Replicating Milgram would people stay obey today vs Change over time in obedience: The Jury’s still out, But it Might Be Decreasing

The Background:


In 1961-62, Stanley Milgram, a Social Psychology professor at Yale, conducted the series of “Obedience to Authority” experiments that you read about in Chapter 6, pp. 171-72.  To his horror, Milgram found that the majority of participants in the experiment (400+ volunteers, almost all men from the New Haven area, aged 20 to 50) would obey a scientist/authority figure to the point that they might actually torture a stranger to death. It quickly became famous, even infamous, and drew so much condemnation from the media and other academics that it has never been fully replicated in the US. In part because of Milgram, in the mid-1960s universities, research institutes, and foundations set up “Institutional Review Boards” (IRBs) which decide whether a research proposal protects participants well enough that the proposal can be funded. There’s no IRB in the US that would let Milgram do his experiment today. It has been replicated in several other countries, though, with the same disturbing results. (The French Game of Death that Henslin mentions was a really stupid game show, not a replication, and no one took it seriously.  It turns out we’re not the only society that has really stupid game shows.)


Many social scientists believe that, in one sense, Milgram’s analysis of his results didn’t go far enough.  A majority of Milgram’s subjects obeyed the “authority figure,” but a significant minority did not. Who were those who resisted?  Milgram didn’t raise the question, but it’s a very important one. Did younger people disobey more than older people?  Did people with college degrees disobey more than high school graduates?  Women more than men?  People who attend religious services more than those who don’t?  Does race or ethnicity make a difference?  Is resistance to authority something we can teach, and if we can, should we?  And especially, would people today obey as often as Milgram’s subjects did 60 years ago?


A brilliant social psychologist in California, Jerry Burger, found a way to replicate a large part of Milgram’s experiment, got it past his IRB, and carried it out in 2006.  He had fewer participants than Milgram but he set it up to raise some of the questions Milgram didn’t.  He argues that his results show that Californians today obey authority as much, or almost as much, as did Milgram’s New Haveners. Burger’s interpretation of his results was soon challenged by an equally brilliant social psychologist, Jean Twenge, also from California, who contends that he misread his results and his Californians obeyed less than the Connecticut crew did.


The Assignment:


This is to be a standard college research paper, except that I’ve done the research for you by providing you with Burger and Twenge’s articles about Burger’s replication of the Milgram experiment.




The paper must be a Word document.  Blackboard can’t handle Google Docs or Pages, so if you write it up using either of them, save it as a Word doc before submitting it. Length should be 5 to 7 pages (more is OK if you really get into the subject), with 1-inch margins, double spaced, in a 12-point, readable font such as Times New Roman, Calibri, or Arial.


Please use the APA format, with one amendment.  The amendment is in the in-text citations:  please add the page number of your reference, whether it’s for a quotation or a paraphrase, e.g., (Burger, 2009, p. 7) instead of APA’s (Burger, 2009).


Don’t put an abstract at the beginning.  Those are only useful for long, published articles.  And if you want a cover page and number it, then length has to be 6 to 8 pages.


If you’re unfamiliar with APA format, you can simply Google it – there are lots of sources online.  Two of the best are:

(1)  The manual from Purdue’s OWL (Online Writing Lab)

(2)  The Citation Machine   

#1 and is quite comprehensive, but #2 seems a little more user-friendly..


There’s also a short-cut:  the journal that the Burger and Twenge articles are from is an APA publication so they are in classic APA form.  Take a look at how they use their short, in-text citations and use the full citations in their reference lists.  Hint:  in your bibliography/reference list, you should cite Burger’s article exactly as Twenge does in her reference list.


And a word about citations:  use lots of them to avoid the greatest academic no-no, plagiarism.

If a student plagiarizes any part of the term paper, she or he will receive an F for that paper with no chance of resubmitting.  Please read the following paragraph, so there is no confusion.


Plagiarism is the deliberate attempt to deceive the reader through the appropriation and representation of the work and words of others as one’s own work.  Academic plagiarism occurs when, in a work presented as the student’s own research and scholarship, a student repeatedly uses more than ten consecutive words from a printed source without the use of quotation marks and a precise reference to the original source. Continuous paraphrasing without serious interaction with the student’s own views, by way of argument or the addition of new material and insights, is also a form of plagiarism in academic work.


IMPORTANT:  Cite more than just direct quotations.  Even if you just paraphrase an idea or set of facts and have put them entirely into your own words, you still need to cite the source. Your paper should be peppered with citations.  If you don’t have at least three or four citations per page, you’re probably doing something wrong. The only things not cited should be your own ideas, opinions, and conclusions.


Content of the Paper:


I’m interested in what you think about these two articles and about the Milgram experiments in general.  There are many possible ways you can approach it, many possible questions to address, and I don’t expect you to address them all.  It’s usually better to pursue two or three ideas in some depth than to try to cover every aspect of the question and end up doing a superficial job on everything.


Some suggestions:

Burger had to make some changes in Milgram’s experiment to get his institutional review board’s permission to do it.  Are those changes so significant that he can’t really claim he has replicated Milgram?


Burger says his modified experiment gives the same results as Milgram’s, showing that the Californians of the mid-2000s were just as obedient as Milgram’s New Haveners of the early 1960s.  Does it give that result?  How?


On pp. 3-4, Burger gives four reasons why “teachers” might go so far in shocking the “learner.”  Which of the four seems most convincing to you?  Least convincing?  Is this the way people’s psychologies really work?


Twenge thinks Burger is misreading his own results and that the later generation is less obedient.  Is she right?  Why or why not?


Burger’s participants were much more ethnically diverse than Milgram’s.  Does that make a difference?  If so, in what ways?


Is even Burger’s milder version of the obedience experiment so upsetting (to the participants and/or in its implications for us all) that it should not have been permitted?  On the other hand, could it show us such important insights about ourselves that even Milgram’s harsher version should be allowed?


Which author is more convincing, Burger or Twenge?  Does one have a stronger argument?  If so, what was it that convinced you in their argument?  Is it just that one writes more clearly than the other?


Or surprise me:  come up with new approaches, new questions.


Other / miscellaneous:


Your primary focus should be Burger and Twenge but you can go beyond them if you wish. There’s a lot of new stuff on the topic since then.  You don’t need to use anything other than Burger and Twenge (and you must address both Burger and Twenge, not just Burger), but feel free to add to your list of references.


Try to use some of the concepts we’re looked at in class, and use them correctly, of course.


The paper is due 11:55 p.m., Sunday, May 2,


All the best,


Dr. Carter



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