Milgram’sstudies on obedience to authority and Zimbardo’s Stanford Prisonexperiment are social psychology experiments conducted for specificresearch objectives. Milgram’s experiment was conducted byPsychologist Stanley Milgram of Yale University to measure thewillingness of those who participated to obey authority, whileZimbardo’s experiment was conducted by a team of researchers inStanford University led by psychology professor Philip Zimbardo tomeasure the causes of conflict between prisoners and prison guards.These studies have impact on conformity, human participants and theprinciples of APA Ethical Principles and code of ethics. They arecontroversial and have various arguments for and against them.
Thetwo studies revealed impressionability, conformity and obedience ofpeople towards authority. When people are subjected to legitimizingideology or given institutional and social support, they tend tobecome obedient to authority. In Zimbardo experiment, prisoners weresubjected to psychological torture by prison guards at the basementof Stanford University’s Psychology Department (Griggs, 2014).Those who obeyed were given special treatment. Most of the prisonersaccepted the psychological torture and harassed their fellowprisoners who refused to participate. According to Zimbardo, theparticipants adapted to their roles in the prison as prisonersaccepted the authoritarian measures of the prison guards.
Inthe Milgram’s experiment, there were three participants, anexperimenter, the subject (teacher) and a confederate (learner). TheExperimenter forced the teacher to ask the learner some questions andfor the ones he failed, he was administered with electric shocks(Blass, 1999). The teacher and the learner were in different rooms.In reality, the learner did not get the shocks but the teacher andthe observers believed that he received the shocks because hescreamed every time the electric shock was administered. Although theteacher believed that his learner was going through a lot of pain, hedid not stop because the experimenter told him that he had to do sowhether the learner liked it or not. 65% of the participantsperformed the high voltage shock administration although they wereuncomfortable with it. They were disturbed, trembled, groaned andshowed all levels of stress and tension throughout the experiment butthey did not stop the experiment. This shows that people conform andobey authority no matter what they go through.
Theseexperiments had a significant impact on the human participants. Theparticipants of both experiments were psychologically disturbed anddistressed. In the Zimbardo experiment, the prisoners did not likethe harassment given by the guards, and the guards were not happywith the harassment. They felt distressed and two participantsabandoned the experiment early. In the Milgram’s experiment, thehuman participants who acted as teachers were uncomfortable anddisturbed (Blass, 1999). They experienced tension and stress becausethey thought that they were causing a lot of pain on the learners. Asthey administered the electric shocks they were seating, groaning,trembling, biting their lips, and stuttering. These behaviours showthat they were psychologically disturbed by their actions.
Theseand other controversial research studies have shaped the principlesand standards in the current APA Ethical Principles of Psychologistsand Code of Ethics. The Ethical Principles and Code of Conduct ofPsychologists provided by the APA to guide the conduct ofpsychologists in their research, teaching, supervision, socialintervention, counseling, etc (American Psychological Association,2010). One of the principles of APA code of ethics is Beneficence andNonmaleficence which requires psychologists benefit and safeguard therights and welfare of those they interact. When the psychologists inZimbardo and Milgram’s experiments interact with their subjects,they cause harm to the participants which is against the ethicalprinciples of the APA. Secondly, the principle of fidelity andresponsibility requires psychologists to develop trust with thepeople they work with (American Psychological Association, 2010). Thepsychologists carrying out Stanford and Milgram’s experiments didnot show scientific and professional responsibility to gain trustfrom those who worked with them. The fact that the participants inMilgram’s experiment were uncomfortable shows that they did nottrust the psychologists who instructed them. Therefore, suchcontroversial experiments have negative impact on the principles ofAPA and code of ethics because they seem to go against thoseprinciples.
Oneof the arguments for the Zimbardo and Milgram’s experiments is thatthey are real-life experiments which show how people react toauthority in real life (Blass, 1999). They are therefore applicableand realistic. Supporter of the experiments also argue that they wereperformed by participants who consented to the experiment they werenot forced to carry out the experiment (Raiten-D`Antonio, 2010).However, arguments against the experiments primarily suggest thatthey are against the code of ethics and ethical principles ofpsychologists. Milgram’s experiment caused extreme emotional stress(Raiten-D`Antonio, 2010). Prisoners and prison guards in the Zimbardoexperiment were also sad and emotionally traumatized. Some of themwere removed prematurely due to their trauma. Griggs (2014) suggeststhat the psychological torture of the prisoners was against theethical principles of psychologists.
Theinformation obtained from the experiments is relevant and applicableto conformity and obedience to authority, but it is not worth thehuman risks. It seems that human beings were sacrificed for the sakeof psychological experiment, which is against human rights and thecode of ethics of psychologists. Experiments should not harm thosewho participate despite the accuracy of their outcomes.
AmericanPsychological Association (2010). EthicalPrinciples of Psychologists and Code of Conduct.Washington, DC: American Psychological Association
Blass,T. (1999). The Milgram paradigm after 35 years: Some things we nowknow about obedience to authority. Journalof Applied Social Psychology,29 (5), 955–978.
Griggs,R.A. (2014). Coverage of the Stanford Prison Experiment inintroductory psychology textbooks. Teachingof Psychology 41,195–203.
Raiten-D`Antonio,T. (2010). Uglyas sin: The truth about how we look and finding freedom fromself-hatred.Deerfield Beach, Fla: Health Communications.