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Stanley Milgram Vs. Diana Baumrind

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Essay title: Stanley Milgram Vs. Diana Baumrind

Obedience: Does it have its limits?

When individuals abandon their own freedom for the benefit of the larger group, they are no longer individuals but products of conformity. Obedience to authority can become dangerous when morals and independent thought are stifled to the point that harm is inflicted upon another person. “The Perils of Obedience” by Stanley Milgram reports on his controversial experiment that test how far individuals would go in obeying orders, even if carrying out those orders caused serious harm to others. This experiment caused a lot of controversy and one woman in particular believed that this experiment was immoral. Diana Baumrind’s “Review of Stanley Milgram’s Experiments on Obedience” says that Milgram “entrapped” (329) his subjects and potentionally harmed his subjects mentally. Both authors are obviously concerned with ethics and validity but both see them in a very different light, which is apparent in their writings.

Stanley Milgram, a teacher and scientist at Yale and Harvard universities, started a study that tested the obedience and morals of humans everywhere. In simple terms, the experiment’s main point was to “test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply becase he was ordered to by an experimental scientist” (Milgram 317). Two subjects would enter the warehouse that the experiment was being held in, and they would be labeled either the “learner” or the “teacher”. The subject that is named the “learner” is placed in a small room and hooked up to a type of electric chair. What he is told he must do, is to recite the second word of a word pair that is read by the “teacher.” Whenever an error is made, and the “learner” says the wrong word, he gets “electric shocks of increasing intensity” (Milgram 318). The twist in this experiment is that the focus was not really on the “learner”, but all on the “teacher”. The “teacher” would be placed at a small desk with a “shock generator” (Milgram 318), that has voltage shocks going all the way to 450 volts. What the “teacher” doesn’t know is that the “learner” is actually an actor, who recieves no shock at all. Many people were tested in this experiment, and in fact it was performed in various countries, among men and women, and on different people with different occupations. The reactions of the subjects were very unexpected. About half of them went all the way to the most severe shock available. Most of the subjects would get nervous and start fidgeting when the learner would start screaming. Others would giggle and begin to laugh loudly. One man, Fred Prozi, was one of the most dramatic subjects tested. Prozi heard the man hollering in the small room and said that he refused “to take responsibility” (Milgram 320) and didn’t want to continue. What is interesting though, was that the experimenter told Prozi that he was not responsible, but that the experimenter and the rest of the scientists were responsible for the “learner” and what would happen to him. Prozi’s reaction to this was the reaction that almost every other subject had when they were told this, and that was that he said “all right” (Milgram 320) and continued with the experiment. When the experiment was finally over, the “learner” would come out from the back room and let the “teacher” know what was going on. None of subjects seemed angry or upset at the fact that they had been tricked. Some even appreciated this experiment because they learned something about themselves. Mr Braveman, one of the subjects tested, told researchers in a survey that “he had learned something of personal importance” (Milgram 323).

Although it’s recorded that one subject said that he learned a life lesson from Milgram’s controversial experiment, others are believed to have been scarred and had their self-image hurt. Diana Baumrind believed that the subject was “not always treated with the respect” and that the experimenters goals were to “manipulate, embarrass, and discomfort subjects” (330). There might have not been physical harm to the subjects but “permanent harm” (Baumrind 332). Milgram’s experiment was believed to “effect an alteration in the subject’s self-image”(Baumrind 332). Normal people would go into Milgram’s lab expecting to just take part in an experiment, but would in fact be traumatized for possibly the rest of their life. Not only was self-image jeopardized, but so was the subject’s trust in the experimenter. Because of this experiment, many of the adults that took part in this experiment are believed, by Baumrind, to have the inability to “trust adult authorities in the future” (332). When told the truth about the experiment, the subject was probably embarrassed and felt like a fool. Many of the subjects experienced severe distress after the experiment.

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