Should Milgram’s Experiments on Obedience Even Have Been Conducted? Consider the Ethics of the Experiments, the Contribution of Milgram’s Findings to Our Scientific Knowledge About Social Behaviour, and the Relevance of

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SHOULD MILGRAM’S EXPERIMENTS ON OBEDIENCE EVEN HAVE BEEN CONDUCTED? CONSIDER THE ETHICS OF THE EXPERIMENTS, THE CONTRIBUTION OF MILGRAM’S FINDINGS TO OUR SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE ABOUT SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR, AND THE RELEVANCE OF THE STUDY TO CONTEMPORARY LIFE IN BRITAIN TODAY. Obedience, as a determinant of social behaviour, is of particular interest to psychologists. It has been reliably established that during the Second World War millions of innocent persons were systematically slaughtered on command. Gas chambers were built, death camps were guarded, daily quotas of corpses were produced with the same efficiency as the manufacture of appliances. These inhuman policies may have originated in the mind of a single person, but they could only be carried out on a massive scale if a very large number of persons obeyed orders. Obedience is the psychological mechanism that links individual action to political purpose. It is the dispositional cement that binds men to systems of authority. Facts of recent history and observation in daily life suggest that for many persons, obedience maybe be a deeply ingrained behaviour tendency (Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson & Salford, 1950 cited in Moghaddam, 1998) indeed, a proponent impulse overriding training in ethics, sympathy and moral conduct (Snow, 1961 cited in Hewstone et al., 2001). The published works of Arendt, (1963) A Report on the Banality of Evil, provided the final impetus for Milgram’s (1964, 1974 cited in Hogg & Vaughan, 1998) famous studies into obedience. It should be noted that this essay assumes that the reader has some prior knowledge of the methodology behind Milgram’s, (1974) experiments. Only a brief overview will be presented here. Preferential discussion will centre on the ethical implications of such research and on the contribution it made to our understanding of social behaviour. The essay will

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