Naïve participants were tested individually. On arriving at the laboratory, each of them was greeted by a 33-year-old male Experimenter dressed in formal attire and displaying a rather authoritarian manner. When the second participant (actually the confederate) arrived, they were both told that the study was investigating the relationship between stress, resilience, and problem solving abilities. Specifically, the Experimenter said:
As you probably know, under some conditions stress can clearly impair the ability to solve some kinds of problems for the majority of people. However, in the domain of sports psychology, many athletes benefit from receiving harsh immediate feedback on their mistakes. Over time, the best ones learn to build up a sense of resilience to such stressors to the point that their performance gets better despite the hostile feedback they are receiving from a Coach. But no one has studied this relationship in a systematic way on ordinary people who are not professional athletes. Will immediate constructive feedback that is personal and critical lead to improved performance, or will it lead only to debilitating stress and impaired performance? Basically, that is what we are trying to find out with our research.
The participant and confederate were then told that they would work together on a series of interactive, problem-solving tasks. More specifically, they would be assigned the role of either a Performer, the one who is to solve a sequence of syllogisms, or a Coach, the one who is to assist in this task by giving personal feedback. An example of a syllogism was shown to clarify the nature of the task. A seemingly “random” drawing was held to assign roles: First the naïve participant then the confederate drew a card, but “Coach” was written on both pieces of paper so that this role always fell to the naïve participant. After that, Coach and Performer completed a standard informed consent document where it was explained that the situation could be somewhat stressful and that it was possible at any time to stop the experiment and withdraw from it. However, such non-cooperative behaviour, since it violates (alleged) new university regulations, would result in a demerit point on the academic record for both Coach and Performer. Our paradigm differed from earlier similar ones in so far as imposing this high exit cost for disobedient participants, a very burdensome penalty as indicated by the data collected in the pretest phase on 20 undergraduates. In reality, there was no demerit point: This cost was contrived only to render quitting the experiment more difficult, and thus more heroic.
The Syllogism Task Performer and Coach sat in front of each other, approximately 15 feet apart. On their desks were sheets containing 23 syllogisms—the first four were for practice, to ensure that everyone would carry out the role successfully. The Performer had to find the logical conclusion within one minute and communicate it aloud to the Coach.
Coach’s Role After the preliminary series of four syllogisms, the Experimenter approached the Coach and in a low voice explained what his role entailed. The Coach was first told he had to read aloud the premises of each syllogism and start the stopwatch placed on his desk. If the Performer’s answer was right, he would say “Correct, you succeeded,” and note the time. If the Performer’s answer was wrong, or in case of no answer, he would say “Wrong, you failed,” then read the solution, and finally give him the critical feedback. The Coach realized that he did not personally generate each negative feedback, but rather, that it was a standard criticism accompanying each of the syllogism trials. A subtle alliance was hence formed between Experimenter and Coach, supposedly at the expense of the “other participant.” In brief, unlike Milgram’s paradigm, where participants believed they were hurting the victim through indirect, mediated electric shocks, ours is more “personal” because Coaches know that they would directly hurt the Performer through what are thought to be their personal but often very hostile comments. In a way, if the Performer fails, the Coach fails as well in the real world, so that is one assumed justification for harsh criticisms.Critical feedback given to the Performer consisted of a graded series of negative comments on his performance and rude remarks about his lack of ability. For example, a mild criticism was “You are going bad…”, a moderately negative feedback was “You are really ridiculous!” and an extremely negative feedback was “You are really the most stupid person I have ever seen!” (See Appendix for a complete list). These 15 statements were pretested by asking 20 undergraduate students, comparable to those who later participated in the study, to assign each statement to one of ten categories, from “mild” to “extremely negative”.The Experimenter told the Coach to be as natural as possible in supplying feedback—as if it were coming from him personally—and to play his role to the best of his ability until the last trial. The Coach had to give the Experimenter verbal approval of his role and of the entire task before the experiment proceeded. Starting from syllogism number 10 of the 19 critical trials, for every error made by the Performer a two-minute break was enforced, “for allowing the Performer to understand his mistake and concentrate better before continuing”. This break, absent in both Milgram (1963) and Meeus and Raaijmakers’ (1986) paradigms, was actually introduced to increase the intensity of the situation so to give the Coach a deliberative interval of two full minutes to reconsider his actions and reflect upon their impact. In fact, the Coach was compelled to observe an innocent person crying and begging to get out from the room during that time. We assumed it would increase tendencies toward defiance, yet make continued obedience even more dramatically indifferent to the suffering of another human being.
Performer’s Role The Experimenter then approached the Performer, pretending to give him details on how to carry out his role. Unlike the explanation provided to the Coach, this one was neither private nor lengthy. The Performer (confederate) gave a prearranged series of answers so that in total he solved only 4 of the 19 syllogisms, mostly at the beginning (trials 1, 3, 6, and 7). His emotive reactions were also predetermined and their intensity increased as critical feedback turned more hostile. For example, at his seventh failure the Performer said he wanted to leave, trying at the same time to free himself by force from an apparatus attached to his arm. At his tenth failure, he began to sob a little and did not give any more answers. Starting with his twelfth failure, he began to cry with increasing intensity (see Appendix for a complete list of the Performer’s reactions). The Performer’s reactions and answers were secretly given to him on prepared instructions. In order to make the Performer’s emotional reactions appear credible (because they were rather exaggerated for a 25-year-old male student), he was previously instructed to behave as an anxious person. Upon his arrival at the laboratory, for example, he mentioned that he was going through a stressful period because of problems with his thesis. Also, later on, just before the practice series, he asked to change roles because “ . . . such tasks make me feel under pressure, I always turn out badly” (of course, his request was denied). Pilot tests and extensive practice sessions were conducted to standardize the Performer’s general attitude and emotive reactions to insure believability and consistency across all experimental sessions.
Interaction of Experimenter and Coach After the practice series, the Experimenter informed both Coach and Performer that they two had to stay together in the same room while he would move to an adjacent control room. Before leaving, the Experimenter provided them with headsets so that the Coach could at any time communicate with him, supposedly to ask procedural questions; in such instances the Performer would hear masking background music. It was emphasized that there would be no communication at all between Experimenter and Performer—by cutting off the Performer’s direct contact, the Coach was the only one who could tell the Experimenter to stop the study. Finally, Coach and Performer were forbidden to talk about anything but the syllogisms.
Pseudo-psychogalvanometer A false psychogalvanometer was placed on the Performer’s desk. It was explained that this instrument measures galvanic skin response (GSR), namely a change in the electrical properties of the skin evoked by stimuli judged to have affective significance. “In other words,” the Experimenter said, “the psychogalvanometer allows us to infer the Performer’s stress levels during this task.” Two electrodes for sampling his GSR were attached to the Performer’s hands, then his arms were strapped firmly to the chair arm rests because “excessive movements can alter the GSR measurement.” The procedure both increased the apparent validity of the cover story and made it obvious that the Performer could not easily quit the experiment without some external help by the Coach.
Experimenter Feedback to Coach The Experimenter, in the adjacent room, was prepared to react to the Coach’s anticipated complaints and requests to terminate the study. A standardized sequence of three probes was prearranged so that he could spur participants on to continue despite their distress. The first time the Experimenter was told that the Performer wanted to leave, he replied by saying, “Such a thing has never happened!” Immediately after, probe 1 was used. The probes were:
“Harsh feedback may encourage later resilience and better performance;”
“If you stop, all we have done so far will be wasted;”
“You have made a verbal contract to play your role fully.”
If probe 1 proved unsuccessful, probe 2 was used, and then the third one. If the Coach insisted on discontinuing after probe 3, the Experimenter, always in a firm tone, asked a last question “You are terminating this experimental session. Is that what you want? [If yes] Ok, I will come in now.” Then the experiment was terminated. If no, this three-part sequence restarted each time the Coach requested to discontinue his role.
Measures The basic data were the number of steps in the verbal feedback series that each Coach reached. Verbal dissent was audiotape recorded, as well as the interactions between Experimenter and Coach during the trials. The 30 sessions were also videotaped in order to evaluate the non-verbal reactions of all participants. Finally, immediately upon completing the post-experimental questionnaires (see below for details), all participants were interviewed in depth to explore what thoughts and emotions preceded their decision to disobey or (continue to) obey the authority figure.Following the experiment, participants completed a questionnaire relating to various aspects of the study that included eight questions for those who stopped and nine for those who obeyed fully. To assess stable individual differences, they also completed the Big Five Questionnaire (BFQ) (Caprara et al. 1993). The BFQ contains 132 items measuring the five fundamental dimensions of personality (Energy, Friendliness, Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability, and Openness), and the Social Desirability response set. Each of the main dimensions consists of two subscales. For each item, respondents indicate the extent to which they agree or disagree on a 5-point scale from 1 (very false for me) to 5 (very true for me). The BFQ was chosen because some of its dimensions measure the tendency to be compassionate towards people, others measure the tendency to show self-discipline and to do one’s duty in a planned manner.
Debriefing Special care was given to conduct an extensive process debriefing. Participants were first probed for suspicions, then were told the true nature of the study (none were aware of the purpose or hypothesis of the research). Much effort was devoted to ensure that they did not leave the laboratory harboring any negative feelings. To this end, participants were immediately informed about the good condition of the Performer, then, to dispel any doubt, they met him in person. Also, separate kinds of feedback were provided for those who obeyed (to allay their guilt) and for those who stopped the experiment (to emphasize the rightness of their action). Later on, mindful of the possibility that some beliefs formed in an experiment can survive debriefing (Ross et al. 1975), a follow-up call (a week later) and a general meeting (six months later) were made to be sure that participants were not harmed in any way by this experience. Indeed, there was no evidence of negative reactions both immediately after the study or subsequently.Another major point of the debriefing process concerned a thorough explanation of the rationale behind the need for deception. Participants seemed undisturbed when informed they had been videotaped (none were aware of it), and all signed the video-release consent form. Before being thanked and dismissed, participants were told: (a) not to discuss their experience with any other student who potentially might be recruited; (b) that there would be no demerit point for discontinuing the study, and (c) to contact the Experimenter if they had any questions or comments at any time.
Meeus & Raaijmakers 1985
AIMS: The aim of Meeus & Raaijmakers was to test obedience in a way which would do harm but in a moreup-to-date way - ie: more psychological than physical. They called it: “violence typical of our times”.1980s Dutch culture was much more liberal than early 1960s American culture; so the intention was to see if the power of obedience to a higher authority would still apply in a different cultural setting.METHOD:Baseline Procedure: There were 39 participants aged 18-55, both male and female and of at least Dutch highschool education. They were volunteers recruited through a newspaper advertisement and paid a small amount(the equivalent of $13). 24 of the volunteers were allocated to the experimental group while 15 were put in acontrol group.The experiment was in a modern university building and the male researcher, about 30 years old, was well-dressed and friendly but stern. The experiment lasted about 30 minutes.The participants were given the role of ‘interviewer’ and ordered to harass a ‘job applicant’ (actually aconfederate) to make him nervous while sitting a test to determine if he would get the job. The participantswere told that the experimenters were researching the relationship between psychological stress and testachievement, they were also told that the applicant did not know the real purpose of the study - they heard theapplicant being told that poor performance on the test would not affect their job prospects - and that the job being applied for was real. The applicant, listening via a speaker in a different room, had to answer 32multiple-choice questions read out in four sets by the interviewer.The harassing consisted of 15 negative statements - 5 each for the second, third and fourth questionsets. These appeared on a TV screen, telling the interviewer when to make the remarks and what to say. Thecomments built from mild criticism - “Your answer to question 9 was wrong” - to devastating utterances suchas “This job is too difficult for you. You are only suited to lower functions.” No errors were made in the firstquestion set but 10 were made over the next 3 sets - 8 being enough to ‘fail’ the test.The applicant had been instructed to begin confidently but to protest at the negative statements - eg: “Butsurely...” and “My answer wasn’t wrong, was it?” The applicant acted increasingly distressed until reachingthe point - at the eighth or ninth negative statement - where he begged the interviewer to stop. The applicantsthen accused the interviewer of lying to him about the study and withdrawing consent. The interviewers weretold to ignore the applicant’s interruptions and were given 4 verbal prods to continue the remarks if theyrefused to go on. The participants were told that electrodes on the applicant’s skull were measuring tensionwhich was displayed numerically on a sequence panel, running from 15 to 65. The experimenter, next to the participant, added verbal comments on the stress indicators displayed such as “normal” or “intense”.The graphic shows the stress level and errors were manipulated.Set of questionsStress remarkStress level0 of errorsSet 10n/a0Set 2