Was Stanley Milgram’s Study of Obedience Unethical
One of the primary concerns a psychologist must address when preparing to carry out an experiment are the effects, both short and long term, of the experiment on the subjects. Some experiments positively affect the subjects and need not be debated, but those that have the possibility to create negative short or long-term effects in the subjects must be reviewed thoroughly. There are several general guidelines that have been set to determine whether an experiment is ethical.
A small degree of suffering by the subject can be tolerated If no better way can be found to obtain the important and beneficial Information desired In the experiment and If the subject’s suffering is quickly and fully alleviated after the experiment. When questioning whether Stanley Amalgam’s study of obedience is ethical, one must address these questions in the context of his experiment. The purpose of Amalgam’s study of obedience was to determine the degree to which a person will be obedient to an authority’s orders or requests If they do not agree with the requests being made.
This situation occurs in many aspects of society, including the military, employer/employee situations, and most disturbingly, Nazi Germany. For this reason, a general understanding of obedience is a worthy and important goal. The ethically of the study was brought into question when the subjects began to undergo severe emotional and sometimes physical distress during the experiment. The subjects were asked to deliver an Increasingly dangerous shock to a confederate who would, after a substantial ‘shock’ was given, protest to the treatment by the subject and display a painful response to increasing shocks.
Surprisingly, a large percentage of the subjects would administer the highest shock when told to do so by he researcher, even if they felt strongly that to do so would not be right. The emotional stress this situation put on the subjects caused many of them to break down, some to the extent that they would undergo violent convulsions or dig their fingernails Into their flesh. This level of suffering, as argued by Diana Banding, exceeded appropriate and ethical limits.
The subjects, she believe, not only underwent extensive pain and distress while participating in the experiment, but also experienced long term, negative psychological consequences due to the experiment. She reasons that the experiment had an Irreversible effect on a subject’s self Image and self esteem. Stanley Malaria first counters this attack by making it clear that these extreme results were completely unexpected by himself and many other professionals.
When the dangerous and potentially harmful effects became evident, though, Malaria decided to continue the experiment, but assures that many steps were taken to alleviate the subject’s suffering at the end of the experiment and to assure them that experiment and asked to fill out a questionnaire. According to Malaria, 74% of the subjects said that they had learned something of personal importance as a result of being a part of the experiment, and 84% were glad to have participated.
Because the strong negative side-effects of the experiment were not expected and the research was of great importance, I think that the experimental design did not show any breach of ethics. The ethical dilemma was in Amalgam’s decision to continue the experiment once these effects became known. As shown by his survey, most of the subjects did not seem to show any lasting negative psychological uniqueness or resentment due to the experiment, but this fact could not have been known until after the experiment.
The fact that some of the subjects did regret being involved with the experiment and most likely underwent some degree of emotional distress after the study shows that the study could and to some degree did cross over an ethical line. Malaria was lucky that a larger number of people did not undergo such lasting distress. The experimental design was not unethical, but Amalgam’s decision to continue the experiment despite a probable chance of long- term negative effects on the subjects was unethical.