Dr. Milgram’s Experiment


Following atrocities of Second World War, Stanley Milgram designed social psychological experiment that seeks to explain how authorities’ commands influence subjects. Psychological and social studies of the Second World War revealed that armies and ordinary people committed atrocities by following the commands from authority.

Although the atrocities were against their conscience and morality, perpetrators committed them for the sake of the authority.

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Milgram’s experiment illustrates that orders from the authority have overwhelming influence on conscience and morality of its subjects, thus can make people act against their wishes and beliefs.

Maslow’s theory of needs shows the levels of human satisfaction, which affects their motivation in life. In this case, the naive subjects had different levels of needs that determined their motivations during the course of the experiment.

Description of Milgram Experiment

Milgram experiment is a social and psychological experiment designed to study the influence of authority commands on conscience of subjects. In the experiment, Milgram used three classes of participants viz. the experimenter, confederate and the naive subject.

Experimenter was the participant who was giving orders to the naive subjects to follow the requirements of the experiment. The confederate was an actor in the experiment who knew everything in the experiment but acted as a learner.

The naive subject was the participant in the experiment who played role of a teacher and did not know anything about the experiment. The experimenter separated teachers and learners, and instructed the teachers to administer increasing electric shocks to the learners who answered series of questions wrongly.

Since the learners answered some questions wrongly and the experimenter instructed the teachers to administered higher electric shocks against their conscience, the teachers begun to feel guilty. During the experiment, some teachers obeyed and blamed the learners for not answering questions correctly, some rebelled further instructions, while others blamed themselves for inflicting pain to the learners.

Description of Maslow’s Hierarchy

According to Abraham Maslow, human needs have hierarchy in their satisfaction. Maslow’ theory postulates that basic human needs require satisfaction in hierarchical manner in that lower needs need satisfaction before highest needs.

The lowest human needs in the hierarchy are physiological needs, which include water, food, oxygen and sleep amongst other needs that are essential for survival of humanity. Safety needs are the second in the hierarchy and they include physical security, job security, and social security that one needs in the society to feel protected from possible harm.

The third in the hierarchy is the need to belong. After people have satisfied physiological and safety needs, they begin to satisfy the need to belong and feel loved. In this category of needs, one wants to associate with people of certain religious group, political parties or even social and economic classes.

The need to belong also compels people to marry so that they can experience love and belong to certain families. Self-esteem and self-actualization are the fourth and fifth human needs in the hierarchy that motivate people to gain recognition and achieve full potential of their capacity respectively.


In the Milgram’s experiment, there were naive subjects who discontinued the experiment and those who continued with the experiment. The analysis of naive subjects in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs shows that they fit into different hierarchies.

The naive subjects who withdrew from the experiment despite the commands from the experimenter fit in the hierarchy of self-actualization because their conscience did not allow them to continue.

People at the level of self-actualization strive to achieve full potential of their capacities and do not allow external influences to affect their achievements.

In this case, the naive subjects realized that the experiment was against their conscience and were able to make rational decision despite the influence from the experimenter. In contrast, other naive subjects were unable to follow their conscience but rather the commands from the experimenter.

These subjects strived to attain the need of self-esteem for they wanted to appear competent in the experiment and gain recognition of the experimenter. Since these subjects were naive concerning the experiment, they explicitly follow instructions to satisfy the experimenter and bring about good results.

Analysis of naive subjects regarding educational system shows that they had different experiences during their childhood. The native subjects who discontinued with the experiment did not undergo punishment during their learning and thus believed that punishment was inappropriate to enhance learning in schools.

On the other hand, naive subjects who continued with the experiment had experience of punishment and therefore believed that punishment would encourage learning in schools.

The naive subjects seem to have different cultural and family values as portrayed in the experiment. The naive subjects who discontinued with the experiment had cultural and family values that did not support punishment as a way of learning.

The cultural and family values influenced their conscience and thus declined to continue with the experiment. For those naive subjects who continued with the experiment, their cultural and family values seem to encourage the use of severe punishment. Therefore, they perceived that it was right to inflict pain on the learners so that they could learn properly.


Milgram’s experiment demonstrates how the commands from the authorities influence the actions of its subjects. The actions of the subjects depend on the level of hierarchy of needs that they require according to the Maslow’s theory.

The experiment has demonstrated that the lower the needs that require satisfaction, the higher the influence of orders on an individual. The study further showed that educational systems, cultural values and family values determine one’s morality and conscience when faced with the dilemma of obedience.


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