Ethics in the Name of Science: A detailed Comparison Between Milgram and Zimbardo’s Internationally Renowned Attempts at Ethics in Social Science Experiments
SO220 Ethical Issues in Social Science
2 October 2011
For years many experiments have been scrutinized for their ineffective use or lack of establishment of ethical principles within their research. Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment and Milgram’s Obedience experiment were ridiculed for the lack of ethics involved. Although these experiments caused unnecessary harm to their subjects they also acted as the foundation for the establishment of the Belmont Report, ...view middle of the document...
” Although the definition relates itself to a cultural tradition we must take into account that this report was written 8 years after the Stanford prison Experiment.
In 1973, the American Psychological Association (APA) conducted an investigation into the allegations of unethical treatment during the Stanford experiment. The investigation concluded that the study resided within the ethical standards at that time. It wasn’t until years later, and after much ridicule, that the Stanford experiment was deemed unethical on many levels. The same can be said for the work of Stanley Milgram throughout the 60’s. Colleagues viewed his experiments as groundbreaking in 1962 but many years later his work was used as one of the founding cornerstones of the Belmont Report.
In review of the Belmont Report as it relates to ethics, these two experiments fell terrible short. Non-maleficence by itself is just a word but when applied to social science it becomes a strong catalyst for ethical treatment when participating in social research. Both Milgram and Zimbardo, however unintentional, missed the mark when it came to this powerful word. Milgram polled 40 of his fellow colleagues about their predictions concerning his upcoming experiment regarding obedience. 40 recognized psychiatrists estimated that most would not go beyond 150 volts and that fewer than 4% of the participants would still be obedient at 300 volts. They further predicted that only 0.1% would continue administering shocks up to 450 volts. It is a safe assumption by many that Milgram pressed forward based upon these predictions. In actuality over 65% obeyed authority and administered the maximum voltage even after they protested that is was wrong to do so. Imagine the morality struggle that stormed within each of the subjects as they were taunted and manipulated into falsely causing harm to an innocent individual.
The protection of the innocent that is implied by the word beneficence was severely overlooked in the Stanford experiment as well. Zimbardo was quoted as saying, “I was interested in prisoners and was not really interested in the guards. It was really meant to be a single, dramatic demonstration of the power of the situation on human behavior. We expected that we would write some articles about it and move on.” Based on that last sentence it is safe to say very little effort was used to establish strategies and guidelines to ensure the emotional as well as the physical safety of the test subjects. In all fairness screenings were accomplished to weed out violent offenders, habitual drug users, and mentally unstable individuals before the study began. The Stanford experiment was far more damaging than the temporary emotional scarring created by the Milgram experiment. The Stanford experiment was intended to last two weeks but only lasted 6 days due to the severe physical and emotional distress displayed by the inmates as well as the ever-increasing levels of aggression...