• Outline Milgram’s obedience study work.
• Explain how the findings can help prepare trainee police officers for working within the community.
• Explain why the work of Milgram relates to trainee police officers working with the public in the community.
Stanley Milgram was a psychologist. After the Second World War he sought to find out how ordinary people could commit extraordinary acts of violence. He conducted obedience studies to see how far participants would go in obeying commands if it resulted in the harm of another person.
Study Set Up
The study involved 40 male volunteers who believed they were involved in a memory test. There were 3 roles.
• The learner who was always an actor, but the volunteer believes this person is also a volunteer and has randomly been selected to be the learner.
• An experimenter, who is always in a white coat.
• A teacher, which is always the volunteer.
The learner was observed to be strapped into a chair, if he failed to answer the question correctly, the teacher would have to shock him. The teacher was in the same room as the experimenter but the learner was in a different room, the teacher could only hear the learner.
The electric shock intensity started at 15 volts, every time an incorrect answer was given a more intense shock was given, up to 450 volts.
The experimenter encourages the teacher to continue even when the teacher feels uncomfortable and it is heard that the learner is in pain.
Milgram also explored variations to the study to discover what it was about the situation that made participants administer potentially lethal shocks (Banyard 2012 pg.74).
• Proximity to learner
• Presence of experimenter
• Number of experimenter
• Number of teachers
Although Milgram’s studies would be unethical today, they were at the time accepted. However replications of the studies have shown similar high levels of obedience, some of which were outside laboratory environments.
A key point in the conclusion of the studies was ‘under certain conditions involving the presence of authority, people suspend their capacity to make informed moral judgements and defer responsibility for their actions to those in authority’ (Banyard 2012 pg.76).
As a trainee officer you may find yourself following orders from your superiors, this is in a huge part you see these as figures of authority. Likewise members of the public will follow your orders based upon the fact that they see you as figures of authority. They may recognise police officers as legally based and a legitimate authority.
‘Milgram found that, of the forty participants who took part in the study, all obeyed up to 300 volts’ (Banyard 2012 pg.72). Also 65% went all the way to the maximum 450 volts. Milgram stated that ‘sometimes teachers will argue with the experimenter, but argumentation doesn’t necessarily lead to disobedience. Rather, it serves as a psychological mechanism defining the subject in his own eyes as a person who is opposed to the experimenter’s callous orders and yet frequently it reduces tension and allows the person to obey.’ Milgram on Milgram: Part 2 (Obedience in the city) (2010). As a trainee police officer you should be aware that giving commands firmly and reiterating these when the public are hesitant should make the public obey.
Variations of the Original Study
When looking specifically at the variations of the study and their findings you can conclude that the closer the teacher was to the learner