Social experiments: participant well-being comes first

Have you ever taken part in any survey or experiment that left you feeling anxious or uncomfortable? Do you know what procedure must be followed to keep participants in well-being? Moreover, sociological experimental studies must fulfil specific regulations to be scientifically and morally credible. What will happen if the plausibility disappears?

This happened to participants of Milgram’s Obedience to Authority Experiment. One of the most outstanding experiments which failed to take care of participants’ comfort, was conducted in 1963 at Yale University. The Obedience to Authority Experiment was designed to examine individuals in terms of the prejudice to the authority figure. The experiment involved three roles: the experimenter (authority figure), the ‘teacher’ (individual who applied electric

Image: Wikimedia Commons

shocks) and the ‘learner’ (individual who received the electric shocks). However, only the ‘teacher’ role was made by an unaware volunteer. The ‘learner’ was played by an actor.

First of all, participants were told that the experiment would study the effect of punishment on learning. However, the purpose was to measure the obedience to authority based on the execution made by German officers on Jewish people. When participants came to Yale University they believed that their participation would help to discover more effective ways of learning. This immoral attitude from Milgram convinced participants that applying electric shocks to a ‘learner’ is socially accepted as the study is made on behalf of science. Although the ‘teachers’ felt excused during the experiment, the guiltiness came straight after it has been finished and created next moral dilemma.

The lack of explanation after the study led the ‘teachers’ to believe that they had applied real electric shocks to a human that might have caused harmful damages to the ‘learner’s’ body. Moreover, some participants lived through trauma for several years after the experiment. Others believed that they killed an innocent person.

Stanley Milgram showed one more immoral behaviour. The ‘teachers’ who felt that their obedience to authority surpass their sense of morality turned to Milgram to ask how he assessed their high obedience level. The experimenter guaranteed that their prejudice was understandable and completely normal. However, in the book Obedience to Authority, Milgram described participants’ behaviour as ‘shockingly immoral’.

Now comes the question, should we take for granted all statistics and theories based on the experimental study? Even scientific studies might have limitations which, in consequence, lead to incredible outcomes. Before taking part in any experimental study, make sure that your well-being is guaranteed.

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