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Milgram Experiment Psychological Theories Haslam I 119
Milgram experiment/psychological theories: A. VsMilgram: For his critics (of whom there have been many; for recent discussion see Brannigan, Nicholson and Cherry, 2015)(1), Milgram had himself committed acts of inhumanity in the guise of studying inhumanity (>Experiment/Milgram). In an influential commentary that appeared in American Psychologist, Diana Baumrind (1964)(2) accused Milgram of failing to treat his participants with the respect they deserved and of undermining their self-esteem and dignity. Shortly after the research was first publicized in the New York Times of 26 October 1963, an editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch described Milgram’s work as ‘open-eyed torture’ (cited in Blass, 2004(3): 121). MilgramVsVs: Milgram (1964)(4) responded to such criticism by claiming that ‘no-one who took part in the obedience study suffered damage, and most subjects found the experience to be instructive and enriching’ (Blass, 2004(3): 124). He backed up his claims with evidence taken from post-experimental questionnaires. These showed that, of the 656 people who participated in the studies, 83.7% were ‘glad’ or ‘very glad’ to have participated, 15.1% were neutral, and 1.3% were ‘sorry’ or ‘very sorry’ to have taken part.
Reicher/Haslam: However, researchers have developed a number of strategies in order to surmount this considerable obstacle. One is to use alternative and less harmful behaviours in order to investigate obedience. Cf. >Obedience/Milgram.
These include giving negative feedback to job applicants in order to make them more nervous (Meeus and Raaijmakers, 1986(5), 1995(6)), crushing bugs (Martens et al., 2007(7)), performing an on-line analogue task which involves applying negative labels to increasingly positive groups (Haslam, Reicher and Birney, 2014(8)), or simply persisting at a long and tedious task (Navarick, 2009)(9).
Haslam I 120
B. A second strategy has been to revisit and re-analyse Milgram’s own studies for new insights. (…) Steven Gilbert (1981)(10) shows the importance of the gradual increase in shock intensity which deprives participants of a qualitative breakpoint that would allow them to justify breaking off and becoming disobedient. Dominic Packer (2008)(11), by contrast, highlights how the reactions of the learner can provide such a justification. This relates to the fact (noted above) that the point at which most people break off is 150 volts, where the learner first asks to be released from the study. Eight relevant factors: (Haslam, Loughnan and Perry, 2014)(12):
1) the experimenter’s directiveness,
2) legitimacy
3) consistency;
4) group pressure to disobey;
5) the indirectness,
6) proximity,
7) intimacy of the relation between teacher and learner
8) distance between the teacher and the experimenter.
C. Other authors have studied historical examples of obedience and disobedience form a psychological perspective: A notable example of this is François Rochat and Andre Modigliani’s (1995)(13) analysis of resistance to the official oppression of minorities by the villagers of Le Chambon in Southern France during the Second World War (see also Rochat and Modigliani, 2000)(14). >Obedience/psychological theories.


1. Brannigan, A., Nicholson, I. and Cherry, F. (2015) ‘Unplugging the Milgram machine’,
Theory and Psychology (Special Issue), 25: 551—696.
2. Baumrind, D. (1964) ‘Some thoughts on ethics of research: After reading Milgram’s “Behavioral study of obedience”’, American Psychologist, 19:421—3.
3. Blass, T. (2004) The Man who Shocked the World: The Life and Legacy of Stanley Milgram. New York: Basic Books.
4. Milgram, S. (1964) 1lssues in the study of obedience: A reply to Baumrind’, American Psychologist, 19: 848—5 2.
5. Meeus, W.H.J. and Raaijmakers, Q.A. (1986) obedience: Carrying out
orders to use psychological-administrative violence &, European Journal of Social Psychology, 16:311—24.
6. Meeus, W.H.J. and Raaijmakers, Q.A. (1995) ‘Obedience in modem society: The Utrecht studies’, Journal of Social Issues, 5 1: 155—75.
7. Martens, A., Kosloff, S., Greenberg, J., Landau, M.J. and Schmader, T. (2007) ‘Killing begets killing: Evidence from a bug-killing paradigm that initial killing fuels subsequent killing’, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33: 1251—64.
8. Haslam, S.A., Reicher, S.D. and Birney, M. (2014) ‘Nothing by mere authority: Evidence that in an experimental analogue of the Milgram paradigm participants are motivated not by orders but by appeals to science’, Journal of Social Issues, 70:473—88.
9. Navarick, D.J. (2009) ‘Reviving the Milgram obedience paradigm in the era of informed consent The Psychological Record, 59: 155—70.
10. Gilbert, S.J. (1981) ‘Another look at the Milgram obedience studies: The role of a graduated series of shocks’, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 7: 690—5.
11. Packer, D.J. (2008) ‘Identifying systematic disobedience in Milgram’s obedience experiments: A meta-analytic review’, Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3: 301—4.
12. Haslam, N., Loughnan, S. and Perry, G. (2014) 4Meta-Milgram: An empirical synthesis of the obedience experiments’, PLoS ONE, 9(4): e93927.
13. Rochat, F. and Modigliani, A. (1995) 4The ordinary quality of resistance: From Milgram’s laboratory to the village of Le Chambon’, Journal of Social Issues, 51: 195—210.
14. Rochat, F. and Modigliani, A. (2000) ‘Captain Paul Grueninger: The Chief of Police who saved Jewish refugees by refusing to do his duty’, in T. Blass (ed.), Obedience to Authority: Current Perspectives on the Milgram Paradigm. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. pp.91—110.


Stephen Reicher and S. Alexander Haslam, „Obedience. Revisiting Milgram’s shock experiments”, in: Joanne R. Smith and S. Alexander Haslam (eds.) 2017. Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies. London: Sage Publications


Haslam I
S. Alexander Haslam
Joanne R. Smith
Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2017
Milgram Experiment Milgram Haslam I 109
Milgram Experiment/Milgram: the basic set-up for these studies (Milgram 1974)(1) involved a learning experiment in which the participant found himself in the role of a ‘teacher’ who had to administer ever-increasing levels of electric shock to a ‘learner’ each time the learner gave a wrong answer. In fact, the learner was a confederate who had been carefully trained to play the role, and the impressive shock machine that appeared to deliver shocks of increasing magnitude was also bogus – but the teacher (the only true participant in the study) did not know this. For him (and all participants in the early study were male) the situation was very real indeed. Before the experiment, Milgram had asked various groups (psychiatrists, college students, and middle-class adults) how far they would go in an imagined situation. No-one could have imagined going as far as "dangerous shock".
Yet when Milgram conducted pilot studies with Yale University students this was not what happened. Most of the participants in what became known as the baseline condition proved willing to obey the experimenter all the way to the bitter end.
Haslam I 110
Interpretation/Milgram: Milgram concluded that this comes about because people pay more attention to the task of carrying out instructions that to the actual consequences of that task.
Haslam I 109
Influences: Milgram was influenced by Hannah Arendt’s reports of the trial of Adolf Eichman[n] in The New Yorker, later published as Eichman[n] in Jerusalem (Arendt, 1963/1994)(2). Arendt: Eichmann and his ilk, she suggested, were moved less by great hatreds than by the petty desire to do a task well and to please their superiors. Indeed, they concentrated so much on these tasks that they forgot about their consequences. For this phenomenon Arendt coined the formulation of the “banality of evil”. (Arendt 1963/1994(2): p.287).
Haslam I 113
Experiment: The participants, recruited through an advertisement in the local paper, were 40% blue-collar workers, 40% white-collar workers and 20% professionals. The experimenter explained that the study was concerned with the effect of punishment – electric shocks – on learning. Accordingly, one of the participants would serve as a ‘teacher’ and the other as a ‘learner’. A draw was then made to decide who would take which role – but this was rigged to ensure that the volunteer was always the teacher and the confederate was always the learner. Next, the teacher and learner were taken to another room and the learner was strapped into a chair and electrodes were attached to his body. The experimenter declared that ‘although the shocks can be extremely painful, they cause no permanent tissue damage’ (Milgram, 1974(1): 19). The learning task involved word pairs. First, the teacher read out a series of such pairs (e.g., blue–box). Then, in the ‘testing phase’ he read a target word from one of the pairs (in this example, blue) along with four other words (e.g., sky, ink, box, lamp). The learner then had to say which of these four words was originally paired with the target (in this instance, box). If the learner gave a wrong answer, the teacher had to deliver an electric shock by depressing one of the switches on the shock generator, moving one level higher with every error. There were 30 switches, increasing 15 volts at a time up to a maximum of 450 volts. If participants continued all the way to the maximum level, they were instructed to continue at this level of shock for subsequent errors. In the baseline condition, as the learner was being strapped into the electric chair, he mentioned that he had a slight heart condition. Then, during the task itself, he made specific responses at different shock levels. (…) the experimenter responded using a predetermined set of prods. These were as follows: Prod 1: Please continue [or Please go on]. Prod 2: The experiment requires that you continue. Prod 3: It is absolutely essential that you continue. Prod 4: You have no other choice, you must go on.
In this baseline condition 26 out of 40 participants (65%) went all the way to the maximum level and never defied the experimenter – this was despite the screams, the demands to be released, the invocations of heart disease and, ultimately, the learner’s ominous silence. Of those 14 who did refuse to go on, the largest number (six) did so at the 150-volt level. No more than two people broke off at any other single level.
Haslam I 115
Variants: (…) the best-known set of variants addresses the physical proximity of the learner to the experimenter 1) the ‘remote’ experiment: the learner is in a separate room and his voice cannot be heard by the teacher. The only feedback comes at 300 volts when there is banging on the wall.
2) voice-feedback study: (…) almost identical to the ‘baseline’ variant except that there is no mention of a heart condition at any point.
3) (proximity): is like the second, except that it involves the teacher and learner being in the same room so there is visual as well as auditory feedback.
4) (touch proximity): the teacher has to press the learner’s hand onto a metal shock plate.
Other Variants: in one study, it is the learner who demands that the shocks are delivered. At 150 volts the experimenter calls a halt to the study but the learner indicates a willingness to continue.
In another study, the person demanding that shocks be delivered is not a scientist in a lab coat, but just an ordinary man, ostensibly a volunteer for the study, just like the participant. In this situation only 4 out of 20 people (20%) obey to the end.
Haslam I 116
In yet another study, there are two scientist experimenters who argue with each other as to whether shocks should be delivered. Here again, not one of the 20 participants (0%) is fully obedient and 18 of them stop at the 150-volt mark. Gender: Variants with women as participants: When women are used instead of men, there is no difference in obedience levels. Out of 40 participants, 26 are fully obedient (65%).
Schema: The Milgram paradigm, then, is one in which the participant is assailed on all sides by different voices demanding different things. The participants seem to be attentive to all these voices and their dilemma is which to prioritize over the others. >Explanations/Milgram.
Haslam I 118
VsMilgram: Even Milgram’s most ardent admirers are highly sceptical about the ‘agentic state’ explanation (e.g., Blass, 2004(3)). If nothing else, this is because there is no evidence that the different levels of obedience witnessed across the study variants relate to differences in the extent to which participants enter into this state (Mantell and Panzarella, 1976)(4). 1. VsMilgram: the agentic state is conceptualized mechanically as an all-or-nothing affair: one is either completely in or completely out of it.
2. VsMilgram: [the focus on] one of the several relationships in the study – that between participant and experimenter [makes him lose] sight of the fact that a key feature of the studies concerns the way in which participants are torn between different relationships and different obligations. It therefore fails to address the ways in which the balance of relationships varies between the different studies


1. Milgram, S. (1974) Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View. New York, NY: Harper & Row.
2. Arendt, H. (1963/1994) Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. New York: Penguin.
3. Blass, T. (2004) The Man who Shocked the World: The Life and Legacy of Stanley Milgram. New York: Basic Books.
4. Mantell, D.M. and Panzarella, R. (1976) ‘Obedience and responsibility’, British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 15: 239–45.


Stephen Reicher and S. Alexander Haslam, „Obedience. Revisiting Milgram’s shock experiments”, in: Joanne R. Smith and S. Alexander Haslam (eds.) 2017. Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies. London: Sage Publications


Haslam I
S. Alexander Haslam
Joanne R. Smith
Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2017
Obedience Psychological Theories Haslam I 120
Obedience/Milgram experiment/psychological theories: (…) three new approaches to the experimental study of obedience have been developed that allow us to address real harm-doing without harming participants in the process. (Cf. >Milgram experiment/psychological theories, >Vs Milgram).
Haslam I 121
A. The first employs virtual reality simulations of the Milgram paradigm. In these it has been shown that behaviour in these simulations corresponds closely to that which is observed in the original paradigm (Slater et al., 2006)(1). B. The second involves using a technique called Immersive Digital Realism to train actors to play the role of normal participants in the Milgram paradigm (Haslam, Reicher and Millard, 2015)(2).
C. The third is based on the observation that what people do at 150 volts is a very accurate predictor of whether they will obey up to 450 volts. So why not stop the studies at the 150-volt mark where one can see if people will obey without getting them to actually do something harmful? This was the strategy adopted by Jerry Burger (2009a)(3) in his replication of the Milgram paradigm.
Haslam I 121
1. Several authors point to the need to consider the importance of disobedience as well as obedience (Bocchario and Zimbardo, 2010(4); Dimow, 2004(5); Jetten and Mols, 2014(6); Passini and Morselli, 2009(7); Rochat and Modigliani, 1995(8)). 2. A number of analyses point to features of the various relationships in the obedience paradigm that might help explain whether people obey or disobey authority. Wim Meeus and Quinten Raaijmakers (1995)(9), for instance, argue that obedience does not result from an inability to resist scientific authority but rather from a cultural tendency to identify with the social system, combined with a tendency not to identify with our fellow citizens but to see them in terms of specific role positions – an analysis which suggests that in the Milgram studies participants relate to the learner in terms of the different roles that the two of them occupy rather than in terms of their common citizenship.
3. Rochat and Modigliani (1995)(8): note that the villagers of Chambon were descendants of the persecuted Protestant minority in France (the Huguenots) and this meant that they likened the collaborationist Vichy Government to their own persecutors, and saw commonality between themselves and those who were persecuted. Their analysis concludes that once the persecutors became ‘them’ and the persecuted became ‘us’, the choice of whom to side with – of whether to obey or defy authority – became easy. See also >Goldhagen (1996)(10).
Haslam I 123
Reicher/Haslam: Thesis: We harm others to the extent that we listen to the appeals of malicious authorities above those of its victims. At the same time, there is now converging evidence that this has something to do with the extent to which we identify with one over the other (Haslam et al., 2014(11), 2015(2); Reicher and Haslam, 2011a(12); Reicher et al., 2012(13)). There are three areas in particular that need to be addressed in the future
1) We need to investigate the way in which different situational arrangements affect group formation and identification between the participant and the different parties within the obedience paradigm (Reicher and Haslam, 2011a(12), 2011b(14)).
Haslam I 124
2) We need to understand what sort of appeals make people side with the experimenter rather than with the learner, as well as the impact that participants’ own discourse has on their ability to disengage from these parties. 3) The aspect of language: only one of the exhortations, prods and prompts used be the experimenter in the studies is a direct order. In their replication study Burger and colleagues found that every time the experimenter gave this final prod, participants refused to continue (Burger, Girgis and Manning, 2011(15)), and in controlled studies of our own we observe that prod 4 (‘You have no other choice, you must go on’). is singularly ineffective in securing compliance (Haslam et al., 2014(11), 2015(16)). This is powerful evidence against the notion that participants in Milgram’s studies are simply following orders.

1. Slater, M., Antley, A., Davison, A., Swapp, D., Guger, C., Barker, C., et al. (2006) ‘A virtual reprise of the Stanley Milgram obedience experiments’, PLoS ONE, 1: e39.
2 Haslam, S.A., Reicher, S.D. and Millard, K. (2015) Shock treatment: Using immersive digital realism to restage and re-examine Milgram’s ‘Obedience to Authority’ research. PLoS ONE, 1O(3):e109015.
3. Burger, J. (2009a) ‘In their own words: Explaining obedience through an examination of participants’ comments’. Paper presented at the Meeting of the Society of Experimental Social Psychology, Portland, ME, 15—17 October.
4. Bocchiaro, P. and Zimbardo, P.G. (2010) ‘Defying unjust authority: An exploratory study, Current Psychology, 29: 155—70.
5. Dimow, J. (2004) ‘Resisting authority: A personal account of the Milgram obedience experiments’, Jewish Currents, January.
6. Jetten,J. and Mols, F. (2014) 5O:5O hindsight: Appreciating anew the contributions of Mi1grams obedience experiments, Journal of Social Issues, 70: 587—602.
7. Passini, S. and Morselli, D. (2009) 1Authority relationships between obedience and disobedience &, New Ideas in Psychology, 27: 9 6—106.
8. Rochat, F. and Modigliani, A. (1995) 4The ordinary quality of resistance: From Milgram’s laboratory to the village of Le Chambon’, Journal of Social Issues, 51: 195—210.
9. Meeus, W.H.J. and Raaijmakers, Q.A. (1995) ‘Obedience in modem society: The Utrecht studies’, Journal of Social Issues, 5 1: 155—75.
10. Goidhagen, D. (1996) Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. London: Little, Brown.
11. Haslam, S.A., Reicher, S.D. and Birney, M. (2014) ‘Nothing by mere authority: Evidence that in an experimental analogue of the Miigram paradigm participants are motivated not by orders but by appeals to science’, Journal of Social Issues, 70:473—88.
12. Reicher, S. and Haslam, S.A. (201 la) 4After shock? Towards a social identity explanation of the Milgram “obedience” studies’, British Journal of Social Psychology, 50: 163—9.
13. Reicher, S.D., Haslam, S.A. and Smith, J.R. (2012) 1Working towards the experimenter: Reconceptualizing obedience within the Milgram paradigm as identification-based followership’, Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7: 315—24.
14. Reicher, S.D. and Haslam, S.A. (201 lb) ‘Culture of shock: Milgram’s obedience studies fifty years on’, Scientific American Mind, 2 2(6): 3 0—5.
15. Burger, J.M., Girgis, Z.M., and Manning, C.C. (2011) ðln their own words: Explaining obedience to authority through an examination of participants’ comments’, Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2:460—6.
16. Haslam, S.A., Reicher, S.D. Millard, K. and McDonald, R. (2015) “Happy to have been of service”: The Yale archive as a window into the engaged followership of participants in Milgram’s “obedience” experiments’, British Journal of Social Psychology, 54: 55—83.


Stephen Reicher and S. Alexander Haslam, „Obedience. Revisiting Milgram’s shock experiments”, in: Joanne R. Smith and S. Alexander Haslam (eds.) 2017. Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies. London: Sage Publications


Haslam I
S. Alexander Haslam
Joanne R. Smith
Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2017
Obedience Milgram Haslam I 117
Obedience/Milgram: “The subjects have come to the laboratory to form a relationship with the experimenter, a specifically submissive relationship in the interest of advancing science. They have not come to form a relationship with the subject, and it is this lack of relationship in the one direction and the real relationship in the other that produces the results…. Only a genuine relationship between the Victim and the Subject, based on identification, or marriage, etc. could reverse the results.” (Milgram, Box 46, Yale archive; cited in Haslam, Reicher, Millard and MacDonald, 2015(1): 60) (>Experiment/Milgram). Factors that pull them towards the one or the other:
a) the importance and prestige of the research
b) the status and prestige of the researcher.
Obedience: (…) obedience does not just rely on who the experimenter is, but on the relationship between the participant and the experimenter. Thus, Milgram uses the notion of ‘incipient group formation’ as an important element in explaining the effects of proximity on obedience (Milgram, 1965(2): 64). In the remote and voice-feedback variants, experimenter and teacher are alone together in the same room and this helps them bond.
Relationship between the participant and the fellow actor-teachers: ‘there is identification with the disobedient confederates and the possibility of falling back on them for social support when defying the experimenter.’ (Milgram 1965 b(2): p. 133).
Obligation/terminology/Milgram: Milgram refers to this state of immersion in one’s role as the ‘agentic state’, and the shift from acting in terms of one’s own purposes to acting as an agent for someone else’s is termed the ‘agentic shift’ (Milgram 1974(3): 132–4).
VsMilgram: Even Milgram’s most ardent admirers are highly sceptical about the ‘agentic state’ explanation (e.g., Blass, 2004(4)). If nothing else, this is because there is no evidence that the different levels of obedience witnessed across the study variants relate to differences in the extent to which participants enter into this state (Mantell and Panzarella, 1976)(5).
1. VsMilgram: the agentic state is conceptualized mechanically as an all-or-nothing affair: one is either completely in or completely out of it.
2. VsMilgram: [the focus on] one of the several relationships in the study – that between participant and experimenter [makes him lose] sight of the fact that a key feature of the studies concerns the way in which participants are torn between different relationships and different obligations. It therefore fails to address the ways in which the balance of relationships varies between the different studies


1 Reicher, S.D., Haslam, S.A. and Miller, A.G. (2014) ‘What makes a person a perpetrator? The intellectual, moral, and methodological arguments for revisiting Milgram’s research on the influence of authority’, Journal of Social Issues, 70: 393–408.
2. Milgram, S. (1965b) ‘Some conditions of obedience and disobedience to authority’, Human Relations, 18: 57–76.
3. Milgram, S. (1974) Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View. New York, NY: Harper & Row.
4. Blass, T. (2004) The Man who Shocked the World: The Life and Legacy of Stanley Milgram. New York: Basic Books.
5. Mantell, D.M. and Panzarella, R. (1976) ‘Obedience and responsibility’, British Journal of
Social and Clinical Psychology, 15: 239—45.


Stephen Reicher and S. Alexander Haslam, „Obedience. Revisiting Milgram’s shock experiments”, in: Joanne R. Smith and S. Alexander Haslam (eds.) 2017. Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies. London: Sage Publications


Haslam I
S. Alexander Haslam
Joanne R. Smith
Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2017