Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the Milgram obedience study. Should the study have taken place? Milgram’s study is a very controversial study as it broke many ethical guidelines and has many methodological issues, but it also had many strengths. One strength of the Milgram study on obedience is that the experiment was reliable as it can be replicated and the results are consistent. The fact that the experiment was a Lab experiment makes the study even more reliable as lab experiments are easy to replicate and mean that the experimenter has a lot of control over what participants are asked to do, the situation they are in and the environment they are in. Another strength of the Milgram study is that both quantitative and qualitative data were recorded. This meant that Milgram could come to the correct conclusions as he had both quantitative and qualitative data to refer to when coming to his conclusion.
Another strength of the Milgram study was that the information that was gained about obedience from Milgram’s study has proven useful in understanding why people commit certain crimes and in helping to predict some atrocities before they happen, another reason Milgram’s results were important was that they helped people understand why and how the holocaust happened and therefore, how to stop history repeating itself. One final strength of Milgram’s study was that after the experiment was stopped- either when the experimenter/Mr Williams had used all the verbal prods or when the maximum voltage was reached- all participants were thoroughly de-briefed and de-hoaxed and 100% of participants left the experiment feeling generally good. Milgram also kept in touch with his participants for years after the experiment as part of the de-briefing to keep that his study left no lasting mental or physical damage.
One weakness of the Milgram study on obedience was that the Right to Withdraw was not made explicit at the beginning of the experiment, and it is argued that some subjects felt obliged to continue because of the money ($4.50) that the received upon arrival at Yale university or because of the presence of the experimenter who was described to be ‘stern’ looking and intimidating. Furthermore, it can be argued that the verbal prods used by Mr Williams when participants questioned the experiment refused participants the right to withdraw, as they were quite intimidating i.e. one prod used was “you have no other choice you must continue teacher.”
Another weakness of the study was that Milgram broke the ethical guideline of ‘protection of subject’. This is because he caused participants considerable amounts of stress for the duration of the experiment. Some participants were shaking, laughing hysterically; nervously giggling, chain smoking, sweating heavily and one participant had a seizure. Therefore, it can be argued that Milgram put his participant’s health at risk, and the subject’s mental health may also have been affected by the experiment and the tasks they were asked to do.
Another weakness on Milgram’s study was that he deceived the participants in many ways- participants weren’t aware Mr Williams and Mr Wallace were actors. Participants were also unaware that the shocks weren’t real and therefore, that the suffering of the learner was faked. Furthermore, participants weren’t told what the experiment was testing/ weren’t aware of the nature of the experiment. Although deception played a huge role in Milgram’s experiment, and it breached an ethical guideline, deception was essential to the design and needed if the experiment was to work, as if subjects knew what the experiment was actually testing there was a high chance that they would develop demand characteristics, and therefore, the results would be unreliable.
Another weakness of the study was the sample itself. The sample was made up of 40 men, all from the same region of America and aged between 20-50 years old. This made the sample unrepresentative and biased as not only was they just males, but they were also from the same region in America but also only people that read the advertisement/the newspaper it was advertised in would have seen the advert and been able to volunteer so therefore all of the volunteers would be very similar people, and this meant that the sample was unrepresentative for the rest of the country/population.
Another weakness of the experiment was the sampling method. The sampling method used was volunteer/self-selected sampling. This is the most unrepresentative of all the sampling methods. This is because most normal people don’t volunteer themselves for anything and therefore, the volunteers themselves aren’t, by definition, aren’t standard people. There is also an essence of the snowballing sampling method as with volunteering subjects may volunteer friends/family to volunteer with them, so they don’t have participate in the experiment alone, and it can sometimes be comforting to share experiences with one another. This is therefore also very unrepresentative as participants tend to invite a person like themselves, which makes the sample extremely unrepresentative/biased
another weakness of the study is the research method used. The experiment/research method was a lab experiment or technically a pilot/pre-experiment.as it was supposed to be a ‘tester’ experiment that Milgram did in the USA before taking it over to Germany to test his hypothesis that ‘Germans are different’. One problem with the experimental design of a lab experiment is the realism of the environment the subjects are in and the tasks they are expected to complete- In the context of this experiment- few people find themselves in a.) A university laboratory with an experimenter or b.) Operating and electric shock machine, especially to harm another person. However, equally it is difficult to set up a lab experiment so that people will act/re-act the same way they would in real life.
As for the question ‘Should the study have taken place’, I personally think the general idea of the study was interesting and the information that would have been discovered about obedience and destructive obedience as a result of the study would have been invaluable, but I think the way the study was done/The tasks the participants were made to do weren’t as ethically right as they could have been. But equally the experiment may not have worked as well had the tasks been different as this experiment showed how people reacted in extreme stress and when they felt that they couldn’t disobey the orders given to them even when it was to hurt another human being. In other words it highlights the internal conflict that the participants had between the want to not harm others and the need to obey orders. In conclusion I think the study should have taken place as the information we gained from it helped us in developing our understanding of obedience and destructive obedience as well as helping us understand why certain atrocities- like the holocaust- happened and how to stop them happening again.