Both the participants were assigned to be the

Both of these studies undertaken one of which was by Stanley
Milgram and the other by Philip Zimbardo were both aiming to understand how
human behaviour is influenced by social situations. The results of these
studies are similar to each other and have demonstrated that human behaviour is
largely influenced by environment and personality traits have little or no
influence on behaviour. Another similarity between these studies is that they
are both very controversial due to their inability to go by the ethics that are
required to undertake any research.


Milgram, a Yale University psychologists has conducted a
study in 1961. He was interested in the relationship between obedience of
authoritative figures and personal conscience following the Nuremberg War
Criminal trials. Through this study he wanted to explore how quickly regular
people would be influenced into committing something morally wrong because they
had to obey an authoritative figure. Each participant that has volunteered to
take part has been instructed to play the role as a teacher and an actor chosen
by Milgram played the learner. In addition, there was also the experimenter
which was also an actor who was they authoritative figure in the study. The
participants were told to read out questions to the learner in the other room
and the aim was that when the learner answered the question wrong the teacher
had to shock the learner using a generator connected. Also, the participant had
to increase the voltage by 15 volts every time the learner answered the
question wrong. The conclusion of the study suggested that regular people were
likely to follow authoritative figures even to the point of killing or
extremely hurting another individual.

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Additionally, Philip Zimbardo has carried out a study which
was interested if the cruelty of the guards reported in American prisons was
due to dispositional factors which come from within or situational, i.e., if
they are influenced by the prison environment. To do this he used Stanford
University to build into a mock prison and asked for volunteers to act as
guards and prisoners. Some of the participants were assigned to be the
prisoners and some the guards and this was randomly assigned. The guards only
worked 8 hours whereas the prisoners were required to stay in prison for 24/7. The
original experiment was supposed to be 2 weeks however, it was ended during the
6th day as one of the students have reported the extreme treatment received
by the prisoners. During these 6 days one of the participant had fallen into
deep depression where he had series of crying and screaming within 36 hours of
the study. In addition, three others also had to be withdrawn as they have demonstrated
signs of distress and depression.


The main issue in Milgram’s study was deception. Today
ethical standards declare that participants in any experiment must not be
deceived. This is because the experience of deception may potentially lead to
distress and harm to the participant which was the case in the Milgram
experiment. Participant were not told the correct purpose of the experiment and
the fact that they were not actually harming the ‘learner’ shocking them. Some
participants were distressed during the experiment and wished to withdraw
however, the experimenter in some ways forced them to continue with lines such
as, ‘it is absolutely essential that you continue’ which was again part of the
experiment. Although he stated that this was necessary for him to meet his aims
again not disclosing the true reason of the study has led to further issues. As
a result of this full consent could not be gained which is a compulsory for
every study.


As part of the Milgram study the experimenter was required
to enforce the participants to continue with lines such as ‘the experiment
requires you to continue’ or ‘you have no other choice but to continue’. The
participants were given the right the withdraw however, we’re not made aware of
it. Although again this was essential for the study itself under current codes
of conduct participants should have the right to withdraw at any given time
also make sure that they are aware of that. However, In the early 1960’s the majority
of the ethical principles we have today such as consent, the right to withdraw
or deception were not demonstrated and enforced very clearly. Moreover,
Milgram’s study also had the issue of consent. He did not acquire consent
however, participants were asked to volunteer so, we could say that during that
time the study did have some consent. Today, it is essential that participants
sign a consent form before taking part in a study.


This controversial study has violated major ethics. In modern
time a study would not be conducted unless informed consent is taken and that
the researchers makes sure the participants are not psychologically or physically
violated. If Milgram’s study took place in modern day it would lead to serious
legal implications. Hence, this study would not be possible to be undertaken
today as the ethics review committee in which reviews the research proposals
beforehand, would not allow this study to take place.


Similarly, in the Stanford prison experiment Zimbardo has
failed to obey the ethics of full informed consent. This was due to the fact
that he was not aware of the conclusion of the study. When participants were
arrested, they were not aware of this and did not fully consent for this to
happen. This was done to keep the study more realistic. In addition, most
importantly participants were exposed to serious psychological distress from
the guards and the prisoners themselves. Additionally, they were also exposed
to physical harm by the guards. The BPS guidelines now states that ‘psychologists
should consider all research from the standpoint of the research participants,
with the aim of avoiding potential risks to psychological well-being, mental
health, personal values, or dignity’. If Zimbardo would have undertaken this
study today, it would have brought him extreme legal problem similarly to
Milgram. Hence, this study would be rejected during monitoring.


Both of these studies have caused psychological
distress to the participants, ethical principles we have today were not taken
into consideration while conducting these studies. These experiments have
changed our perception on research ethics and since these studies ethical
principles were drastically changed. This is because these studies have
unarguably caused psychological harm to the participants. Leading from this the
BPS and the APA have come up with strict ethical codes of conduct in order to
keep research under conditions and that the participants are kept safe.

Conducting these studies today would lead to legal complications carried out by
the ethics review committee (IRB) due to the fact that they violate ethics and
principles. However, they are important studies in research history just alike
the ‘Nuremberg Trial’ made major differences to ethics and human rights in
terms of science but to a lesser degree. Although they violated ethics and are
very controversial and unacceptable today, they have successfully met their
aims and provided us with some answers to human behaviour in which we should
take into consideration in modern day


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