Moreover, a questionnaire distributed to participants after the study took place revealed that 84 per cent were glad they had been involved and claimed it had been a beneficial experience; 74 per cent said they had learned something of personal importance, with only 1. 3 per cent reporting negative feelings. In addition to this, 40 participants who were interviewed by a university psychiatrist one year after the study showed no evidence of emotional harm attributable to the study.
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One especially positive outcome of Milgram’s experiments is the part they have played in increasing the awareness among psychologists of what consists acceptable treatment of participants. This has in turn led to the formulation of ethical guidelines to be used in research. Milgram’s study, although conducted in the 1960’s (since which many societal changes have taken place), still holds relevance to contemporary life in Britain. The investigation of obedience as a factor in socially acceptable behaviour is still of great interest today, and its importance can bee seen as widely pervading.
It is nearly impossible to imagine a civilization in which obedience is not required – it would almost certainly result in a breakdown of social order. The police are there to uphold this social order, and to disobey social rules can result in harsh punishment. Along with the examples of war, torture and Hofling’s (1966) nurses’ experiment cited earlier in the essay, another area to be considered is the hierarchy integral to all institutions and workplaces, where obedience to superiors is required.
If employees meticulously questioned and negotiated orders, many organisations would grind to a halt. With regards to educational institutions, a key factor in the educational process is that the pupil should be obedient to the teacher. If class discipline breaks down, the education process suffers and disobedient/disruptive pupils have to be excluded. The rise in the level of education of the population and the improved quality of this education in more recent years has been responsible for a decline in blind obedience.
Once children have been taught to ask questions rather than learn items by rote, then the seeds of future disobedience have been sown. Teachers and governments now have to convince an increasingly sceptical audience that obedience is necessary – and they have to produce reasons for this and accept that disobedience cannot be rectified by simply invoking superior social status and authority. To conclude, although much controversy has come out of Milgram’s experiments, it has resulted in some very important findings – no one predicted that the level of obedience demonstrated by the participants would be so high.
Many people would expect those participants who went all the way to the 450-volt shock level to be cruel, aggressive people, but repeated experiments in many different cultures and on many different people have all yielded similar results. These results have forced us to ask questions about what it is that caused the observed obedience, with analyses of these being of great importance in explaining and understanding the ‘crimes of obedience’ that have persisted in modern times.
Studies such as Milgram’s demonstrate that even ‘ordinary’ people are capable of cruelty in certain situations, and can be pressured to go against their own conscience. Therefore although such a study would never be allowed to take place today due to ethical considerations, I believe the findings of Milgram’s study have been of great significance and it was rightfully conducted.
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