Stanley Milgram’S Research on Obedience and His Contribution to Our Understanding of Human Behaviour

This report aims to illustrate how Stanley Milgram’s research into obedience to authority has influenced our understanding of human behaviour today.

In 1961 the psychologist Stanley Milgram (1933-1984) began research on obedience to authority. Influenced by the cruelties   committed in the second world war he wished to discover what made ordinary people commit evil deeds (Banyard, 2010). Milgram took forty male volunteers who believed they were taking part in a laboratory study on the effects of punishment on memory and learning. They were asked to give an ever increasing range of electric shocks to a ‘learner’ for every question he answered incorrectly. Positioned in separate rooms, the ‘teacher’ could hear cries of discomfort and then pain from the shocked ‘learner’, yet many continued to full voltage. In total, 65% continued to the maximum 450volts at the request of the lab coated, ‘authority figure’ in charge (Banyard, 2010).
Further variations on the study placed the authority figure and ‘the learner’ various distances from the ‘teacher’. The further out of sight the authority figure, the more likely ‘the teacher’ was to disobey and stop the shocks much sooner. Conversely the nearer the ‘learner’ and more obvious their distress, the less likely they would continue to harm them with extreme shocks (Banyard, 2010).

In reality no actual shocks were administered and the screams of pain were entirely staged. As the participant knew nothing of this until the completion of the experiment many found their participation very distressful. This led to much debate concerning such experiments and the ethics (difference between right and wrong) involved. Milgram’s experiments triggered much stricter guidelines to be developed and the experiment would not be allowed to take place similarly today (Banyard, 2010).
How Milgram changed popular opinion
Before commencing his experiment Milgram asked a selection of adult males to predict how far they believed...