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The Ethics of Milgram Sam Lyons. The Fundamentals of the Ethical Treatment of Human Participants in Research ● Beneficence: for the benefit of humanity.

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Presentation on theme: "The Ethics of Milgram Sam Lyons. The Fundamentals of the Ethical Treatment of Human Participants in Research ● Beneficence: for the benefit of humanity."— Presentation transcript:

1 The Ethics of Milgram Sam Lyons

2 The Fundamentals of the Ethical Treatment of Human Participants in Research ● Beneficence: for the benefit of humanity - Milgram’s experiment effectively displayed the amount to which the average person will engage in destructive obedience to authority. Better understanding of these complex bxs benefits humanity. ● Nonmaleficence: do no harm - Milgram conducted research prior to his experiment demonstrating that professionals and nonprofessionals alike predicted that the majority of participants would cease the experiment after 150 volts. Therefore, the stress that the participants faced during the experiment was unplanned and cannot be considered maleficent.

3 Fundamentals… (cont’d) ● Autonomy: the right of the participant to freely choose their involvement - Autonomy can be considered prima facie, that is, under the principal of utility, if the benefit of infringing upon an individual’s autonomy is greater than the inherent cost, then it is ethical to do so. - Considering how unexpected Milgram’s results were, the benefit to science outweighed the cost of using deception and infringing upon the participants’ autonomy. ● Moreover, it could be said that the cost of either not performing the study or producing an inferior study that didn’t involve deception would be immoral as it would not outweigh the benefits reaped from Milgram’s original studies. - using the 150 volt “cut-off” limit in later studies (i.e., Burger, 2009) would not have been possible had it not been for Milgram’s original study.

4 Utilitarianism =/= Machiavelli ● Utilitarianism posits that the benefits must outweigh the costs while Machiavelli asserted that the “ends justify the means.” These are not one in the same. If the cost of performing an action outweighs any benefit to doing so, then the principal of utility would deem the action immoral. However, regardless of the costs in a Machiavellian worldview, the end is always justified (even when it is “less” than the means).

5 Empirical Support for Deception ● Gerdes (1979) - measured college students reactions to a number of experiments involving deception. - found that most students not only enjoyed participating, but felt that deception was necessary & that it was a valuable experience.

6 Empirical Support… (cont’d) ● Berscheid et al (1973) - used a role-playing paradigm to ascertain whether potential participants would give informed consent to participate in Milgram’s study after given different levels of information. - found that the most willing participants came from those given only the cover story AND those who were debriefed. ◦ even after being informed of the procedures, (being told they were to “shock” the “learner”) debriefing the participants about the deception ( REGARDLESS of their anticipated bx) increased willingness to participate to the point that it did not sig. differ from those given the cover story alone.

7 Empirical Support… (cont’d) ● Milgram himself conducted extensive follow ups in which he found: - 84% of his participants were “glad” to have participated - 4/5 thought similar studies should be done - 74% indicated that they learned something by participating ◦ this not only indicates that there were no negative long-term effects of participating in the study, but that the benefits to doing so far outweighed the brief stress experienced during the study. ● Christensen (1988) - reviewed a multitude of studies involving participants’ response to the use of deception - found that not only did participants enjoy being deceived, but they had a more favorable view of experiments involving deception that the ones that did not.

8 Aside from Deception… ● While Milgram’s participants displayed obvious signs of significant distress, only one participant necessitated the need to discontinue the experiment. ● “Momentary excitement” =/= harm. ◦ Extensive debriefing & follow up indicated that the amount of stress experienced during the study did NOT cause any long-term negative effects. ● Baumrind suggested that debriefing would case the participant to suddenly feel excessive guilt a/b their bx, however the same mechanism that allowed the participant to continue with the experiment up to the maxim voltage (obedience), continued to justify his bx afterward as well (though with a better understanding as well as the knowledge that his bx was normal).

9 A Note on Knowledge of the Right to Termination ● A quasi-replication of the Milgram study (Burger, 2009) suggests that even when participants were informed of their right to terminate the experiment three times, a majority of the participants still remained obedient. - therefore, it can be said that the mere knowledge (and reminder) of one’s right to terminate an experiment at any time without repercussion, does not counteract the overpowering effects of the situation in the Milgram experiment.

10 References Baumrind, D. (1964). Some thoughts on ethics of research: After reading Milgram’s “Behavioral study of obedience.” American Psychologist, 19, Berscheid, E., Baron, R. S., Dermer, M., & Libman, M. (1973). Anticipating informed consent: An empirical approach. American Psychologist, 28, Christensen, L. (1988). Deception in psychological research: When is its use justified? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 14 (4), Cook, K. S. & Yamagishi, T. (2008). A defence of deception on scientific grounds. Social Psychology Quarterly, 71 (3), Gerdes, E. P. (1979). College students reactions to social psychological experiments involving deception. The Journal of Social Psychology, 10 (1), Lindsey, R. T. (1984). Informed consent and deception in psychotherapy research: An ethical analysis. The Counseling Psychologist, 12 (3), Milgram, S. (1964). Issues in the study of obedience: A reply to Baumrind. American Psychologist, 19,


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