Milgram- Strenghts and Weaknesses of Method



The strengths of Milgram’s study into levels of obedience are first that, as the experiment was conducted in a laboratory setting, it allowed the experimenter to have a high level of control. This is useful as it makes the results more reliable as we can say that we can observe the effects of Milgram’s commands to the participants clearly. Another strength of Milgram’s study was that the participants volunteered so had given their consent to take part in the study. This is a further strength of using the experimental laboratory method as consent is more difficult to get in a field setting. As we will see Milgram’s study is lacking in ecological validity, however we can say that the study shows high experimental realism, and the tension shown by participants throughout the experiment shows this. Milgram’s study is also replicable as it was done in a laboratory setting with a high level of control. This is useful because then another experimenter could replicate the experiment and check the results were not due to chance.

However, there are also several weaknesses to Milgram’s study, and most are to do with the amount of ethical issues that Milgram broke, the first being deception. Participants of Milgram’s study were deceived as they were told the experiment was about “the effects of punishment on learning” and were made to believe that they were giving real electric shocks to participants. Milgram thought this necessary for the study because if the participants knew about the true aim of the study, demand characteristics would be introduced, and the findings of the study would be useless. There is also some question to the participants right to withdraw. Although Milgram strongly states that participants were free to withdraw from the study as any time, there is some debate to this for two key reasons. Firstly the participants were being paid to participate in the study, and this may have made them feel as though they had to continue. Secondly the cues from the authority figure such as “please go on” may have made them feel as if they had no choice but to continue. The last ethical issue that Milgram breaks, and perhaps the most important is protection from harm. After the experiment, the majority of participants reported feeling high levels of stress, and also showed clear signs of distress during the experiment. Post study interviews showed that the experiment caused no long-term negative effects but can Milgram really be excused for breaking the ethical guideline to begin with? Also as previously mentioned there is a lack of ecological validity in the study. As the study was carried out in a laboratory, the participants knew they were being observed and studied, and the way people behave in a laboratory setting is vastly different to the way people behave in “real life”. (Not that I can really think of a situation where you would be giving electric shocks to people in everyday life anyway.)




13 responses »

  1. Hi 🙂

    You stated in your blog that it was an advantage that the participants involved volunteered. However although this meant they were giving their consent, could it affect the results? The participants may have volunteered because they enjoyed the subject and may of had previous knowledge about it. This may be a reason why they behaved in such a way.

    Furthermore you state that its not a realistic situation. However the study has led to further research with more of a ‘realistic approach’. This can be seen in the ‘Doctors and Nurses’ study by Hoffling et al. The nurses that were the participants here were not aware that they were taking part in a study. This increases the validity of Milgrams study also.

    • Hello thank you for commenting : )

      I dont think the fact that the participants volunteered would effect the results because of the simple fact that they didnt know the true purpose of the experement to begin with, they thought it was an experement to show the effects of punishment on learning, so Milgram broke the ethical guideline of deception but stopped demand charictristics from being introduced. However the fact that participants were being paid could have influenced the results because it may have made them think they had no choice but to continue because they were being paid to participate.

      You also commented that the study led to further studies, which may be true, but that dosent change the fact that Milgrams study still lacked ecological validity, just because other studies didn’t.

  2. I think you present the argument in a very balanced way, giving reasons for one side of the argument and also the other. The descriptions in your argument are detailed but also concide I think so that means I got a lot of detail from it.
    However, where you say “Post study interviews showed that the experiment caused no long-term negative effects but can Milgram really be excused for breaking the ethical guideline to begin with?” – I think maybe you could expand this by saying that although participants may have been shocked at the way they behaved during the experiment which brought them psychological harm, the majority of them (I can’t remember the exact percentage) were pleased they had taken part in the experiment because they had learned something about themselves.
    Having said that, I think its quite a minor detail and I really didn’t find anything else wrong with it 🙂

  3. Hello

    In your blog you have asked – “Can Milgram really be excused for breaking the ethical guideline to begin with?”

    In my opinion the results generated from his study have been hugely influential in the psychological field and has lead to replica studies such as Hoffling et al being conducted with similar findings. (like rtreen mentioned). I think the main reason why this study was so important was that the results were completely different to what had been predicted to happen, as before Milgram conducted the experiment he asked a group of students to predict what would happen, they believed that less than 3% of people would delivery the maximum shock of 450V. The results showed that 65% of Milgrams participants delivered a shock of 450V therefore obeyed.

    This is why I feel that Milgram can be excused as the results shown here has completely changed the way that people think and this experiment would not have been as successful if the guidelines had not been broken.

  4. In some ways Milgram could be accused of breaking ethical guidelines, however, some of his participants (teachers) learnt from the study and gained insight into how influenced they were by authority. A lot of the participants said that they would not change the experience they got out of the study for anything. This shows that breaking ethical guidelines can be a positive thing.
    Ecological validity may have been low as it was conducted in a lab, but they also repeated the study in a backstreet CD shop and there were still obvious signs of Milgram’s participants yielding to the influences of the ‘authority’. So I think that Milgram’s study does have ecological validity because in retrospect to shows that we are easily influenced by higher voices of authority.

  5. Your blog shows both the advantages and disadvantages with clarity and concisely. I agree that Milgram should be excused as the study was experimentally realistic and also he did try to counteract the deception by debriefing them afterwards so that they were aware that they did not actually cause harm and the debriefing would help to prevent psychological harm. However, when the authority gave the cues to continue, the point was to see if they would continue or if they would stop. They still had control and afterwards they were asked why they continued. This was needed so that Milgram could find out why the authority figures held so much power over the participants. Participants were aware that they were in a study (although they were deceived regarding its true intentions) and able to withdraw at any time.

  6. OH MY GOD. This is SO helpful. I’m currently studying Milgrams experiment and I was looking for the evaluation… THIS is exactly what I was looking for! THANK YOU!!!!

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