Analyzing The Ethics of Two Early Social Experiments

After finishing my readings for this week, I found both the Milgram and Zimbardo experiments to be quite disturbing. As I analyzed the 1963 Stanley Milgram experiment, I formed the opinion that it was not an ethical experiment on a couple levels. For instance, I am slightly confused as to why the ‘teachers’ would continue to administer shocks to the ‘learner’. The experiment aimed to test how obedient people would be to authority(www.simplypsychology.org/milgram). In theory, wouldn’t the ‘teacher’ seek obedience from the ‘learner’? The experiment demonstrated that this was the other way around and it doesn’t make sense to me. Those individuals who were under the impression that they were the ‘teachers’ were not acting ethically as they were aware of the danger of the experiment and were okay with inflicting pain on another human being, student or not. Does that mean that the ‘teachers’ were beginning to feel stressed out as the ‘learner’ continued to prod, so they gave in with the hope that the ‘learner’ would stop pressuring them? Further, Stanley Milgram had his own confederates set up in a dangerous situation just for the sake of an experiment and that is not ethical in my opinion.

The Zimbardo Experiment conducted in 1971 was also not ethical in my opinion for several reasons. According to an article I read as I was researching this experiment, Philip Zimbardo set up scenarios that never actually occur in real life prisons (www.psychologistworld.com). How is that experiment ethical if it is not an accurate portrayal of real prisons? The participants could not use his or her name, couldn’t wear underwear and were prohibited from looking out windows, so it was essientally an exaggerated trap set up by Zimbardo. The guards were given sunglasses and batons in order to dehumanize them but are guards dehumanized to that extent in real life?(www.psychologistworld.com).

In conclusion, both of these experiments in general were not worth the physical and psychological damage to the participants from my own perspective. On an individual basis, it could go either way. The ‘teachers’ knew what they were getting themselves into so in that case, one would assume that they outweighed the risk of the experiment and found it worth the risk. Milgram’s confederates were put at risk of a potential fatal shock but perhaps they were the minions to authority that Stanley Milgram was talking about. The Zimbardo experiment escalated so quickly that it was shut down after two days, so it may have been worth it to the participants at first thought but not after the experiment began. Plus, these participants were blindsided with unrealistic scenarios to begin with.

If I were a professional sociologist, I would want to study the thought processes and voluntary lifestyle choices of certain religious sects; specifically Amish and Mennonite groups. They live in a modern world, yet choose to carry out two or three hundred year old practices. Why do people choose to leave the Amish community? It is very intriguing to me as I am friends with a former Amish family.