In 1961, Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment that was controversial in the eyes of many people. Personally, I do not believe it was unethical. The “teacher” was never actually shocking the “learner” so no one was ever being physically hurt. In order to discover how much a human being will listen to authority, even when someone is in pain or danger, it had to be tested in a controllable environment. In my opinion, Milgram’s experiment was the most humane way to test the level of empathy in a person under instruction.
On the other hand, Philip Zimbardo’s experiment in 1971 was more complicated. Rather than testing the subjects’ obedience alone, he tested both the sense of power and obedience. Zimbardo did not tell the subjects what to do or that it was “essential” to continue with the experiment. There were no set rules or limits put on the “guards” either. The “guards” went to very dark, very quickly causing the experiment to be discontinued. In my opinion, the experiment was not completely ethical. While it did test completely how power affects human and how their empathy affects it, the experiment should have had more constriction.
The results from both experiments were very significant to our current knowledge. While Zimbardo’s experiment seemed to be more extreme, especially due to the breakdowns of the “prisoners”, the findings were very important. In my opinion, the Milgram experiment was less intense for the test subjects. They could have stopped anytime they wanted to, while the subjects in the prison seemed they were forced and taunted continuously by the “guards”.
If I were a professional sociologist, I would be very interested in experimental research. It would be intriguing to test personal theories of the relationship between community and the people with it. Experimental research would give the satisfaction of hands-on studying.