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Examine the controversy related to research and ethics in the field of social psychology. Consider the information you located on Milgram''s studies on obedience to authority and Zimbardo''s Stanford Prison experiment on the power of social roles. Include the following in your assessment: Describe what these studies revealed about conformity and obedience to authority. Explain the benefits from these research studies. What knowledge or insight was gained? Describe the impact of the studies in terms of the effects on the human participants.


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The aim of this assessment is to understand how controversial research methods affect human personality as a whole. In this context, Milgram's research on obedience to authority and Zimbardo's Stanford Prison research forms the base for this evaluative study. Another important controversial study of Humphrey's tearoom experiment is mentioned to understand how such controversial studies have helped to shape ethical principles in social psychology research methods in present times. Requisite arguments and recommendations are to evaluate this whole assessment from a neutral point of view.


What these studies revealed?

Milgram's Obedience to Authority

This experiment was conducted between 1963 and 1974 to understand how people obeyed their immediate authority even if it did not confirm to their personal conscience. Milgram tried to understand the obedience and conformity to authority by this overtly dangerous experiment (Bègue et al., 2015). Few of the results, which could be found from this study:

- If the authority is legal or morally correct, people tend to follow orders more. The experimenter had worn a grey lab coat, which was symbolic of authority.

- Most of the participants (teachers) administered electric shocks up to 450 volts when the learner answered wrong. This establishes the fact that people can go to any extent if they are ordered by any legal or higher authority to confirm to any order even if it means fatally affecting someone's life (Bègue et al., 2017).


Stanford Prison Experiment

Professor Philip Zimbardo studied a mock prison experiment where ‘guards' had to brutally torture the prisoners by stripping them naked and also beating them up. The aim was to know whether aggressive and dominating nature in American prisons and correctional homes were due to situational or personality-based condition. The results were frightening and far more serious than Milgram's experiment (Kulig, Pratt & Cullen, 2017). Although, Zimbardo had tried to understand the interaction between prisoners and guards in absence of an exclusive authority, he himself had been an active part of the experiment where he had started to act as prison warden instead of a researcher. Observations that could be found with respect to this experiment are as follows:

- After a rebellion broke out on the second day of the experiment, and subsequently suppressed, no prisoner tried to disobey the guards and some did not even want to get out of the prison situation. It was after that Professor Zimbardo urged a certain prisoner that he realized that this was just a mock setup and he was a normal person.


Knowledgeable insights that were gained due to this study:

The knowledgeable insights, which were gained, are as follows:

- US army used the Stanford experiment as a model to train their soldiers to bear stress and pressure under captive imprisonment (Kulig, Pratt & Cullen, 2017).

- Stanford experiment and Milgram experiment both gave insights into complexities of the human mind. It could thus be known that humans if given the chance to be in an authoritative position can misuse it effectively as it gave them a sort of pleasure to do so. Thus, the dark side of power and authority could be known (Bègue et al., 2017).

- People might not be good or evil to obey certain brutal orders. Always the external circumstances compel individuals to obey such destructive commands.


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Impact of the studies on human participants:

Milgram's Obedience to authority

The impacts were as follows:

- Most of the participants showed no signs of morality or kindness while administering heavy electric shocks to the learners as assigned by the experimenter.

- Obedience, is dependent upon the presence of a morally legal authority.

- The location of the experiment too depended upon the obedience levels. When the experiment was moved to small office places instead of the Yale University, the obedience levels shot down to 47.5 percent (Fenigstein, 2015).

- When the assigned participant asked someone else to give the shocks, over ninety percent touched up to 450 volts. This also showed that when sense of responsibility is shared or reduced then obedience increases (Fenigstein, 2015).

- The participants hardly disobeyed the experimenter, only a few refused to participate and that too because someone else had disobeyed. The participants were compelled to obey by certain statements like "you are required to do this, it is essential that you do this, and you have no other choice but to do this". They could have refused but only few of them refused (Russell, 2018).


Stanford Prison experiment:

- Guards tortured prisoners and some of the prisoners tried to please the guards by telling made-up stories about fellow inmates. In the second day of the experiment, prisoners protested against the inhuman treatment meted out to them but they were suppressed by guards (Bartels, Milovich & Moussier, 2016).

- Confined cells, no chance to communicate with each other, and speaking the whole day only about prison issues made it difficult for both the prisoners and guards to behave normally. It was see that ninety percent of the participants in this research showed dominating, tyrannical, submissive and helplessness traits, which was completely different from their real life attitudes (Haslam, Reicher, & McDermott, 2015).


How such controversial studies have helped shape ethical codes of conduct in the American Psychological Association?

In addition to these two controversial research studies, there were a few others, which caused much furor and angst amongst advocators of human and ethical rights. Worth mentioning are:

1. Conditioned experiment on Albert, an eleven-month-old baby resulted in the child having a phobia on everything white and soft. This experiment was considered unethical because the child was a minor and was not able to take decisions on his own (American Psychological Association, 2016).

2. Humphrey's sociological research studied people who were homosexual. Since homosexuality was illegal during those times, he encouraged people to have intimate time with each other in restrooms of parks where he noted their vehicle numbers, which is a direct invasion of their privacy as the respondents did not knew about this.
These controversial research studies shaped up most of the statements in the American Psychological Association (APA) codes of conduct, which are enumerated in clauses 8.05, 8.07 and 8.08, which speak about deceptive research studies undertaken in psychology. The questions, which are asked, are:

- Whether participants were subjected to stressful conditions during the period of the study.

- Whether proper counselling of the participants was done post, the research ended.

- Whether research could be done without keeping the participants uninformed about the actual purpose.
With respect to these three questions, the APA has ruled that any study or research has to be gone through an extensive review by any institution or ethical committee before it is published. The clauses mentioned beforehand have been enumerated as under (Young, 2017).


8.05 Consent

Consent is useful only:

- When the researcher can assume that, no harm or stress would be caused to the participant

- The research is conducted in an educational or academic location.

- When the research method does not put any participant to any legal or personal risk.

- Permitted by law and is ethical by all means


8.07 Deceptive methods

Deceptive methods can only be applied in a research only when:

- It has been established that use of deception is required for the research to be effective and any other method shall not be useful.

- Participants are not made to undergo stress, pain, or emotionally draining situations during the research.

- Researchers inform the participants that they were deceived to take part in a certain research. The revelation to be made at the conclusion of the experiment and before the data is finally collected so that participants can withdraw if they want.


8.08 Counselling or debriefing

A proper debriefing or counselling of the participants of the experiment or study ought to be carried out so that any negative effects are ruled out. The process is as follows (American Psychological Association, 2016):

- Misconceptions about the research need to be cleared before it could be implemented. Participants may ask about results and inferences gained during the research to the researcher.

- Researchers need to see that no human or scientific perils might happen by delaying or refusing to reveal any information regarding the research. Even if any harm might happen, risks are to be mitigated.

- If by any means, any harm has been caused to the participants during the period of this research then researchers have to undertake requisite steps to minimize or reduce harm caused.

Ethical codes of conduct to be followed by researchers during any psychological research are (Mechling, Gast, & Lane, 2018).

- No harm is to be inflicted upon any person, which pertains to physical torture and causes them any physical or mental pain or suffering during the period of the study.

- Dignity and integrity of the persons participating in the research should be maintained.

- There should be no bias or injustice towards participants and every person ought to get equal rights to fair treatment and justice

- Confidentiality, privacy, and rights of the participants ought to be respected. Information can be attained by adhering to federal laws and regulations that does not violate privacy of any individual (Young, 2017).


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Evidence-based arguments for and against:

The arguments in support of the controversial research are as follows:

- Power tends to make any person gain hold of any situation and therefore they can be a completely different person when they are at work and when they are with family.

- Human behaviour could be assessed and proper code of ethics was formulated post results from such unethical studies.

Arguments against:

- People were subjected to deception and were kept in the dark about their actual role in the experiment. Such a condition is against ethical codes of conduct in any research (American Psychological Association, 2016).

- In the prison experiment, participants were reportedly suffering from stress, anxiety, depression, and hysteria. Mock guards stripped and searched mock prisoners naked, which affected dignity and privacy of the inmates (Mechling, Gast, & Lane, 2018).


Was the risk worth taken in these research studies?

According to my opinion, here are a few recommendations and statements that establish the fact that the risk undertaken during these research studies was definitely not so worth:

- Few persons felt guilty in Milgram's experiment when they were enquired post the research. The experiment could have done by minimizing the simulated situations (Russell, 2018).

- Counselling and debriefing of participants should have been done periodically during the research experiment and not after study had ended.

- Researchers had to find if there was any other way by which this research studies could have been conducted without potentially harming any participant (Young, 2017).

- Instead of advertising and inviting participants by luring them monetary benefits, they ought to ask politely. Monetary benefit can compel anyone to participate without thinking of later consequences (Russell, 2018).



Therefore, it could be observed that controversial research studies although benefits psychological study is detrimental to human personality. In this assessment, Milgram's Obedience to authority and Zimbardo's Stanford prison experiment have been discussed with respect to knowledge gained, people's obedience to any authoritative entity, impact of the research on respondents, and ethical codes of conduct, which were, formulated post these researches were carried out. Evidence-based arguments and recommendations have been suggested to evaluate how such research studies might affect society as a whole.


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