Milgram’s research into obedience


A great biopic all about Milgram and his study called “The Experimenter”
Hannah Arendt About the woman who wrote Banality of Evil on her observation of the trial of Adolf Eichmann
Compliance About the MacDonalds Strip Search Scam

Further Reading:
  • Obedience to Authority, Milgram (1974)
  • The Man who shocked the world , Thomas Blass
  • Behind the shock machine, Gina Perry

The basic study is as follows, but you will need to have very detailed notes on this study and should read the original article as well as your textbook:

Aims:  Milgram’s original long term goal was to test the “Germans as different hypothesis”, advocated by the likes of William Shirer, who claimed that the high levels of obedience seen in Nazi Germany resulted from dispositional factors, meaning personality traits fostered in childhood. In 1963 Mil gram’s aim was more straight forward….

  • to see whether normal American males would be compelled to follow orders from a legitimate authority figure to inflict pain against an innocent person.

In the variations studies that proceeds, he then went on…

  • to investigate the circumstances under which individuals will obey orders to physically harm another human being.


  • Milgram conducted a controlled observation at Yale University.
  • His volunteer sample comprised 40 males recruited through a newspaper advert asking for participants for a memory experiment.
  • On arrival they were paired with a confederate who they believed was another participant.
  • Lots were drawn to decide teacher and learner roles but this was rigged; the Pp was always the teacher.
  • Teachers had to administer a word recall task and give electric shocks every time a mistake was made.
  • The voltage supposedly increased in 15 volt increments but in fact all shocks were fake except for one real 45 volt shock given to the real pp at the beginning of the study to increase experimental realism.
  • The teacher saw the learner strapped into a chair and electrodes being attached to his hands, the experimenter explained that he was using electrode paste to protect the learner from potential burns.
  • In the original 1963 study, the learner cannot hear the learner making any sounds but at 300 volts he can hear the learner pounding on the wall.
  • If the participant/teacher protested that he did not wish to go on, standardised prompts or ‘verbal prods’ were given by the experimenter, urging the Pps to continue.
  • Milgram recorded the voltage of the greatest shock administered before Pps refused to continue.


  • Milgram found that 65% of his sample administered the full 450 Volt shock.
  • A full 100% continued to 300 volts although at this point 12.5% of the sample dropped out.
  • Film footage was taken to provide qualitative data and Pps were observed to tremble, sweat, bite their lips and dig finger nails into their flesh. 3 had full-blown seizures.


  • Milgram concluded that normal Americans could be induced to commit harmful acts against their peers under specific social circumstances.
  • He concluded that the crimes committed in the Nazi death camps may not have been due to a flaw in the disposition of the German soldiers, thus providing what has been called an ‘obedience alibi’.
  • He concluded that when we occupy a position of lower status it is possible to lose our sense of personal morality and instead follow orders unquestioningly as we absolve ourselves of any responsibility for our actions.

You need to start by reading and making notes from the original article Milgram (1963): peper-2-27th-nov-milgram_study-kt-2. When ever making notes on a study you need to cover the APFC (aims, procedure, findings (quan and qual) and conclusions). You also create a detailed revision brain map.

milgram-quiz-game-1: What do you remember about the study?
Use this worksheet to record details of Milgram’s original study and your thoughts about the methodology: milgram-notes-3

The following activities will you to learn all the necessary descriptive details:

Activities relating to the results:

Activities relating to the conclusions: 
Milgram conclusion speech bubble with comments from his critics: milgram-conclusions-speech-bubble

 Activity sheets

 Here are is the sheet with standardised prods and labelling of volt meter: 

 The following resources are to help you to evaluate Milgram’s study:
What is meant by reliability? Reliability_in_Psychological_Research
Wordmint- external validity: Evaluating_studies__Validity (1)
 You may also like to use De Bono’s 6 thinking hats to evaluate Milgram: 6-hats-milgram
 You can test your knowledge of the study by using these MCQs: multiple-choice-milgram
When you are evaluating Milgram, it is useful to consider the work of David Mandel who says that blind obedience is far too over simplified as an explanation of Holocaust behaviour in the death camps. You can read a short article by him in the green Cardwell textbook, but if you prefer t read in-depth his full article is here: obedience-alibi-article-2-1
This sheet might help you to plan your Evaluate Milgram’s study (8) essay:
Exam technique and Milgram AO1: milgram-words-activity
Brilliant for applications of Milgram’s research:
Milgram socrative quiz pdf for your folder: Quiz_milgram1963aimsandproceduresassessment

All materials on this website are for the exclusive use of teachers and pupils of psychology . Any unauthorised copying or posting of material from this site is a copyright infringement and could result in legal action being taken against you.

© Amanda J Wood, 2016-2017