Replicating Milgram

Someone has done it.

The author conducted a partial replication of Stanley Milgram’s (1963, 1965, 1974) obedience studies that allowed for useful comparisons with the original investigations while protecting the well-being of participants.

Seventy adults participated in a replication of Milgram’s Experiment 5 up to the point at which they first heard the learner’s verbal protest (150 volts). Because 79% of Milgram’s participants who went past this point continued to the end of the shock generator’s range, reasonable estimates could be made about what the present participants would have done if allowed to continue.

See the full study, by Jerry Burger, in American Psychologist. The whole issue is devoted to the subject of Milgram’s Experiment number 5–possibly the most famous psychology study in history.

Two psychologists argue that such ‘high-impact’ experiments are too important not to do (under reasonable safeguards)

some high-impact studies may have fallen by the wayside because investigators believed they could not get IRB approval or were daunted by the amount of time and effort that would have been required to get a study approved.

Another challenges the effectiveness and ethics of Burger’s new study design. Finally, thoughts from a junior colleague of Milgram’s who witnessed the original experiments.

3 thoughts on “Replicating Milgram

  1. We’ve done an amateur’s version of an obedience study … About 20 years ago, I helped out as a ‘camp supervisor.’ The Lutheran Church in my small hometown in Germany — very liberal institution — sends about 40 14 year olds with 15 supervisor on a weeklong trip, as the most exciting part of the year-long education before ‘confirmation.’ Our trips always had a theme, that we discussed in classes in the morning and early afternoon. (Evenings and nights were all fun…)

    So, on one trip we wanted the youths to explore the topic of “Hate and fascism” or so, I don’t remember the exact title. And we started out with an experiment. Not having announced the theme, we split them in small groups of about 8 kids and 2 supervisors. Kids form circle, all get a heavy rolled-up newspaper. One supervisor outside of the circle on a chair, one inside the circle. The supervisor outside announces that the kids should hit the supervisor inside the circle — me — as hard as they could. And they did! After a brief period, the supervisor interrupts and annoounces that he/she’d seen that some are not hitting hard enough, and that those who aren’t hitting hard enough would be put inside the circle. And off they went! It was an insane experience; we did not expect to be able to so easily unleash such violence.

    Among 40 or so kids was one girl that refused to play along. We still suspect that she knew the game — her best friend had just joined the supervisor group.