This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by professional essay writers.

The Milgram Experiment: Ethical Or Non-ethical

downloadDownload printPrint

Table of contents

  1. Abstract
  2. Milgram’s Experiment
  3. The Results
  4. What Would I Do Differently?


In recent history, Hitler was able to confirm many people into believing as he did: the Aryan race was superior and those who were not Aryan needed to be exterminated, particularly the Jews. It makes one wonder how Hitler was able to get not only people to conform to his way of thinking but also to obey Hitler’s request to torture and/or kill people by the millions. Would the ending of World War II change the way people react to authority figures? Would people take a stand against authority?

Are you Looking For A Custom Essay about “The Milgram Experiment: Ethical Or Non-ethical” NOW? You Found It!

Professional Writers that Guarantee an On-time Delivery


experts online

Milgram’s Experiment

“The experiments began in July 1961, a year after the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. Milgram devised the experiment 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).” (McLeod, 2017) In 1961, Stanley Milgram posted in a newspaper he needed men to help with a study at Yale University. Forty men, aged 20 to 50 of various backgrounds and careers were chosen to participate in the experiment. The chosen men were led to believe that the study was to conclude whether punishment had an impact on learning. Unfortunately, Milgram may not have been very truthful.

Once the men were chosen for the study, they were given instructions, time, and dates to meet in a lab. In the lab, the chosen man and a second man would draw a sheet of paper from a pool. The paper either had “teacher” or “learner” printed on it, the paper chosen was the role you lead. “The second man was a confederate; the participant would always draw the role of “teacher,” and the second man would invariably be made the “learner.” (Psychology Science, 2013).

The paper actually had “teacher” printed on both sides so that the applicant would always be the “teacher” and the sidekick always claimed to be the “learner.” The instructions were simple: “the participants received instructions to teach pairs of words to the confederate. After they had read the list of words once, the teachers were to test the learner’s recall by reading one word and asking the learner to name one of the four words associated with it.” (Psychology Science, 2013).

The “learner” was asked to take a seat in a device that closely resembled an electric chair. Unlike the electric chair, the “leaner” only had his wrist belted down-that is how the electrical zaps were administered to him. “The learner (a confederate called Mr. Wallace) was taken into a room and had electrodes attached to his arms.” (McLeod, 2017). When the learner made a mistake, the learner was shocked with volts ranging from fifteen to four hundred fifty separated into thirty levels, or fifteen-volt increments. “The electric shock generator has 30 switches starting at 15 volts, labeled ‘slight shock’ all the way up to 450 volts, labeled ‘danger severe shock.’” (Zetzer, 2017).

The teacher would zap “Mr. Wallace” at a low voltage (forty-five) on the wrist and increase the intensity for each wrong answer. “The learner gave mainly wrong answers (on purpose), and for each of these, the teacher gave him an electric shock. When the teacher refused to administer a shock, the experimenter was to give a series of orders/prods to ensure they continued.” (McLeod, 2017).

How far people are willing to go before the question or disobey authority? “The experimenter told the participants to punish any learner mistakes by pushing a button and administering an electric shock; while they could not see the learner, participants could hear his screams.” (Psychology Science, 2013). Given that the shocks were started at forty-five volts and went up to four hundred fifty, how far were the teachers willing to go? When the “teachers” felt they could no longer inflict any more pain, they were probed to carry on:

  1. Please continue.
  2. The experiment requires that you continue.
  3. You must continue.
  4. You have no other choice; you must go on.” (Psychology Science, 2013).

“As the shock level increased, the Learner began demonstrating signals of pain, asking for the experiment to be stopped and finally stating that they had a heart condition before becoming startlingly quiet.” (Zetzer, 2017). Even after the pleas, the reasoning and the silence the “teachers” continued with the experiment. How many “teachers” obeyed all four commands? How many stopped and at what point? Did the “teachers” suffer any ill effects from punishing the “learner”?

The Results

Believe it or not, fourteen out of the forty participants (teachers), obeyed up to and past three hundred volts. “65% (two-thirds) of participants (i.e., teachers) continued to the highest level of 450 volts. All the participants continued to 300 volts.” (McLeod, 2017). According to the required article, five teachers refused to go beyond three hundred volts, four went to three hundred fifteen, two went to three hundred thirty, one at three hundred forty-five, three hundred sixty, and three hundred seventy-five. The remaining twenty-six participants went all the way to four hundred fifty volts. “Even when the learners would pound on the walls in agony after seemingly receiving 300 volts, participants persisted. Eventually, the learner simply stopped responding.” (Psychology Science, 2013).

Even though the majority of participants completed the experiment, they were not happy. An article by Psychology Science quoted one of the participants: “I observed a mature and initially poised businessman enter the laboratory smiling and confident. Within 20 minutes he was reduced to a twitching, stuttering wreck, who was rapidly approaching a point of nervous collapse… At one point he pushed his fist into his forehead and muttered: “Oh God, let’s stop it.” And yet he continued to respond to every word of the experimenter and obeyed to the end.’ ( Psychology Science, 2013).

“The first ethical issue was the degree of deception. The participants were not provided with a clear explanation of any possible risks before volunteering for the study, rather they were lead to believe they were causing physical harm to another individual, exposing them to potential psychological harm..” (Zetzer, 2017).

Personally, I agree that Milgram was deceptive and did not brief the participants honestly. I do agree that Milgram was correct in his decision not to cause physical harm, the learner only pretended to feel voltage, but it was still very dishonest (deceiving) to not disclose all parts of the experiment. In fact, the drive and intent behind the experiment were also not disclosed to the applicants. However, I can understand what Milgram must have been thinking: if he was honest and told the “teacher” that the “learner” was acting in pain rather than being in pain, the experiment would not yield honest results. I also believe that Milgram would not have been able to fully debrief the participants. Would anyone have responded to the advisement that said, “I will pay you $4.50 if you help me determine how obedient you are.”?

“The BPS states that researchers should make it plain to participants that they are free to withdraw at any time (regardless of payment). Did Milgram allow participants to withdraw? The experimenter gave four verbal prods which mostly discouraged withdrawal from the experiment”. (McLeod, 2017).

I have to agree with this ethical issue too. The “teachers” were given reasons, or demands or requests to continue not once, but up to four times! If the participants wanted to truly leave, they should not have felt they were forced to stay. This was not ethical, but I understand probing the participants to stay was essential to the experiment. “Participants were exposed to extremely stressful situations that may have the potential to cause psychological harm. Many of the participants were visibly distressed.” (McLeod, 2017).

Just as some Nazis suffered mentally from the pain and trauma, they inflicted on WWII victims, I am sure Milgram’s participants left the experiment feeling emotionally beaten. It is not ethical to cause harm: physical or mental-to my understanding. One could claim that because only men were chosen for the project, the experiment could be deemed as discrimination against women. Did Milgram and his colleagues believe that women could not be teachers in this experiment or was it assumed that a woman’s meek demeanor automatically labels her as obedient? At least, that is the portrayal of women from the 1960s.

What Would I Do Differently?

“We obey in a variety of real-life situations that are far more subtle than instructions to give people electric shocks, and it would be interesting to see what factors operate in everyday obedience. The sort of situation Milgram investigated would be more suited to a military context.” (McLeod, 2017).

Maybe McLeod is correct in his thoughts, but I am not so sure. Asking me what I would do differently is a generic question and I am going to take that question a step further and answer it as if I was Milgram or the participant. If I was Milgram, I do not think I would change how the experiment was done. Yes, some parts were unethical, but I understand Milgram’s actions. No one endured physical harm, that’s positive. Mental harm I would try to avoid by allowing the participants to leave as soon as they verbally announced they had enough. Once the participant ended the experiment, I would completely disclose the entire experiment and allow them access to the voltage switches and restraints to prove the “learner” was not harm. I would also ask if the participant wants to meet the learner.

I also would experiment with various environments/cities. The teacher/learner role, although universal, can vary in their thoughts on punishments and obedience slightly across zip codes. How far “teachers” continued the experiment in New Haven may differ for “teachers” in San Francisco.

I would also be blinded to gender when choosing the participants. Males and females differ in their thought process on many issues! I would be curious to know if single mothers obeyed authority figures more or less than married mothers. Do single women, without children, obey authority figures more like men, single mothers, or married women?

Get a Personal "The Milgram Experiment: Ethical Or Non-ethical" Tailored Essay For You in 3 Hours!

100% Customized to Your Need with Expert Writers


The possibilities to gain many results are endless! As a participant, I know I would not be able to handle hearing agony caused by my hands. I am too empathetic to pain. I would walk off the experiment, but I would insist I speak to the “learner” and apologize for any harm he felt from me. Truthfully, I do not think I would make it past one hundred volts. I would have the idea that I already got paid $4.50, I did what I was asked, so I am done.

Remember! This is just a sample.

You can get your custom paper by one of our expert writers.

Get custom essay

121 writers online


Remember: This is just a sample from a fellow student.

Your time is important. Let us write you an essay from scratch

experts 450+ experts on 30 subjects ready to help you just now

delivery Starting from 3 hours delivery

Find Free Essays

We provide you with original essay samples, perfect formatting and styling

Cite this Essay

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below:

The Milgram Experiment: Ethical Or Non-ethical. (2021, May 31). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 9, 2023, from
“The Milgram Experiment: Ethical Or Non-ethical.” GradesFixer, 31 May 2021,
The Milgram Experiment: Ethical Or Non-ethical. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 9 Jun. 2023].
The Milgram Experiment: Ethical Or Non-ethical [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 May 31 [cited 2023 Jun 9]. Available from:
copy to clipboard

Where do you want us to send this sample?

    By clicking “Continue”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy.


    Be careful. This essay is not unique

    This essay was donated by a student and is likely to have been used and submitted before

    Download this Sample

    Free samples may contain mistakes and not unique parts


    Sorry, we could not paraphrase this essay. Our professional writers can rewrite it and get you a unique paper.



    Please check your inbox.

    We can write you a custom essay that will follow your exact instructions and meet the deadlines. Let's fix your grades together!


    Get Your Personalized Essay in 3 Hours or Less!


    We can help you get a better grade and deliver your task on time!

    • Instructions Followed To The Letter
    • Deadlines Met At Every Stage
    • Unique And Plagiarism Free
    Order your paper now