Before Stanley Milgram completed his landmark study of obedience (see PDF), he asked a panel of 40 psychiatrists for their hypotheses as to how obedient participants would actually be. The psychiatrists were unanimous in their prediction that less than 1% of participants would administer the maximum (and potentially lethal) dose of electrical shocks. In reality, 65% of participants followed orders all the way to the end of the experiment. For as controversial as Milgram’s research has become, it would also seem as though he taught us something about human nature that we did not already know. And he taught the participants something they didn’t know about themselves—that they were capable of harming, and possibly, killing another human being. This caused many of the participants significant angst. But does the knowledge we gained about obedience to authority justify the personal cost experienced by his participants? In class we will be reviewing the ethics of psychological research. To prepare you for our discussion, please complete a brief (1-2 pages, typed and double-spaced) essay reflecting your thoughts on the balance between ethics and scientific inquiry. Do you agree with the APA ethical standards for the treatment of human participants (discussed in Chapter 4 of your textbook)? Do you believe that these standards, which did not exist when Milgram conducted his study, might set limits on what we can actually learn about human psychology? This prompt is intentionally open-ended—intended to get you thinking about this very important, but controversial, issue in psychological research!
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