Milgram's Experiment


  • Milgram first conducted this experiment on his students at Yale College. Milgram would tell the volunteers that he was experimenting with methods that "improve learning and memory by punishing memory errors". A volunteer subject was given the role of "teacher" (T) and instructed to punish errors made by a person playing the role of "learner" (L), who actually was a paid actor and was not being harmed. Each time the learner made an error, the teacher was to punish this error by activating a switch to send an electric shock to the learner. The shocks gradually increased as the experiment went on; going from a small 15 volts to a deadly 450 volts (a normal electric outlet contains 120 volts). Each time the learner made a new error, the teacher was instructed to increase the level of shock by a fixed amount. An authority figure (E) was present, overseeing the whole experiment, and ordering the teacher to do their job whenever they hesitated. Many teachers who hesitated just assumed the authority figure had the responsibility for the results of the experiment and continued shocking the leaner. Milgram's purpose for this experiment was to see how far people would go before they defied the authority figure and refused to obey. Most psychologists hypothesized that the "teacher" would stop after a fixed amount and refuse to continue. But two thirds of the "teachers" went all the way to 450 volts. Why do we obey authority? Milgram's experiment has made the conclusion that people are obedient under the following conditions: when a peer modeled obedience, when the victim could not be seen or heard from by the teacher, when the teacher was under direct surveillance of the authoritative figure, when the authoritative figure was labeled "Dr." or "professor"
  • This experiment was said to be "unethical", while the Stanford prison was "ethical".
  • Overall, this test represents the nature of obedience in humans.
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Additional Resources:
Video of Milgram Experiment