Publications

Haslam, S. A., Reicher, S. D., & Millard, K. (2015).
Shock treatment: Using Immersive Digital Realism to restage and re-examine Milgram’s ‘Obedience to Authority’ research. PLoS ONE, 10(3): e109015.
    doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0109015

  •      Abstract: Attempts to revisit Milgram’s ‘Obedience to Authority’ (OtA) paradigm present serious ethical challenges. In recent years new paradigms have been developed to circumvent these challenges but none involve using Milgram’s own procedures and asking naïve participants to deliver the maximum level of shock. This was achieved in the present research by using Immersive Digital Realism (IDR) to revisit the OtA paradigm. IDR is a dramatic method that involves a director collaborating with professional actors to develop characters, the strategic withholding of contextual information, and immersion in a real-world environment. 14 actors took part in an IDR study in which they were assigned to conditions that restaged Milgrams’s New Baseline (‘Coronary’) condition and four other variants. Post-experimental interviews also assessed participants’ identification with Experimenter and Learner. Participants’ behaviour closely resembled that observed in Milgram’s original research. In particular, this was evidenced by (a) all being willing to administer shocks greater than 150 volts, (b) near-universal refusal to continue after being told by the Experimenter that “you have no other choice, you must continue” (Milgram’s fourth prod and the one most resembling an order), and (c) a strong correlation between the maximum level of shock that participants administered and the mean maximum shock delivered in the corresponding variant in Milgram’s own research. Consistent with an engaged follower account, relative identification with the Experimenter (vs. the Learner) was also a good predictor of the maximum shock that participants administered.

Haslam, S. A., Reicher, S. D., Millard, K., & McDonald, R. (2014).
“Happy to have been of service”: The Yale archive as a window into the engaged followership of participants in Milgram’s ‘obedience’ experiments. British Journal of Social Psychology, 54, 55-83.
    doi:10.1111/bjso.12074

  • Abstract: This study examines the reactions of participants in Milgram's ‘Obedience to Authority’ studies to reorient both theoretical and ethical debate. Previous discussion of these reactions has focused on whether or not participants were distressed. We provide evidence that the most salient feature of participants’ responses – and the feature most needing explanation – is not their lack of distress but their happiness at having participated. Drawing on material in Box 44 of Yale's Milgram archive we argue that this was a product of the experimenter's ability to convince participants that they were contributing to a progressive enterprise. Such evidence accords with an engaged followership model in which (1) willingness to perform unpleasant tasks is contingent upon identification with collective goals and (2) leaders cultivate identification with those goals by making them seem virtuous rather than vicious and thereby ameliorating the stress that achieving them entails. This analysis is inconsistent with Milgram's own agentic state model. Moreover, it suggests that the major ethical problem with his studies lies less in the stress that they generated for participants than in the ideologies that were promoted to ameliorate stress and justify harming others.

Haslam, S. A., Reicher, S. D., & Birney, M. (2014).
Nothing by mere authority: Evidence that in an experimental analogue of the Milgram paradigm participants are motivated not by orders but by appeals to science. Journal of Social Issues, 70, 473-488.
    doi:10.1111/josi.12072

  •  Abstract: Milgram’s classic studies are widely understood to demonstrate people’s natural inclination to obey the orders of those in authority. However, of the prods that Milgram’s Experimenter employed to encourage participants to continue the one most resembling an order was least successful. This study examines the impact of prods more closely by manipulating them between-participants within an analogue paradigm in which participants are instructed to use negative adjectives to describe increasingly pleasant groups. Across all conditions, continuation and completion were positively predicted by the extent to which prods appealed to scientific goals but negatively predicted by the degree to which a prod constituted an order. These results provide no support for the traditional obedience account of Milgram’s findings but are consistent with an engaged followership model which argues that participants’ willingness to continue with an objectionable task is predicated upon active identification with the scientific project and those leading it.

Reicher, S. D., Haslam, S. A., &, Miller, A. G. (2014).
What makes a person a perpetrator? The intellectual, moral, and methodological arguments for revisiting Milgram’s research on the influence of authority. Journal of Social Issues, 70, 393-408.
    doi:10.1111/josi.12067

  • Abstract: In this article, we outline the rationale for reexamining Milgram’s explanation of how ordinary people can become perpetrators of atrocity. We argue, first, that any consideration of these issues cannot ignore the impact of Milgram’s ideas in psychology, in other disciplines such as history, and in society at large. Second, we outline recent research in both psychology and history which challenges Milgram’s perspective—specifically his “agentic state” account. Third, we identify the moral dangers as well as the analytic weaknesses of his work. Fourth, we point to recent methodological developments that make it ethically possible to revisit Milgram’s studies. Combining all four elements we argue that there is a compelling and timely case for reexamining Milgram’s legacy and developing our understanding of perpetrator behavior. We then outline how the various articles in this special issue contribute to such a project.

Haslam, S. A., Reicher, S. D., Millard, K., & Birney, M. (2014).
Just obeying orders? New Scientist, No. 2986 (September 13), 28-31.

  • Introduction: If you only know about one research programme in psychology, chances are it is Stanley Milgram’s “shock experiments”. Conducted in the early 1960s at Yale University, the participants were asked by an “Experimenter” to take on the role of “Teacher” and administer an escalating series of electric shocks to a “Learner” in the next room when he chose the wrong answers in a memory test. This was supposedly part of a study into the
    effect of punishment on learning. The participants didn’t know that the shocks, and the cries they elicited from the Learner, weren’t genuine. Nevertheless, many acceded to the Experimenter’s requests and proved willing to deliver shocks labelled 450 volts to the powerless Learner (who was in fact a stooge employed by Milgram to play this role).The power of these studies was that they appeared to provide startling evidence of our capacity for blind obedience – evidence that inhumanity springs not necessarily from deep-seated hatred or pathology, but rather from a much more mundane inclination to obey the orders of those in authority, however unreasonable or brutal these may be. This was the substance of the “agentic state theory” that Milgram developed to explain his findings in his 1974 book Obedience to Authority. Importantly, it is an analysis that chimes with political theorist Hannah Arendt’s notion of the “banality of evil”, which she famously developed after observing the trial of the Nazi bureaucrat Adolf Eichmann. Milgram’s studies are influential to this day, but are also some of the most unethical ever conducted in psychology. They could never be carried out in a similar form today due to the extreme stress suffered by the participants. Ironically, these ethical problems have served only to consolidate the influence of Milgram’s agentic state explanation. The impossibility of replication has made it hard for an alternative account to gain traction. Nevertheless an alternative account is needed. Not only have recent historical studies led researchers to question Arendt’s claims that Eichmann and his ilk simply went along thoughtlessly with the orders of their superiors, but reanalysis of Milgram’s work has also led social psychologists to cast serious doubt on the claim we are somehow programmed to obey authority.

Reicher, S. D., Haslam, S. A., & Smith, J. R. (2012).
Working toward the experimenter: Reconceptualizing obedience within the Milgram paradigm as identification-based followership. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7, 315-324.
    doi: 10.1177/1745691612448482

  •  Abstract: The behavior of participants within Milgram’s obedience paradigm is commonly understood to arise from the propensity to cede responsibility to those in authority and hence to obey them. This parallels a belief that brutality in general arises from passive conformity to roles. However, recent historical and social psychological research suggests that agents of tyranny actively identify with their leaders and are motivated to display creative followership in working toward goals that they believe those leaders wish to see fulfilled. Such analysis provides the basis for reinterpreting the behavior of Milgram’s participants. It is supported by a range of material, including evidence that the willingness of participants to administer 450-volt shocks within the Milgram paradigm changes dramatically, but predictably, as a function of experimental variations that condition participants’ identification with either the experimenter and the scientific community that he represents or the learner and the general community that he represents. This reinterpretation also encourages us to see Milgram’s studies not as demonstrations of conformity or obedience, but as explorations of the power of social identity-based leadership to induce active and committed followership.

Haslam, S. A., & Reicher, S. D. (2012).
Contesting the ‘nature’ of conformity: What Milgram and Zimbardo’s studies really show. PLoS Biology, 10(11), e1001426.
    doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001426

  •  Abstract: Understanding of the psychology of tyranny is dominated by classic studies from the 1960s and 1970s: Milgram’s research on obedience to authority and Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment. Supporting popular notions of the banality of evil, this research has been taken to show that people conform passively and unthinkingly to both the instructions and the roles that authorities provide, however malevolent these may be. Recently, though, this consensus has been challenged by empirical work informed by social identity theorizing. This suggests that individuals’ willingness to follow authorities is conditional on identification with the authority in question and an associated belief that the authority is right.

Reicher, S. D., & Haslam, S. A. (2011).
After shock? Towards a social identity explanation of the Milgram ‘obedience’ studies. British Journal of Social Psychology, 50, 163-169.
    doi: 10.1111/j.2044-8309.2010.02015.x

  • Abstract: Russell's forensic archival investigations reveal the great lengths that Milgram went to in order to construct an experiment that would ‘shock the world’. However, in achieving this goal it is also apparent that the drama of the ‘basic’ obedience paradigm draws attention away both from variation in obedience and from the task of explaining that variation. Building on points that Russell and others have made concerning the competing ‘pulls’ that are at play in the Milgram paradigm, this paper outlines the potential for a social identity perspective on obedience to provide such an explanation.
A 2015 PLoS ONE paper uses a dramatic new method to restage the Milgram paradigm and test an 'engaged followership' account of its findings

A 2015 PLoS ONE paper uses a dramatic new method to restage the Milgram paradigm and test an 'engaged followership' account of its findings

A 2014 paper in the British Journal of Social Psychology analyzes the responses of Milgram's participants to reveal evidence of their engaged followership

A 2014 paper in the British Journal of Social Psychology analyzes the responses of Milgram's participants to reveal evidence of their engaged followership

A 2014 paper in the Journal of Social Issues shows that people do not blindly follow orders

A 2014 paper in the Journal of Social Issues shows that people do not blindly follow orders

A 2012 paper in Perspectives on Psychological Science showed that obedience in Milgram's studies is predicted by participants' identification with the Experimenter (rather than the Learner)

A 2012 paper in Perspectives on Psychological Science showed that obedience in Milgram's studies is predicted by participants' identification with the Experimenter (rather than the Learner)

A 2012 paper in PLoS Biology argues that obedience results from engaged followership not 'blind' conformity

A 2012 paper in PLoS Biology argues that obedience results from engaged followership not 'blind' conformity