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Overview of Two Studies on Obedience

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Various psychologists have researched why people might harm others. The reasons that individuals might harm others can be obtained both in the aspects of personality and in situational factors. This essay will outline the similarities and differences between Milgram’s and Bandura et al’s approach to why people might do harm others.

The introduction of digital media enables the use of the internet, allowing easy access to a variety of information from educational to interactive experiences. These developments allow the possibility of social interaction, that children and adults can engage in and which mimic real life. Serious concerns are raised over the dangers that participating in a digital world may bring. Being exposed to media violence, either on film or television is regularly cited as a possible factor causing violent behavior in the real world. (Oates, 2014, p.103).

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In 1961 Psychologist Bandura and his colleagues carried out a study known as the ‘Bobo doll’ experiment at Yale University (Oates, 2014, p.110). Bandura was aware of the public concerns that were developing about the effects of violence on television and how it was affecting children’s behavior. It was the first experimental study carried out on the media’s effect on behavior, and focused on investigating children’s reactions to exposure of aggressive behavior viewed in different formats, such as live video, and acted out by models in an actual room. He was interested in different forms of learning, specifically social learning, and predicted that in certain conditions children are likely to copy aggressive actions. His series of experiments involved looking at the effects that exposure to a model carrying out violent acts towards a doll had on children’s behavior.

Bandura’s study was of 96 children, with an equal number of boys and girls attendees of a nursery at Stanford University. The children were put in a room with toys and then observed an actor on-screen acting aggressively towards an inflatable doll. The goal was to see the degree of imitative aggressive behavior executed by another person (Oates, 2014, p.110). Children were divided into four groups: group one observed live-action towards the doll; group two watched a film; group three watched a model dressed as a cat behaving aggressively towards the doll; while group four did not observe any aggressive behavior at all.

This study found that not just deviant children displayed bad behavior or violent tendencies; the statistics showed that eighty percent of the other children did too. Differences were found regarding gender as although the boys and girls were both exposed to the same condition, it was discovered that the females showed fewer violent tendencies (Oates, 2014, p.117). Bandura et al (1961) concluded that girls behave differently to boys due to social pressure, and through the experiment, it was found that the girls didn’t act as aggressively. Their findings supported the main prediction of their study: that both live and filmed settings and exposure to violence would increase the number of aggressive acts subsequently displayed by children (Oates, 2014, p.117)

In 1963, Stanley Milgram researched at Stanford University that explored obedience to authority. The key question Milgram wanted to explore was what makes people do evil things to others. His work was inspired by a moral question that came up in mid 20th century: i.e how the atrocities of the Second World War could have occurred, what triggered the actions of the perpetrators of the holocaust, and how they could have been prevented. (Banyard, 2014, p.94-95). He wanted to look at the issue of authority and the degree to which a person would go along with authority, in particular a malicious one (The Open University, 2014). His experiment took 40 male participants who were put through identical experiments where one was ‘teacher’ and one ‘learner’, with the latter asked to answer questions while receiving increasing electric shocks with each incorrect answer. Using a controlled experiment allowed Milgram to explore different aspects of the situation, to see how it influenced the extent to which people will obey commands from an authoritative figure.

One of the main conclusions of the study was that under certain conditions involving authority figures people suspend their capacity to make informed moral judgments, deferring responsibility to those in authority. In this scenario, the nature of the task undertaken is irrelevant. The subject in the experiment continues to obey orders because he feels trapped within a situation from which he feels unable to escape.

Both Milgram and Bandura used controlled observational methods and both looked at why people harm others. In both cases, the participant’s behavior was recorded in a laboratory situation created by the researcher. Bandura’s experiment was carried out at Stanford University (Oates, 2014, p.109) while Milgram’s research was carried out at Yale University (Banyard, 2014, p.67). Both studies breach ethical guidelines as neither gained informed consent of the participants. Even though in Milgram’s study he stated that the experiment could be stopped at any point, the candidates were still encouraged to continue against their expressed wishes (Banyard, 2014, p.82-83). In today’s society, this would violate the strict ethical guidelines that are in place (Banyard,2014, p.83). About Bandura’s experiment, the children couldn’t ask to stop as they had little comprehension.

Milgram expressly used adult males only in his study, doing this to eliminate any potential for gender to affect the findings. He specifically asked the adults to continue with the experiment. This is a much greater example of obedience since research participants felt the pressure to continue the experience and obey what the researchers were asking. A key difference between the studies was that Bandura used children in his study( ). Bandura’s approach wasn’t really about obedience as the children weren’t listening to the adults; rather the adults performed a behavior and the children followed suit (Banyard, 2014, p.72) with variations in the levels of exposure to violence (p.112). There were some experimental conditions used in Bandura’s experiment: three of the groups were exposed to different scenarios, and one was without exposure under these controlled conditions. Whereas Bandura’s experiment involves modeling children (and actions) while Milgram’s experiment involves obedience with adults.

Only Bandura’s experiment had an independent variable: whether the child was male or female. This made the study both a lab experiment and a natural experiment. It has a matched paired design because each child was only in one condition but they were matched on their level of starting aggression. Milgram’s study didn’t have any variables as there are no different conditions within his experiment; he was a structured observation.

In conclusion, both studies occurred under controlled conditions. Although looking at the subject of why people may harm others, both had an array of similarities and differences.

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