The psychological harm

Baumrind criticised Milgram for showing insufficient respect for his pps, inadequate steps taken to protect pps, possibly leading to long-term harm. Lack of informed consent, deception by disguising the true nature of the experiment and possible psychological harm. In his defence Milgram claims it would not have been possible to get results, which reflected behaviour in real situations without deception. Zimbardo was similarly criticised for deceiving pps. Critics believe it is really not necessary in research and particularly unethical.

They proposed other more ethically acceptable methods, such as asking pps to imagine how they would behave in certain situations, could be used. However Milgram did this by asking people how many pps would go to 450V on the shock generator, their predictions grossly underestimated the levels of obedience found. Zimbardo claimed ‘as if’ or ‘predict how you would behave in this situation’ would be missing out on some of the powerful yet subtle dynamics of situational control. Nevertheless Milgram and Zimbardo might have causes pps psychological harm during their experiments.

Milgram recorded pps trembling, stuttering and sweating. Zimbardo’s experiment had to be discontinued after just 6 days of the 2 weeks due to extreme emotional and behavioural effects. Did the knowledge gained justify the means by which it was acquired? Savin thinks not. Zimbardo disagrees, his follow up over many years revealed no lasting negative effects, student pps were healthy and able to bounce back from their ‘prison experience’. Milgram’s questionnaire distributed to pps after the experiment concluded that 84% of pps were glad to be involved and 74% had learned something.

1 year later there was no evidence of emotional harm and time was also taken for debriefing afterwards. Furthermore pps may have felt stupid and used when they learned the true nature of the experiment and how they had been deceived. Leading to the likelihood that they would not trust psychologists or people in authority in the future. Milgram replied that he thought it would be ‘of the highest value if participation in the experiment could inculcate a scepticism of this (inhumane) kind of authority’. Milgram did not intentionally cause discomfort to his pps.

His survey carried out beforehand predicted few pps would give shocks after the leaner began to protest. Milgram did not believe it sufficient to justify stopping the experiment and after his research was published the American Psychological Association found it ethically acceptable and Milgram was awarded a prize for his outstanding contribution to social psychology research. John Darley 92 argues that the possibility of being evil is latent in all of us and can be made active by a conversion process, he considers the possibility this may have been Milgram’s intention.

Lifton’s theory supports this – he reported Nazi doctors were initially ordinary individuals, yet what they did in performing evil acts morally altered them. David Mandel 1998 believed Milgram’s finding had led to an oversimplified explanation of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust. It ignored important factors that motivated the perpetrators such as chances of professional advancement and the opportunity of lucrative personal gains.

Aronson 99 suggested that psychologists face a particularly difficult dilemma as to whether the potential benefits of the research outweigh the costs to the individual pps. A positive outcome of both Milgram and Zimbardo’s experiments is the increased awareness of how pps should be treated. Zimbardo did acknowledge he should not have acted as ‘prison superintendent’ and principal researcher – as he became trapped in his superintendent role. Instead of banning research of this type, what is needed is better research. This increased awareness has led psychologists to draft guidelines to be used for research.

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