Presentation Topic: Experiment of Obedience To Authority – Stanley Milgram


The Experiment of Obedience To Authority was carried out by Stanley Milgram in the year of 1963. It was the time being a year after the trial of Adolf Eichmann, who was in the position of a sergeant in the German Nazi party. He justified for himself that it was the reason of obedience to make him made those acts of genocide at WWII.

Milgram then designed an experiment aim to test how far could people go by obeying an authority figure which is involving harm another person, the power of authority & obedience. He used the method of controlled experiment. Milgram recruited 40 participants by posting advertisement on the newspaper, each participant will get paid for $4+0.5 carfare. The first experiment he carried out took place in the Yale University. He claimed to public that the experiment was about learning and memory. He developed the shock generator which was starting at 30-volts and increase in 15-volts for each increment. The generator was all the way up to 450-vlots, which can cause people death. Switches of it were labelled with terms: Slight Shock, Moderate Shock, Danger Severe Shock and Ominous XXX accordingly.

There were three roles in the experiment: The Experimenter, the Learner and the Teacher. The experimenter and the learner were a confederate of Milgram, only the teacher will be the real participant. The teacher and the experimenter would be in the same room and the learner would be in another one and strapped the chair with electrodes. They drew straws to determine their role but the result was actually fixed. The real participant would always be the teacher. The experimenter was dressed in a grey lab coat and pretended to be a real experimenter. The learner was mainly to give out wrong answers and to get the electric shock purposely. The teacher, who is the real participant was the only one being tested in the experiment underneath, needed to listen instructions of the experimenter, to give an electric shock after every time the learner gave the wrong answer. The teacher would hear screams and begs for getting out of the experiment from the learner, which were all recorder tape only. While the experiment was carrying on, every time if the participant wanted to stop delivering the electric shock to the learner, he would receive four prods made in sequence, given by the experimenter:

  1. Please continue.
  2. The experiment requires you to continue.
  3. It is absolutely essential that you continue.
  4. You have no other choice but to continue.

The result of the experiment was out of Milgram’s expectation. In the initial experiment, 65% of participants delivered maximum shock to the learner, which were 26 participants out of 40. There were only 14 participants out of 40 stopped before reaching the highest level, which was a very big difference from the prediction. Milgram had also carried out 18 variations of the experiment, including change of the experiment location, distance to the authority or the victim, institutional context, two teachers condition…, to see how these independent variables affecting the obedience.

Few implications can be interpreted through Milgram’s experiment. According to those others 18 variations experiments he carried out, human obedience behavior can be affected by few factors. Firstly, the behavior can be affected by other people surrounded. In one of those 18 experiments later, there were three teachers. Teacher One read out words to the learner. Teacher Two determine if learner’s answer was right or wrong. Teacher Thre e, who was the real participant delivered the shock to the learner. The learner eventually complained the shock was painful that Teacher One refused to go on and left. Later, Teacher Two also refused to go on at 210-volts. In this situation, only 10% of participant delivered all the way up to 450-volts. In this case, conformity conclude that the presence of other disobey people would reducing obedience.

Second was about the prestige of the experimenter. The initial experiment took place in the Yale University. In those later experiments, he only rented an office on a building. He recruited new participants through newspaper again and claimed that the research was for a private firm. The result of the experiment was dropped to 48%, because of the less reputable authority.

Thirdly was about the personality type. People might think those participants who had went all the way up to 450-volts must be very heartless people. However most of them were quite friendly and nice people instead. They found out those people who are authoritarianism personality type are more likely to obey commands of the experimenter. Additionally, a person’s emotion state or mental state are also being concerned to affect his/her obedience.

Milgram suggested that human have two mental states, which is called The Agency Theory, explains the behavior of human nature. The first state is Autonomous State, it perceives we take responsibility for our own behaviors so we will feel guilty if we do something bad. The second state is Agentic State, it perceives that we put ourselves to be an agent of someone’s will instead of it’s our own one, and they will be the one who take responsibility. In the case those experiments Milgram was carrying of, was presenting the Agentic State of a person.


Let us look at its implication in our real life. It is quite common to see how people present obedience to authority in our daily life. In an extreme case, the news of Beating of Ken Tsang (15 October 2014). Seven Police Officers assaulted the protester, Ken Tsang was being took to the street corner, including two police inspector and five constables. According to newspaper and the video, seven policemen brought Ken Tsang to the corner of the street, few constables were trying to cover their superior and colleague to bit Ken. While everyone knows that it is illegal, but constables would rather than following the order from their superior, police inspector. We can also look at some daily management commanding in a restaurant. For instance, the head chef commands the cooking method even the sous-chef may have better knowledge base and experience of how to make the dish delicious to serve the guest. However, based on the head chef will be the authority of the whole kitchen, even if sous-chef has a better idea of making it the best and maybe head chef’s idea might make it worse, sous-chef still need to obey the order of the head chef.

Limitations of the experiment and its false have become one of those criticisms. Including the sample size bias, the meaning of the experiment and the ethical issue of the study. Regarding the sample size of the experiment, 636 participants separated into 18 experiments was not representative enough. Some people criticize the meaning of Milgram’s experiment that participants knew they were doing an experiment, so they are just simply act as a cooperative role and it is not representative enough to show obedience of human nature in the real life. However, if we look back to those real life situations we have mentioned in the above, Milgram was doing what he claimed to measure and it is still a very representative experiment to show human obedience.


The Ethical issue of the study is also one of its limitations. Even people keep criticize its ethical issues but one thing we should know is, it needs to do in this way so we can get a more realistic result to measure obedience in our real life. One of the very main problem of ethical had brought out was deception: participants were told to believe that the experiment was about learning but it was about obedience to authority instead. Also, there weren’t any learners and the experimenter that all those screams and begging were recorded audio. The role of the experiment was all set up participants are as the teacher, but not a real draw as what they pretended to be. Participants were being forced to continue the experiment even they wanted to withdrawal after hearing screams and heart condition problem from the learner. During the experiment, participants were extremely stressful because they seem to have no withdrawal right that they know it would kill a people if they continue to follow the order. Although Milgram proved that there weren’t any lasting harm for participants and after participants had known the truth meaning of the experiment, they felt glad that they were in, but it is one of the points that people keep criticize about.


Few alternative interpretations were also brought out that Milgram’s experiment would be better to explained by the social identity theory and it supposed the decision making of participants was depended on who he/she identify more strongly. This alternative explanation has not being testifying yet though.

Other than the topic of obedience was brought out through the experiment, it was something more than obedience. In Milgram’s experiment, the victim scream, yelled that they have a heart condition but participants still gave further shock. Aggression behavior have been brought out rather than completely obedience. It was an impulse or actions to harm another person. Which Milgram had made contribution to the impact of social psychology and the impact on personality.


The Last but not least, there was also a famous experiment about obedience carried out by Hofling in 1966, that people think it was a more realistic one. It was very similar result with Milgram’s experiment that people are very unwilling to question authority figure even they have moral or other good reason to. Furthermore, in recent years, people are still doing partial replication of Milgram’s experiment, and there was one in Poland(SQPS University), to investigate if people still obey in this 20th century. The answer is yes, and 90% participants delivered the highest shock level. It seems the human nature and social influences on us merely change.



Kitchens, M. (2011). A Brighter Look at Milgram’s Obedience Study. Retrieved 1st June, 2017 from

Smith, G. (2017). New Milgram replication in Poland finds 90 per cent of participants willing to deliver highest shock. Retrieved 1st June, 2017 from

Jarrett, C. (2011). Milgram’s obedience studies – not about obedience after all? Retrieved 1st June, 2017 from

Romm, C. (2015). Rethinking One of Psychology’s Most Infamous Experiments. Retrieved 1st June, 2017 from

McLeod, S. A. (2007). Obedience to Authority. Retrieved 1st June, 2017 from

McLeod, S. A. (2008). Hofling Hospital Experiment. Retrieved 1st June, 2017 from

Bernstein, D. A (2014). Foundations and Frontiers Psychology (9th ed.) Canada: Cengage Learning.

Milgram, S. (1974) The Perils of Obedience to Authority. Retrieved 1st June, 2017 from

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