Ethical Dilemmas

Ethics is an area in which there is a lot of potential for controversy and discontent within the populace. Ethics in research is an extremely important and debated topic. Stanley Milgram and his study“Obedience to Authority” pushed the boundaries of the ethical treatment of test subjects. Milgram set up an experiment in which he had “teachers” believe that they were delivering ever increasing electric shocks to “learners” as punishment for getting answers wrong. In the end the truth was revealed to these “teachers” that they weren’t actually delivering and shocks and that the real study was testing the response of individuals to commands of an authority figure. I believe that this experiment while not kind, was ethical in that it didn’t create any lasting harm on the subjects. At the end the truth of the study was revealed and they were allowed to see and speak to the man that they believed they had been shocking, putting any unease at rest.

Philip Zimbardo and “The Standford Prison Experiment” are another matter completely. While the experiment started out ethically by fully explaining the purpose and details of the experiment to each participating individual, by the end of the study it had devolved into a dangerous and damaging situation to those who had been made into “prisoners”. “ Like any researchers, sociologists must consider their ethical obligation to avoid harming subjects or groups while conducting their research.” (Openstax, Pg. 43) By not stopping the experiment as soon as the “guards” began to cause significant emotional, physical, and psychological harm to their “prisoners” Zimbardo failed to maintain the ethical stance of his experiment.

While I believe that the results of both experiments were enlightening and a little scary in regards to human nature, I don’t believe that Zimbardo’s results were worth the cost of the damage done to obtain them. Milgram’s study wouldn’t have caused any lasting damage to the participants, so I can justify the deceit for the purpose of uninfluenced results. Milgram’s work has been expanded upon recently, although the research was done in a less ethically ambigious way (source). This expansion shows just how important it is to understand the dynamic of obedience in relation to authority.

If I were a professional sociologist I think I would focus my research on the links between the way a child is raised and their behavior as they get older. I find it absolutely fascinating how much influence parents have on the way their children will interact with peers, authority figures, and the general population.