The Most Unethical Experiments

The full list here.

Milgram Study

The notorious Milgrim Study is one of the most well known of psychology experiments. Stanley Milgram, a social psychologist at Yale University, wanted to test obedience to authority. He set up an experiment with “teachers” who were the actual participants, and a “learner,” who was an actor. Both the teacher and the learner were told that the study was about memory and learning.

Both the learner and the teacher received slips that they were told were given to them randomly, when in fact, both had been given slips that read “teacher.” The actor claimed to receive a “learner” slip, so the teacher was deceived. Both were separated into separate rooms and could only hear each other. The teacher read a pair of words, following by four possible answers to the question. If the learner was incorrect with his answer, the teacher was to administer a shock with voltage that increased with every wrong answer. If correct, there would be no shock, and the teacher would advance to the next question.

In reality, no one was being shocked. A tape recorder with pre-recorded screams was hooked up to play each time the teacher administered a shock. When the shocks got to a higher voltage, the actor/learner would bang on the wall and ask the teacher to stop. Eventually all screams and banging would stop and silence would ensue. This was the point when many of the teachers exhibited extreme distress and would ask to stop the experiment. Some questioned the experiment, but many were encouraged to go on and told they would not be responsible for any results.

If at any time the subject indicated his desire to halt the experiment, he was told by the experimenter, Please continue. The experiment requires that you continue. It is absolutely essential that you continue. You have no other choice, you must go on. If after all four orders the teacher still wished to stop the experiment, it was ended. Only 14 out of 40 teachers halted the experiment before administering a 450 volt shock, though every participant questioned the experiment, and no teacher firmly refused to stop the shocks before 300 volts.

In 1981, Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr. wrote that the Milgram Experiment and the later Stanford prison experiment were frightening in their implications about the danger lurking in human nature’s dark side.

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