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Within Milgrams research deception was present in a number of areas, which Milgram himself claimed was imperative for the research to enable him to gauge human reactions. Within research experiments sometimes deceptions are required in order to gain as much insight into human psyche as possible. One such deception within Milgrams research was that the learner was a confederate within the research and briefed to show distress at the 150 watt mark.

This was also a major deception as the teacher believed his responses to the electric shocks were real. The fact that the experimenter was wearing a white overall gave the participants an authoritive figure. This was viewed as one of the contributory factors as to why the participants obeyed orders and may have in itself be seen as a deception. (Moxon. D. Et el 2003). Had the researcher chosen to wear more informal clothing, the outcome of the research may have been very different. To prove this point in later experiments that were replicated, orders were given by the experimenter to the participant over the phone. This showed obedience was reduced to 20.5%. (Hogg. M, Vaughan 2003). As there was no visual element this could be seen as the reason for a reduction in the level of obedience.

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Once deception has taken place debriefing becomes an integral part to the ethics of the research. It was at this point that the participants were informed that the learner had come to no harm. Immediately after the experiment the teacher was reassured no electric shocks were administered and that the learner was an actor. For the majority of participants this would have helped their levels of distress and anxiety.

In Milgram’s follow up procedures he found that 83.4% of the participants were glad to have taken part compared to the 1.3% who said they were ‘sorry’ or ‘very sorry’ for taking part. The minority may have felt the debriefing was inadequate for there specific needs. What would the effect be on the participants if they took part, and were sent home without any chance to talk through or evaluate their experience? (Cardwell 2003). This is a question that can not be answered but it can be said that Milgram, although his research came under scrutiny, would have not be allowed to do research of this kind again if he was not adhering to current ethical guidelines.

In conclusion Milgrams research was criticised as unethical by psychology experts such as Baumrind, Orne and Holland. However it was ground breaking and has been replicated by many. The research was conducted in 1963, it may be argued that this experiment would not be allowed to go ahead in our society today. Potentially due to the number contraventions against ethics on this basis, it can be concluded as being unethical. Baumrinds criticism of the research was valid and with her wealth of experience in the field, her criticisms were well publicised. Although we do acknowledge that the research by today standards was on some levels unethical, the findings of the research were a fascinating insight into human psyche. These findings may have altered dramatically had ethics been stringently upheld. This was a breakthrough in psychological research and findings have helped to understand human behaviour ever since.


Baumrind.D (1971) ‘Principles of Ethical Conduct in the Treatment of Subjects’ American Psychologist Vol 26 (10) p887 Cardwell.M. Et el Psychology for AS-Level Third Edition (2003) HarperCollins London

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