Psychology Dictionary of Arguments

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Haslam I 117
Obedience/Milgram: “The subjects have come to the laboratory to form a relationship with the experimenter, a specifically submissive relationship in the interest of advancing science. They have not come to form a relationship with the subject, and it is this lack of relationship in the one direction and the real relationship in the other that produces the results…. Only a genuine relationship between the Victim and the Subject, based on identification, or marriage, etc. could reverse the results.” (Milgram, Box 46, Yale archive; cited in Haslam, Reicher, Millard and MacDonald, 2015(1): 60) (>Experiment/Milgram).
Factors that pull them towards the one or the other:
a) the importance and prestige of the research
b) the status and prestige of the researcher.
Obedience: (…) obedience does not just rely on who the experimenter is, but on the relationship between the participant and the experimenter. Thus, Milgram uses the notion of ‘incipient group formation’ as an important element in explaining the effects of proximity on obedience (Milgram, 1965(2): 64). In the remote and voice-feedback variants, experimenter and teacher are alone together in the same room and this helps them bond.
Relationship between the participant and the fellow actor-teachers: ‘there is identification with the disobedient confederates and the possibility of falling back on them for social support when defying the experimenter.’ (Milgram 1965 b(2): p. 133).
Obligation/terminology/Milgram: Milgram refers to this state of immersion in one’s role as the ‘agentic state’, and the shift from acting in terms of one’s own purposes to acting as an agent for someone else’s is termed the ‘agentic shift’ (Milgram 1974(3): 132–4).
VsMilgram: Even Milgram’s most ardent admirers are highly sceptical about the ‘agentic state’ explanation (e.g., Blass, 2004(4)). If nothing else, this is because there is no evidence that the different levels of obedience witnessed across the study variants relate to differences in the extent to which participants enter into this state (Mantell and Panzarella, 1976)(5).
1. VsMilgram: the agentic state is conceptualized mechanically as an all-or-nothing affair: one is either completely in or completely out of it.
2. VsMilgram: [the focus on] one of the several relationships in the study – that between participant and experimenter [makes him lose] sight of the fact that a key feature of the studies concerns the way in which participants are torn between different relationships and different obligations. It therefore fails to address the ways in which the balance of relationships varies between the different studies


1 Reicher, S.D., Haslam, S.A. and Miller, A.G. (2014) ‘What makes a person a perpetrator? The intellectual, moral, and methodological arguments for revisiting Milgram’s research on the influence of authority’, Journal of Social Issues, 70: 393–408.
2. Milgram, S. (1965b) ‘Some conditions of obedience and disobedience to authority’, Human Relations, 18: 57–76.
3. Milgram, S. (1974) Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View. New York, NY: Harper & Row.
4. Blass, T. (2004) The Man who Shocked the World: The Life and Legacy of Stanley Milgram. New York: Basic Books.
5. Mantell, D.M. and Panzarella, R. (1976) ‘Obedience and responsibility’, British Journal of
Social and Clinical Psychology, 15: 239—45.


Stephen Reicher and S. Alexander Haslam, „Obedience. Revisiting Milgram’s shock experiments”, in: Joanne R. Smith and S. Alexander Haslam (eds.) 2017. Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies. London: Sage Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Milgram, Stanley
Haslam I
S. Alexander Haslam
Joanne R. Smith
Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2017


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