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.)