Gender and Obedience

In Milgram’s original study he only used male participants and some have suggested that this was appropriate as many of the death camp officers, whose behaviour he wished to explore, would have been male, however not all of them were male. The Reader is a great film/book about a female officer for example. To this end Milgram’s study has been called androcentric, in that it possible that his findings would not explain the behaviour of female participants.

It could be argued that Milgram’s work shows beta-bias, meaning that he erroneously minimises the role of potential differences between males and females, for example, assuming that there was no need to test females as the results would have been very similar. Eventually, he decided to test female participants as he realised that maybe women may behave differently. It is worth remembering that when researchers expect gender differences it is possible that they will perceive differences that are perhaps rather minimal, and these differences will become over-exaggerated this is known as alpha bias. In Milgram;s experiment 8 however, Milgram’s findings were exactly the same as the initial study in 1963. Females also showed an obedience rate of 65% just like the males. However, there were some differences in the qualitative data, i.e. what Milgram observed and noted about how they interacted with the experimenter and the learner . He also found some differences in the rates of tension that he recorded in the post-study questionnaires. You can read more about his findings in his book “Obedience to Authority” Experiment 8 where he talks a lot about one particular Pp Elinor Rosenblum.

Milgram noticed that his females Pps seemed more agitated by what they were doing and experienced higher levels of tension, he perceived that they felt more empathy for the learner which increased their levels of anxiety and that they found it harder to defy the male experimenter, due to their gender. However, these are Milgram’s perceptions as a male researcher. Maybe, he is displaying alpha bias here, maybe he is seeing gender differences where there are none. It may also not be right to assume that males do not feel as much empathy for the learner simply because they do not show it as readily in their observable behaviour.

During our lessons on this topic, we will also discuss the work of Carol Gilligan which was first discussed in her seminal book, “In a different voice” where she says that men and women may base their moral decision-making on differing perspectives. She conducted thematic analysis on the transcripts of interviews, where male and females Pps were asked to talk about various moral dilemmas. She spotted emergent themes relating to two differing  perspectives known as the ethic of justice (more commonly used by males) and the ethic of care (more commonly used by females). You can read more about this on this website which talks about another famous theory in psychology which is criticised for being androcentric, Lawrence Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Reasoning. You should ensure that you have detailed notes n this as it will be useful in the issues and debates topic.

Gilligan argues that moral reasoning based on the ethic of care is NOT inferior but different and dependent upon our socialisation experiences. Males and females are exposed to different experiences due to gender stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination in society, which shape the way people think, feel and behave dependent on, amongst other social categories, our gender. She therefore believes that the differences seen in the Milgram study between males and females may be due to differing perspectives regarding the morality of the situation.

This PowerPoint talks through the results of a number of studies on gender and obedience: gender-and-obedience

A sheet of images to chop up and stick into books as a centre piece for notes on ethic of justice and ethic of care, pair work discussions on hypotheses etc: gender obedience images

This link contains more interesting information about the Sheridan and King study:

This google book gives more detail about the Kilham and Mann study which may be necessary when evaluating the study: More detail on Kilham and Mann

This article discusses the work of Gilligan and Kohlberg: How might gender affect obedience; Carol Gilligan’s views on the ethic of care versus the ethic of justice

This review article by Blass also looks at various factors affecting obedience including gender: blass1999-replciations-of-milgram-and-gender-diffs-2

This is a quiz to assess your recall of the gender studies: gender-quick-test

This is a worksheet to fill in to assess your recall of Gilligan’s take on moral reasoning: how-does-gender-affect-obedience

Word-mint crossword: Gender_and_Obedience

Wordmint Bingo: Gender and Obedience – WordMint

Your assessment task:

  1. Write a diary entry as though you were a participant in the Milgram study. You may choose whether you wish to write as a male or a female. This does not need to match your own gender. In your writing you need to reflect values relating to the ethic of justice or the ethic of care dependent on the gender you have chosen. (4)

You may like to use the following sheet to help plan your answer: gender-gilligan-hw

Once you have completed this HW; feel free to collect the password form me so you can check out some possible answers

Practice Questions

2. Describe the influence of gender on obedience (2)

3. To what extent does gender appear to affect obedience? (8)