Milgram (Evaluation Essay)

P – Point E – Explain the pointE – Example from the studyR – Relate to the point on why is it a strength / weakness in the study
High in reliabilityThe extent to which a procedure, task, or measure is consistent. That it would produce the same results with the same people on each occasion.

For example, the procedure was the same for all participants, including the drawing lots for teacher or learner and the prods used.
Choice of who was to be the teacher and learner was done by taking a slip of paper from a hat, however the participant was always the teacher.

Therefore, the standardized procedure eases the process of replication for future study in order to produce consistent results, hence this study is high in reliability.
Low on ecological validityThe extent to which the findings of research in one situation would generalise to other situations. This is either the situation represents the real world effectively or the task is relevant to real life.For example, the word-pair task required the participant (in the role of teacher) read out word pairs to the stooge (in the role of learner) on his recognition of which word paired together. The teacher was asked to give an electric shock to teach the learner to do better at a word-pair task if the learner got the answer wrong.The setting is not normal to everyday life. Sitting in a laboratory in front of a shock generator having to shock somebody who gets a word-pair wrong is not an everyday setting that people find themselves in. Therefore, the study lacks ecological validity.
High in validityThe extent a researcher is testing what they claim to be testing.

For example, an electric shock generator was designed, where a sample shock of 45 volts was given to the teacher before starting the experiment. Further instructions were given to confirm the authenticity of the apparatus.
Furthermore, the sample was also carefully selected by Milgram to ensure a range of ages and backgrounds.

Since the electric shock generator was well-designed, this helps to ensure that participants were convinced that the study was real and that their actions actually mattered. Milgram could be confident that it was the situation that participants were placed in that caused the obedience levels, therefore this study is high in validity.
Ethical issue  (deception) WeaknessThe guideline for deception states that participants should not be deceived or deliberately misled about any aspects of a study.

For example, participants were told they were participating in a study on ‘learning and memory’.
Participants were also made to believe that the electric shocks they were administering to Mr Wallace were real.

Participants in this study were deceived about the actual aim of the study and were also deliberately misled about the electric shocks they were administering. Therefore, researchers in this study did not conform to the ethical guideline of deception.
Ethics (right to withdraw) WeaknessParticipants should be told they can withdraw at any time during or after the study.For example, the use of prods such as ‘the experiment requires that you continue’ by the “experimenter” created the illusion that the participants in this study were denied the right to withdraw.These prods implied no other options but to continue, that could have pressured participants to remain despite being being uncomfortable. Therefore, the ethical guideline for rights to withdraw was breached in this study.
Usefulness  (strength)Usefulness refers to the contribution that the particular research makes to society.The set up of this study which included deception and ensuring participants believed the false aim allowed researchers to gather important findings such as 65% of the participants went to the end (450v) under the persuasion of an authority figure.This clearly shows that people will follow the orders of authority figures so if an act of terrorism occurs it will be useful for the police to find the ‘authority figure’ behind it to stop others committing these terrible acts

Other analysis:

ETHNOCENTRIC BIAS – This is when psychologists view the results, behaviours or responses of a study that used participants not from their own ethnic group through the eyes of their own ethnic experiences. As a result, the psychologists may feel that their own ethnic group is superior to the one(s) they are studying and may misinterpret behaviours and draw the wrong conclusions about the behaviour being studied.


  • strength observations helped to show that obedience was not always willing, it was often stressful. This would not have been apparent from the voltage alone.
  •  strength participants were unaware that they were being observed for obedience, so this should have reduced demand characteristics
  •  weakness observations in lab context (participants knew they were in a study, even though they thought it was memory) so may be unrepresentative
  •  weakness participants knew they were in a study and were being observed and this may have changed their level of obedience simply because they were in an unfamiliar situation.

The drawing of lots, the timing of when the scripted responses were heard and going up in 15V increments were all examples of controls. Therefore, other researchers could replicate this study to test it for reliability.

Obviously there are ethical considerations for replication of this study.

Sitting in a laboratory in front of a shock generator is not an everyday setting that people find themselves in. Therefore, the study lacks ecological validity.

Having to shock somebody who gets a word-pair wrong is not a task that people come across in everyday life. Therefore, the study is low in mundane realism.

As there were so many controls, such as having a “test” shock, receiving the prods at a certain time (in the same order) and the shock generator being the same for everyone, Milgram could conclude with confidence that lt was the situation that the participants were placed in that caused the obedience levels.

Deception: teachers thought that they were giving learners real electric shocks. Also, they were told that it was a study about learning and not obedience.

Debriefing: at the end of the study all was revealed to the participants so they left knowing that they had not harmed learners. Milgram followed them up six months later to check whether they were having any psychological issues.

Right to withdraw: the prods given by the experimenter did mean it was difficult for teachers to withdraw from the study and some kept being convinced to continue even though they wanted to leave.

Usefulness: the study did highlight that the situation may make people behave in the way that they do rather than individual (dispositional) factors. This could begin to help explain things such as genocide so we can work on finding ways to stop them happening.