Ethical Issues

The Milgram obedience to authority study raised significant ethical issues. This study contributed to the development of ethical guidelines about the use of human participants in psychological studies. For many years psychologists were prevented by these guidelines from conducting this type of study. However, technology has changed and some psychologists are now interested in using virtual environments to design and conduct experiments investigating social behaviour.

The link below will take you to the report of an experiment published in Dec 2006 that used Milgram's procedure but replaced the learner with an avatar. As the introduction to the abstract states:

"Stanley Milgram's 1960s experimental findings that people would administer apparently lethal electric shocks to a stranger at the behest of an authority figure remain critical for understanding obedience. Yet, due to the ethical controversy that his experiments ignited, it is nowadays impossible to carry out direct experimental studies in this area. In the study reported in this paper, we have used a similar paradigm to the one used by Milgram within an immersive virtual environment."

The researchers conclude that on the basis of their findings:

"This result reopens the door to direct empirical studies of obedience and related extreme social situations, an area of research that is otherwise not open to experimental study for ethical reasons, through the employment of virtual environments".

This is one way that psychologists can deal with ethical issues raised by social psychological research.

Link to article on virtual replication of Milgram's Obedience Study

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