A researcher from the US has found a way of performing an 'ethical' version of Milgram's 'classic' study on obedience. Briefly, in the original study participants were instructed to give a learning test to another participant via an intercom (this other participant - the 'learner' - was a fake; a part of the study), giving increasingly painful electric shocks when the learner made wrong answers. The fake learner would go on to make many mistakes, so the voltage that the participant thought they were giving would reach 150 volts. At this point the 'learner' would be heard shouting through the wall, telling the participant that they 'wanted out.' At all times the experimenter (in his white lab coat) would give the participant encouragement to go on with the procedure, and keep on shockin'. In the original study, this would go on until participants were giving out 450v shocks (by which time the learner was curiously quiet).
Milgram carried out the study to investigate capacities for human obedience, partly (I think) to try and gain some understanding of the actions of soldiers acting 'under orders' during the holocaust, among other things. The controversy with the study is that participants, for a time, believe that they may have knowingly incapacitated (possibly killed) someone via electric shock. This, apparently, is where the problem lies: Jerry Burger has managed to get ethical approval to replicate the study by cutting off the experiment at the 150v point. Apparently, if a participant goes beyond that 'crucial point,' where the learner is banging on the wall asking to stop, they are very likely to go on to administer the 450v shock (93% did in fact).
Burger's 2006 study found only very slightly lower obedience rates than Milgram's 60's studies.
One: have the ethics approval board got this one wrong? I still think that it would be pretty psychologically damaging to know that I'd have gone past that 150v point. Thinking you've hurt someone is terrible; but so is knowing that you've got a 'willingly obedient' personality. That's always been the key problem of the original study for me, not the deception part.
Two: people of today generally think that we're much less willing to blindly follow authority figures than we were in the 1960s (in a recent self-report study by Blass). Would you agree with this?
Burger's page, where you can find a full account: