Obedience: Situational Variables

– After Milgram conducted his first study on obedience, he carried out a large number of variations in order to consider the situational variables that might create greater or lesser obedience.


– In this variation the teacher and learner were in the same room and obedience dropped from 65% to 40%.

– When the teacher was made to force the learners hand onto an ‘electroshock plate’ the obedience rate dropped even further to 30%.


– When Milgram changed the location of the study to a run-down building rather than the prestigious university setting where it was originally conducted, obedience fell to 47.5%.


– When the role of the experimenter was taken over by an ordinary member of the public in everyday clothes rather than a lab-coat.

– The obedience dropped to 20%, the lowest of these variations.



Research Support

– Other studies have supported the findings of these variables.

– For example, a field experiment in 1974 had three confederates dress in three different uniforms- jacket and tie, milkman’s uniform and a security guard’s uniform.

– The confederates stood in the street, and asked passers-by to perform tasks such as picking up litter or giving the confederate a coin for the parking meter.

– People were twice as likely to obey the assistant dressed as a security guard than the one dressed in a jacket and tie.

– This supports Milgram’s conclusion that a uniform conveys the authority of its wearer and is a situational factor likely to produce obedience.  

Cross Cultural Replications

– A strength of Milgram’s research is that his findings have been replicated in other cultures.

– The findings of cross-cultural research have generally been supportive of Milgram.

– For example a study with Spanish males found a 90% obedience rate.

– This suggests that Milgram’s conclusions about obedience are not limited to American males, but are valid across cultures and apply to females to.


Lack of internal Validity

– It is even more likely that participants in Milgram’s variations realised that the procedure was faked because of the extra manipulation.

– This is a limitation of all Milgram’s studies because it is unclear whether the results are genuinely due to the operation of obedience or because the participants saw through the deception and acted accordingly.