Milgram experiment on Obedience to Authority and Earl Babbie essay

The most well documented event, based on authority, took place in during the 1960’s, that hindered human inquiry, was that of the Milgram experiment. (Milgram,1963). The experiment was conducted on obedience to authority. This experiment went completely wrong and served as the front runner on what happens to the average person when obedience to authority is involved. The error in judgment, in the case of Milgram, was that of not stopping the experiment when it became clear it is getting out of control.

Babbie claims, “Authority can both assist and hinder human inquiry. We do well to trust the judgment of the person who has special training, expertise, and credentials in a given matter, especially in the face of controversy. ” (Babbie, 2006). It was the trust of the people involved in this experiment that proved research and data collection can go wrong. To summarize this experiment, Milgram, a professor at Yale, set up an experiment that involved a person, any person from the street, the read questions to another.

This other person was an actor. The person from the street was not given that information. When the actor answered a question wrong, the person from the street was told to administer an electric shock to the actor as punishment for getting the answer wrong. With each wrongly answered question, the voltage increased. The actor would then scream in pain and beg the person to stop. The results were astonishing.

The person, in a position of authority, maintained control of the person on the street no matter how much the actor screamed in pain and pretended to suffer. The research in this case, “Simply put, they provide us with a starting point for our own inquiry, but they can lead us to start at the wrong point and push us off in the wrong direction. ” (Babbie, 2006). Authority based research must follow new rules that inform the participants of all risks involved in the experiment they may or may not agree to.

This experiment changed how research, using live participants, is conducted. The use of the scientific method became the method in which data collection, based in authority is accomplished today. In this case, Babbie is correct in his claim that, for authority, the scientific method does guard against common errors. (Babbie, 2006).


Babbie, E. (2006). The practice of social research ed. 11. Florence, KY: Cengage Learning. Milgram, S. (1963). Obedience to authority (1960-1963). New York, N. Y. : Harpe