Sample Psychology Paper on Behavioral Study of Obedience

Behavioral Study of Obedience

The article, “Behavioral Study of Obedience” by Stanley Milgram describes a procedure for the investigation of the degree of obedience in a manipulated condition. It is an experimental research because the independent variables were manipulated in the laboratory to determine the degree of obedience. Furthermore, predictions were made on the response of the subjects towards the manipulated conditions. Another experimental feature of the present study is result gathering and presentation. The researcher records data of the experiment in order to analyze and account for the outcome.


The present study examined obedience by ordering naive subjects to administer electric shock to their partners. The behavior before the participant withdraws from the experiment is called obedience while the point of withdrawal is defiance. It was hypothesized that a small number of participants would obey the command to the end of the experiment. Specifically, the highest prediction was 3 out of 100 participants would go through the experiment.


A stimulated shock generator with different marks of voltages was utilized. The voltages were marked as slight shock (15-60), moderate shock (75-120), strong shock (135-180), very strong shock (195-240), intense shock (255-300), extreme intensity shock (315-360), Danger: severe shock (375-420), and XXX (435-450). The study featured 40 males from New Haven, which were recruited through a newspaper advertisement and direct mail. The sample population ranged between ages 20 and 50. The population composed of diverse occupations including engineers, postal clerks, salesman, teachers, and salesmen. They also had different levels of education. The subjects were given $4.50 for their participation and the researcher emphasized that the money belonged to them no matter what happened in the course of the study.

The study was conducted at a laboratory in Yale University. A 31-year-old high school teacher, who projected a stern attitude throughout the study, acted as the experimenter. The role of the victim (learner) was performed by a 47-year-old accountant, who was trained for the study. The participants were required to pick roles of a teacher or a learner from secret slips of papers. However, the process was rigged whereby all the slips were indicated teachers. The naïve subjects were then instructed to administer shock to the “learner” (played by the accountant) in an ascending order whenever he fails to answer a question. The subjects were made aware that the shocks, although painful, did not cause any tissue damage. Whenever the subjects made an attempt to withdraw from the experiment, they were encouraged to go on by the experimenter, who used same responses for each partcipant. The “learner” provided predetermined responses and when the shock level 300 was reached, he reacted aggressively by pounding on the wall. However, the subjects were later made aware that the “learner” suffered no harm in the process.  

Results and Discussion

The subjects, with few exceptions, were convinced the situation was real. Most of them displayed signs of nervousness while administering the shocks. Surprisingly, 26 out of 40 subjects completed the experiment. This implies that they continued to administer the electric shock to the XXX mark. 1 obeyed up to the Danger: severe shock level, 8 defied at extreme intensity shock level, and 5 at intense shock mark. On the contrary, it was predicted that an insignificant number would go beyond the intense shock level. Accounting for the unexpected results, Milgram explained that the subjects obliged to go on with the experiment due to the prominent nature of the institution. The higher level of obedience was inspired by their initial commitment to a significant learning cause, their belief that the victim had volunteered, and their perceived risk of being assigned the role of the learner. Also, the experiment was performed in an enclosed environment that did not give room for discussion with others, which left many subjects with no option but to continue even though they were visibly uncomfortable. Importantly, the assurance of the harmless shocks to the tissue made the participants comfortable.


The findings raise ethical issues concerning the degree of obedience in the process of harming others. The results indicate the people can easily take commands from random people to inflict pain on others. However, if money had not been involved, I believe that less than half of the participants would have completed the study. Most subjects were compelled to go on with the study since they felt indebted to the experimenter. If I were involved in the study, I would have been among the 5 participants who defied at 300 volts once the victim started reacting aggressively to shocks. I believe that it is a violation of human rights to inflict pain on another person. Additionally, I feel that the study would have generated significantly low levels of obedience if the participants were females. This is because women are emotionally sensitive to other people’s well-being.


The present study aimed to examine the degree of obedience in a manipulated environment. 40 male participants were instructed to electrically shock the victim each time he gave a wrong answer. Unexpectedly, more than half of the participants administered the shocks up to 450V. The findings reveal a conflict between ethics and obedience. While the participants were aware that they were inflicting pain, they obeyed the experimenter and continued to induce the shock. The study guides future research to explain the high levels of obedience against ethics.