The January issue of American Psychologist features a new study that replicated Milgram's classic obedience experiment. In Milgram's original experiments conducted during the 1960s, participants were asked to deliver electrical shocks to a "learner" whenever an incorrect answer was given. In reality, the learner was actually a confederate in the experiment who pretended to be shocked.
The purpose of the experiment was to determine how far people were willing to go in order to obey the commands of an authority figure. Milgram found that 65% of participants were willing to deliver the maximum level of shocks despite the fact that the learner seemed to be in serious distress or even unconscious.
Recently, Jerry Burger, a psychology professor at Santa Clara University, replicated Milgram's famous study with some modifications to address the ethical concerns of study. In an article published in the APS Observer, Burger described the relevance of Milgram's study today:
"The haunting black-and-white images of ordinary citizens delivering what appear to be dangerous, if not deadly, electric shocks and the implications of the findings for atrocities like the Holocaust and Abu Ghraib are not easily dismissed. Yet because Milgram’s procedures are clearly out-of-bounds by today’s ethical standards, many questions about the research have gone unanswered. Chief among these is one that inevitably surfaces when I present Milgram’s findings to students: Would people still act that way today?"
Burger made several alterations to Milgram's experiment. First, the maximum shock level was 150-volts as opposed to the original 450-volts. Participants were also carefully screened to eliminate those who might experience negative reactions to the experiment.
The results of the new experiment revealed that participants obeyed at the same rate that they did when Milgram conducted his original study more than 40 years ago.
The January issue of American Psychologist also contains discussion from other psychologists about the comparisons can be made between Milgram's experiment and Burger's study. According to Arthur G. Miller, Ph.D. of Miami University, "...there are simply too many differences between this study and the earlier obedience research to permit conceptually precise and useful comparisons."
However, Alan C. Elms, PhD, of the University of California, Davis points out that while "direct comparisons of absolute levels of obedience cannot be made between the 150-volt maximum of Burger’s research design and Milgram’s 450-volt maximum, Burger’s “obedience lite” procedures can be used to explore further some of the situational variables studied by Milgram as well as to look at additional variables," such as situational and personality differences.
Learn more about the Milgram obedience experiment.
- "Replicating Milgram: Would People Still Obey Today?" - By Jerry M. Burger, from American Psychologist (Available in PDF Format)
- "Reflections on 'Replicating Milgram' (Burger 2009)"- By Arthur G. Miller, PhD, from American Psychologist (Available in PDF Format)
- "Obedience Lite" - By Alan C. Elms, PhD, from American Psychologist (Available in PDF Format)