1. The Milgram Experiment:
The Experiment – In 1961 while working at Yale University Stanly Milgram decided to test how far people would go just to follow orders. He put subjects in a room with an actor dressed as a doctor, they were then instructed to give a test to person in the next room. If the person failed the question they would give an increasing amount of electrical shocks. Eventually the subject would hear clear signs of pain from the person in the other room but were instructed by the doctor to keep going anyway. Milgram then jotted down how far the subject would go before they refused to keep going

The Results – In total 65% of the subjects gave the full 450 volt shock even though switch was marked danger XXX and they could clearly hear screams on the other side. Milgram concluded that if an authority figure is present and reassure a person that what they are doing is right most people will do what’s asked even if they know the action is actually wrong or dangerous.

What Went Wrong- Modern researchers question the ethics and merits of Milgram’s work. First Milgram only tested men so he didn’t know how women would react to a similar situation. He also didn’t do any screening to make sure the subjects wouldn’t suffer any trauma from the experiment. Screening is now a common and important part of running any ethical study. Also Milgram’s sample size was only 40 people much too low to get any real valuable data. Finally the actors pretending to be doctors often went off script and many claim that they went too far on pushing the subjects to continue who were unaware of what would actually happen if they had stopped. The audio tapes of the study are certainly alarming. In the end 84% of the sujects said they were glad to be a part of the study but still leaves 16% who were less than enthused. While there was probably was no lasting ill effects Milligrams experiment does illustrate the need for through experimental standards especially when conducting controversial work. ed how strong of a shock the subject would give before they refused to continue.

2. Stanford Prison Experiment:

The Experiment – Philip Zimbardo of Stanford University was interested in the relationship between prisoners and guards. In 1971 he placed 21 willing participants in a fake prison. Ten would act as prisoners and 11 as guards. The guards would work in 8 hour shifts and everything would be kept as close to an actual prison as possible. They even had a solitary confinement cell. Guards were given guards uniforms with Billy clubs and the prisoners were given uniforms complete with numbers that they would be called by though out the experiment. The prisoners even started the experiment by being arrested at home.

The Results – While the experiment was ended early Zimbardo concluded that if people were placed in positions of authority without any authority over them they would be prone to abuse that authority. He also surmised that dehumanizing prisoners quickly placed them into a prisoner’s mentality which could cause trauma and erratic. He was also astounded just how fast the subjects seriously took the roles of guard and prisoner.

What Went Wrong – Unlike the Milgram experiment Zimbardo did screen his subjects but just like the Milgram experiment 21 participants was much too little to confirm any actual hypothesis. The experiment even worse verged on abuse at some parts. The guards would regularly over punish the prisoners for minor infractions. The prisoners after trying to take over the prison in simulated riot were sprayed by a fire extinguisher and made to do several pushups while other prisoners held them down. Guards would often insult the prisoners calling them names and the prisoners themselves would throw insults and lie about each other. For one prisoner it was too much and after two days had to leave due to clear psychological distress including crying constantly and acting out of control. Another prisoner also began to break down and after 6 days the experiment was closed early because Zimbardo’s Girlfriend Christiana Maslach told him she found the experiment was becoming unethical.
Later psychologists all agree that the experiment went way too far. They observed that there didn’t appear to be any authority to keep the guards in check and to keep the experiment safe. They also found that 3 of guards even displayed signs of sadistic behavior. They also pointed out that the subjects didn’t agree to be arrested and that may have played a part in the effects. Since Zimbardo had himself acting as a warden of the prison he couldn’t be an unbiased observer of the experiment a fact that might have explained why the experiment got out of hand so quickly. The study is now lauded for its lack of safety and ethics.

3. The Monster Study:

The Experiment – Wendell Johnson and Mary Tudor with the University of Iowa wanted to know what caused kids to stutter. They suspected that it was in fact a learned response to parental behavior. In 1938 they tested their idea on children in a nearby orphanage. They took 10 stuttering students and divided them into two groups one was told their speaking was actually fine and the other was told they had a sever stutter. A third group were children who didn’t stutter who were told they actually had a stutter and the last group were children who spoke fine and were told they in fact spoke fine? They gave positive reinforcement to the groups who were told their stuttering was not an issue and negative reinforcement to the ones who were told their stuttering was a problem.

The results – They found that the groups given reassurance about their speech improved. They also found that the kid’s labeled stutters got way worse and even those who didn’t have a stutter at first quickly developed a severe one. Many of the kids developed lifelong stutters and a fear of speaking.

What Went Wrong – The issue was that stuttering wasn’t understood at all at the time and there weren’t any effective treatments for it. They tried to help by later telling all the kids they didn’t actually stutter but the damage was already done. The experimenters assumed they would be able to develop some sort of treatment from the results of the experiment but that never came. Later an investigative new story lead to a lawsuit where the children made to stutter were awarded 925,000 dollars in total for their pain and suffering. They in all actuality succeeded in proving their hypothesis but the results severely handicapped a group of children who already had hard enough life. The research was never actually published.

While these experiments give us interesting hints into how the power of authority affects the brain these experiments prove we have to be careful with we how do science. Now most research organizations have strict experimental standards but it took a lot of work and a lot poor experiments to make that change. . It’s easy to get so caught up in the results that we can forget the subjects are real humans and more than numbers on a spread sheet.