Both of these studies undertaken one of which was by StanleyMilgram and the other by Philip Zimbardo were both aiming to understand howhuman behaviour is influenced by social situations. The results of thesestudies are similar to each other and have demonstrated that human behaviour islargely influenced by environment and personality traits have little or noinfluence on behaviour. Another similarity between these studies is that theyare both very controversial due to their inability to go by the ethics that arerequired to undertake any research. Milgram, a Yale University psychologists has conducted astudy in 1961.
He was interested in the relationship between obedience ofauthoritative figures and personal conscience following the Nuremberg WarCriminal trials. Through this study he wanted to explore how quickly regularpeople would be influenced into committing something morally wrong because theyhad to obey an authoritative figure. Each participant that has volunteered totake part has been instructed to play the role as a teacher and an actor chosenby Milgram played the learner. In addition, there was also the experimenterwhich was also an actor who was they authoritative figure in the study.
Theparticipants were told to read out questions to the learner in the other roomand the aim was that when the learner answered the question wrong the teacherhad to shock the learner using a generator connected. Also, the participant hadto increase the voltage by 15 volts every time the learner answered thequestion wrong. The conclusion of the study suggested that regular people werelikely to follow authoritative figures even to the point of killing orextremely hurting another individual. Additionally, Philip Zimbardo has carried out a study whichwas interested if the cruelty of the guards reported in American prisons wasdue to dispositional factors which come from within or situational, i.e.
, ifthey are influenced by the prison environment. To do this he used StanfordUniversity to build into a mock prison and asked for volunteers to act asguards and prisoners. Some of the participants were assigned to be theprisoners and some the guards and this was randomly assigned. The guards onlyworked 8 hours whereas the prisoners were required to stay in prison for 24/7.
Theoriginal experiment was supposed to be 2 weeks however, it was ended during the6th day as one of the students have reported the extreme treatment receivedby the prisoners. During these 6 days one of the participant had fallen intodeep depression where he had series of crying and screaming within 36 hours ofthe study. In addition, three others also had to be withdrawn as they have demonstratedsigns of distress and depression. The main issue in Milgram’s study was deception. Todayethical standards declare that participants in any experiment must not bedeceived. This is because the experience of deception may potentially lead todistress and harm to the participant which was the case in the Milgramexperiment.
Participant were not told the correct purpose of the experiment andthe fact that they were not actually harming the ‘learner’ shocking them. Someparticipants were distressed during the experiment and wished to withdrawhowever, the experimenter in some ways forced them to continue with lines suchas, ‘it is absolutely essential that you continue’ which was again part of theexperiment. Although he stated that this was necessary for him to meet his aimsagain not disclosing the true reason of the study has led to further issues. Asa result of this full consent could not be gained which is a compulsory forevery study. As part of the Milgram study the experimenter was requiredto enforce the participants to continue with lines such as ‘the experimentrequires you to continue’ or ‘you have no other choice but to continue’. Theparticipants were given the right the withdraw however, we’re not made aware ofit. Although again this was essential for the study itself under current codesof conduct participants should have the right to withdraw at any given timealso make sure that they are aware of that.
However, In the early 1960’s the majorityof the ethical principles we have today such as consent, the right to withdrawor deception were not demonstrated and enforced very clearly. Moreover,Milgram’s study also had the issue of consent. He did not acquire consenthowever, participants were asked to volunteer so, we could say that during thattime the study did have some consent.
Today, it is essential that participantssign a consent form before taking part in a study. This controversial study has violated major ethics. In moderntime a study would not be conducted unless informed consent is taken and thatthe researchers makes sure the participants are not psychologically or physicallyviolated. If Milgram’s study took place in modern day it would lead to seriouslegal implications. Hence, this study would not be possible to be undertakentoday as the ethics review committee in which reviews the research proposalsbeforehand, would not allow this study to take place. Similarly, in the Stanford prison experiment Zimbardo hasfailed to obey the ethics of full informed consent. This was due to the factthat he was not aware of the conclusion of the study.
When participants werearrested, they were not aware of this and did not fully consent for this tohappen. This was done to keep the study more realistic. In addition, mostimportantly participants were exposed to serious psychological distress fromthe guards and the prisoners themselves. Additionally, they were also exposedto physical harm by the guards.
The BPS guidelines now states that ‘psychologistsshould consider all research from the standpoint of the research participants,with the aim of avoiding potential risks to psychological well-being, mentalhealth, personal values, or dignity’. If Zimbardo would have undertaken thisstudy today, it would have brought him extreme legal problem similarly toMilgram. Hence, this study would be rejected during monitoring. Both of these studies have caused psychologicaldistress to the participants, ethical principles we have today were not takeninto consideration while conducting these studies. These experiments havechanged our perception on research ethics and since these studies ethicalprinciples were drastically changed.
This is because these studies haveunarguably caused psychological harm to the participants. Leading from this theBPS and the APA have come up with strict ethical codes of conduct in order tokeep research under conditions and that the participants are kept safe.Conducting these studies today would lead to legal complications carried out bythe ethics review committee (IRB) due to the fact that they violate ethics andprinciples. However, they are important studies in research history just alikethe ‘Nuremberg Trial’ made major differences to ethics and human rights interms of science but to a lesser degree. Although they violated ethics and arevery controversial and unacceptable today, they have successfully met theiraims and provided us with some answers to human behaviour in which we shouldtake into consideration in modern day