Violent behaviour

Obedience is obeying an order issued by an authority figure. When we are overviewed by someone in authority we find it easy to deny personal responsibility for our actions. From early childhood we are taught to obey our parents, teachers and elders. We are conditioned to obey and respect authority, which makes it a powerful tool for persuasion.¬†In Milgram’s (1963) experiment, the participant’s responsibility for their actions were removed when the experimenter said “I’m responsible for what goes on here” participants showed visible relief.

However there was some pressure from the experimenter urging the participants to continue administering the shocks even when it was clear the participant’s were concerned by the learner’s cries. However when urged on the participants continued, knowing that they wouldn’t be held responsible. On the other hand we can expect the participants to hesitate administering the shocks if the experimenter left the room as the direct pressure to continue would have been withdrawn. Participant’s felt they were helping in a scientific experiment and the authority appeared to be academic experts at a top university, people would have trusted them and obeyed.

In contrast Hofling et al’s (1966) experiment, participants were studied to investigate obedience in American hospitals, they found that 21 out of 22 of the nurses obeyed an unknown doctor’s telephone instructions to administer twice the maximum allowed dose of a drug. Warnings against such an action were clear, warnings on labels and the fact that the drug was not on the stock list for that day, they knew the amount they were to give would have been an overdose. A doctor is a clear authority figure, the nurses know that doctors object to nurses undermining their authority. They believed the responsibility for there actions would fall on the doctor as the doctor prescribed the drug, it could be said that the nurses were only following orders. However it was found that people are very unwilling to question supposed ‘authority’, even when they might have good reason to.

Some of the procedures used by Asch, Zimbardo and Milgram are ethically questionable. Briefly outline some of the procedures used in social influence research and evaluate whether these procedures are ethical¬†The experiments carried out by Asch, Zimbardo and Milgram have been widely criticised for being unethical, however the APA decided that Milgram’s work was ethically acceptable. Zimbardo defended Milgram and said his work is ‘The most generalizable in all social science’.

Asch (1951), the procedure involved a participant being led to believe the experiment was about perception of line length and were deceived because in reality it was on whether they would conform and go along with the groups answer which was obviously wrong, therefore full consent was not given. Deceiving participants breaks the BPS code of conduct and is considered unethical, however it was necessary to deceive participants otherwise they would not have been able to carry out the experiment and get accurate results. It can be argued that the deception was therefore ethical. During the investigation it could be questioned that the participants were not suitably protected from harm, they knew they were giving the wrong answer they could have suffered a low self-esteem or questioned their own sanity.

Zimbardo (1973), the procedure involved 25 male volunteers being told that they were going to be part of a two week study on prison life. The prisoners did not consent to being arrested without warning from their homes on a quiet Sunday morning. Therefore the study was unethical because the participant’s were unaware and unprepared for what happened to them, they didn’t give full consent and therefore were deceived. The study had to be abandoned after 6 days because the participant’s suffered from distress, depression and humiliation. Many if the participant’s had to receive counselling afterwards. Ethically participants have to be protected from harm and not be deceived, with this study this was clearly not the case. It could be said that the participants should have been reminded of there right to withdraw.

Milgram (1963), the procedure involved 40 male volunteers being sought to help in a memory experiment, however the participant’s were deceived because they were not told they were not harming the learner, but they were being tested to see how far they would go in harming another human being. Ethically they were deceived as they were also unable to withdraw from the experiment and encouraged to continue therefore the participants didn’t give their full consent. Unethically this procedure caused the participants harm and extreme stress; the participant’s should have been protected from this. However it could be argued that the study was necessary to better understand war criminals behaviour to authority figures. There was also a substantial lack of debriefing after the experiment; ethically an investigator must debrief participants, telling the true nature of the study and expectations of results.

Milgram’s, Asch’s and Zimbardo’s studies involved deceiving the participants by not making them aware of the full purpose of the experiment’s procedure, therefore all three studies failed to gain full informed consent. Milgram and Zimbardo both chose ordinary people of a sound and stable background and put them into challenging situations. In spite of their distress, or that of others many volunteers continued in their violent behaviour. It may be argued that Milgram and Zimbardo’s participants were not reminded of their right to withdraw from the experiments at any time; in fact, they were encouraged to keep going, in order to see what happened. It is important to remember that neither Milgram nor Zimbardo expected their experiments to have such dramatic effects, however this does not clear them from responsibility!

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