• Nothing by mere authority: Evidence that in an experimental analogue of the Milgram paradigm participants are motivated not by orders but by appeals to science

      Haslam, S. Alexander; Reicher, Stephen D.; Birney, Megan E.; University of Queensland; University of St. Andrews; University of Exeter (Wiley-Blackwell, 2014-09-04)
      Milgram’s classic research in which people follow experimental instructions to continue administering shocks to another person is widely understood to demonstrate people’s natural inclination to obey the orders of those in authority. However, analysis of participants’ responses to prods that Milgram’s Experimenter employed to encourage them to continue indicates that the one that most resembled an order was the least successful. The present study examines the impact of prods more closely by manipulating them between-participants within an analogue paradigm in which participants are instructed to use negative adjectives to describe increasingly pleasant groups. Across all conditions, continuation and completion were positively predicted by the extent to which prods appealed to scientific goals but negatively predicted by the degree to which a prod constituted an order. These results provide no support for the traditional conformity account of Milgram’s findings, but are consistent with an engaged followership model which argues that participants’ willingness to continue with an objectionable task is predicated upon active identification with the scientific project and those leading it.
    • Participant Concerns for the Learner in a Virtual Reality Replication of the Milgram Obedience Study

      Gonzalez-Franco, Mar; Slater, Mel; Birney, Megan E.; Swapp, David; Haslam, S. Alexander; Reicher, Stephen D.; Microsoft Research; University College London; University of Barcelona; University of Chester at University Centre Shrewsbury; University of Queensland; University of St. Andrews (Public Library of Science, 2018-12-31)
      In Milgram’s seminal obedience studies, participants’ behaviour has traditionally been explained as a demonstration of people’s tendency to enter into an ‘agentic state’ when in the presence of an authority figure: they attend only to the demands of that authority and are insensitive to the plight of their victims. There have been many criticisms of this view, but most rely on either indirect or anecdotal evidence. In this study, participants (n = 40) are taken through a Virtual Reality simulation of the Milgram paradigm. Compared to control participants (n = 20) who are not taken through the simulation, those in the experimental conditions are found to attempt to help the Learner more by putting greater emphasis on the correct word over the incorrect words. We also manipulate the extent to which participants identify with the science of the study and show that high identifiers both give more help, are less stressed, and are more hesitant to press the shock button than low identifiers. We conclude that these findings constitute a refutation of the ‘agentic state’ approach to obedience. Instead, we discuss implications for the alternative approaches such as ‘engaged followership’ which suggests that obedience is a function of relative identification with the science and with the victim in the study. Finally, we discuss the value of Virtual Reality as a technique for investigating hard-to-study psychological phenomena.
    • Questioning authority: New perspectives on Milgram’s ‘obedience’ research and its implications for intergroup relations

      Haslam, S. Alexander; Reicher, Stephen D.; Birney, Megan E.; University of Queensland; University of St. Andrews; University of Chester (Elsevier, 2016-04-23)
      Traditionally, Milgram's 'obedience' studies have been used to propose that 'ordinary people' are capable of inflicting great harm on outgroup members because they are predisposed to follow orders. According to this account, people focus so much on being good followers that they become unaware of the consequences of their actions. Atrocity is thus seen to derive from inattention. However recent work in psychology, together with historical reassessments of Nazi perpetrators, questions this analysis. In particular, forensic re-examination of Milgram's own findings, allied to new psychological and historical research, supports an “engaged follower” analysis in which the behaviour of perpetrators is understood to derive from identification with, and commitment to, an ingroup cause that is believed to be noble and worthwhile.