as “right”, even if were are fooled to believe that they are when they’re actually bad. From this, we also learned that in society there are two types of people under similar circumstances; the autonomous state ones, which are the ones who are capable of directing their own actions, and they take responsibility for the results of those actions. And the agentic state ones, which allow others to direct their actions and can pass off the responsibility for the consequences of them, even though those actions are orderers of another person’s will.

A thing to take into consideration is that the participants were all male, how can we know if the results transfer the same to females?. To a certain point, this experiment can be considered as bias and unnecessary because of the reactions it caused, but apart from that, it did help a lot in human behavior studies, though the stress and pain they caused weren’t necessarily pleasant, it was essential so it could be presented as a scientific experiment and then taken into real consideration for physiological analysis.

The “deception” was necessary to set a certain stage for revelation on real reactions. It wasn’t that bad after all, the stress felt by the participants was short-term, and in the end, they were informed of the real experiment, which was that they didn’t really harm the “student”. Milgram actually interviewed them afterward, he found out that the effect of the experiment resulted in 83.7% saying that they were glad to be part of it. Also, he conducted another interview a year after, and the participants concluded that they were fine and that they had taken part with no harm.

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With this experiment, we got to see how beginning with subtle actions that at the end of the day are wrong, don’t seem that bad if they’re not that significant at first. Starting to level up the magnitude of actions until they don’t seem bad at all, it is even easier if these actions are not personal and are performed through a machine, which in this case were buttons with different shock levels. The participant's reactions helped us understand how it is easier to act against their own morals if someone else seems to have more authority and if they are assured they won’t be credited responsibly for any harm done to the “students'. Like this, we understand a little more about the obedience behavior of us humans, but it is still a bit irrational how we can identify the immorality of some authorities, and yet we still follow their commands.  

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Study On Obedience: The Milgram Experiment. (2021, May 31). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 1, 2023, from
“Study On Obedience: The Milgram Experiment.” GradesFixer, 31 May 2021,
Study On Obedience: The Milgram Experiment. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 1 Oct. 2023].
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