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Milgram vs. Baumrind

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    When individuals disregard their freedom for the good of the whole, they are no longer considered individuals but products of conformity. Stanley Milgram, a Yale psychologist, engineered an experiment to test the ordinary person’s level of obedience. Many of Milgram’s colleagues admired his intricate experiment, and thought that he provided valid information on the complexity of obedience. One of his colleagues, Diana Baumrind, however, strongly disagreed with Milgram and has good reasons to criticize his experiment. She thought his experiment was unethical and very harmful to the social well-being of the participants.

    In her article, “Review of Stanley Milgram’s Experiments on Obedience”, she castigated Milgram’s experiment and provided valid points as to why tests such as Milgram’s should not continue. Both Milgram and Baumrind are obviously concerned with values and effectiveness, but they see them differently which is credible in their writings. Milgram’s experiment was called “The Perils of Obedience”, which included a teacher, a learner, and an experimenter. The experiment was designed to test the obedience level of the teacher.

    The experimenter sat behind the teacher taking notes and encouraging them to continue the experiment if they ever felt the need to stop. The teacher was told that they were involved in the experiment to see how electric shocks affected the memory pattern of the learner. Each time the learner answered a question wrong, the teacher was required to shock them, and each additional wrong answer resulted in a greater voltage. The learner did not receive any real electric shocks, but they acted like they had so that the teacher would believe that they were getting hurt each time he or she flipped a switch.

    After the experiment is terminated, the teacher is informed that the real test was on their obedience to the experimenter. In other words, Milgram’s experiment was designed to “test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist” (Milgram 213). According to Baumrind, Milgram’s experiment had many flaws. She criticized Milgram for conducting his experiment in a laboratory setting. She states that, “The laboratory is unfamiliar as a setting and the rules of behavior ambiguous compared to a clinician’s office.

    Because of the anxiety and passivity generated by the setting, the subject is more prone to behave in a obedient, suggestible manner in the laboratory than elsewhere” (Baumrind 225). This clarifies that the experimental results could have been altered based on the setting. She indicates that a person is more likely to act in a passive way and will be more prone to obedient behavior in a laboratory than if they were in a relaxed setting. Another aspect of Milgram’s experiment that Baumrind disagreed with were the damaging psychological effects of the procedure.

    Baumrind found the experiment to be extremely traumatizing to the participant. She illustrates her point by saying, “I do regard the emotional disturbance described by Milgram as potentially harmful because it could easily effect an alteration in the subject’s self-image or ability to trust adult authorities in the future” (Baumrind 227). She asserts that by tricking the participant, they could suffer from emotional disturbance and difficulty trusting authority afterwards. Baumrind goes on to describe how difficult it is for the participant to do something that they know is wrong.

    She demonstrates this by saying, “It is potentially harmful to a subject to commit, in the course of an experiment, acts which he himself considers unworthy, particularly when he has been entrapped into committing such acts by an individual he has reason to trust” (Baumrind 227). Once the participant realizes that they could have really hurt someone, they become very remorseful. During the experiment, if the teacher said that they did not wish to continue, the experimenter encouraged them to go on.

    He said that it was vital that they proceed until the test was over. Baumrind brings up a good point by suggesting that Milgram’s comparison of SS men in Nazi Germany to the teacher is faulty. Although they both instructed their “teachers” on what to do and made it seem as though the victims deserved what they were getting, the SS men would not have perceived their authority figures as benign researchers in a lab. The SS men were led to believe that their victims were unimportant not even worthy of consideration. She alleges this y saying, “He did not need to feel guilt or conflict because within his frame of reference he was acting rightly” (Baumrind 228), which describes how the SS men felt while torturing their victims. Baumrind accuses Milgram of mistreating his subjects during the experiment. She states that, “It has become more commonplace in sociopsychological laboratory studies to manipulate, embarrass, and discomfort subjects” (Baumrind 225). She does not condone such studies that cause a person to feel that way. The teacher in the experiment is the only one feeling discomfort.

    In a way, Milgram is the one who is actually administering the shock to the participants behind the screen. Stanley Milgram’s electric shock experiment has been studied by many people. Diana Baumrind’s article persuades readers to see how detrimental Milgram’s experiment was to the participants. She points out the flaws in his experiment such as; the setting and psychological effects on the subjects that she believes hindered real results. In her article, she provides many examples of the traumatic effects the experiment had on the subjects.

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    Milgram vs. Baumrind. (2017, Mar 13). Retrieved from

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