During the late 1960s and early 1970s, many social psychologists appeared to have lost not only their enthusiasm but also their sense of direction and their faith in the discipline’s future. Whether they were experiencing an identity crisis, a paradigmatic crisis, or a crisis of confidence, most seemed to be agreed that a crisis was at hand. This paper, widely cited and discussed at the time, analyzed the sources of the crisis and proposed some remedies.
Archive for the 'C) Social Psychology' Category
The howling monkeys of Barro Colorado Island are especially attractive to social psychologists because their natural social life is protected from the destruction that hunters have delivered to their mainland brothers and sisters. Since being made wards of the Smithsonian Institution early in the 20th Century, the BCI howlers have been protected from the whims of fortune and the attacks of human Panamanians. This chapter is partly a report of my observations of howlers in the summer of 1959, when I was part of a field research expedition headed by Professor C. Ray Carpenter of Penn State University, and partly a broad review of the research literature on the social life of howlers and other nonhuman primates up to the early 1970s.
Forty adult males, half having obeyed and half having defied authoritative commands to give high-voltage shocks to a fellow volunteer in a realistic experimental situation, were administered personality tests and questionnaires several months later. Obedient and defiant Ss showed little differentiation on the MMPI, but differed significantly on the California F Scale (p<.003). Significant attitudinal differences were displayed toward own father, experimenter, experimental confederate, sponsoring university, willingness to shoot at men in wartime, and other concepts, in patterns somewhat similar to “authoritarian personalities.” Experimental validation of personality differences previously reported in association with measures of authoritarianism was thus tentatively demonstrated. Exceptions to authoritarian patterns were noted.
What are the boundary conditions under which deception can be considered ethically justifiable in social scientific research? I will state the major conditions in a single sentence, and then expound upon each term: Deception is justifiable in social scientific research when (1) there is no other feasible way to obtain the desired information, (2) the likely benefits substantially outweigh the likely harms, (3) subjects are given the option to withdraw from participation at any time without penalty, (4) any physical or psychological harm to subjects is temporary, and (5) subjects are debriefed as to all substantial deceptions and the research procedures are made available for public review. All of these conditions are by now familiar to researchers and ethicists; some have already been built into federal law. Most social scientists who use deception have accepted the conditions as reasonable and even necessary components of their own ethical decision-making processes. But not all ethicists have accepted the conditions as sufficient justification. I would like to argue that these five conditions are both necessary and sufficient justifications for the use of deception in social scientific research.
Is the psychologist ever justified in leading a volunteer into a situation the volunteer has not anticipated and to which he has not given his prior consent? It’s tempting here simply to generalize from good medical research practice and argue (as Baumrind does) that the volunteer should always give his “informed consent” in advance, that he should be told what’s going to happen and what the dangers are so he can decide whether he really wants to participate or not. This may be feasible when you want to inject a bacillus into people, because telling them about it won’t do much to the bacillus one way or the other. But if you want to study the conditions under which a volunteer will obey an authority’s orders, you’d better not tell him, “I want to see when you’ll obey me and when you’ll disobey me,” or you might as well go play a quick game of ping-pong instead. The same is true for social conformity experiments, and in fact for a large proportion of the questions studied by social and personality psychologists.
Milgram’s original paradigm for studying obedience to authority is briefly described, and the main results are summarized. Personal observations of the conduct of the initial studies give added context for interpreting the results. Psychologists’ reactions to the Milgram experiments are discussed in terms of (1) rejecting the research on ethical grounds, (2) explaining away the results as expressions of trivial phenomena, (3) subsuming obedience to destructive authority under other explanatory rubrics, and (4) endorsing or rejecting the results in terms of their perceived social relevance or irrelevance.
Stanley Milgram’s obedience studies were not the product of an isolated genius creating a radically different body of research. They came out of a heavily worked vineyard within social psychology, the field of experimental conformity research. Milgram’s virtue is that he has drawn new wine from old vines. But conformity research itself has not been unproductive. It has even had its vintage years.
Imagine yourself living in New Haven, CT, in the summer of 1961. You see an ad in the local newspaper, asking for volunteers for an experiment on Memory and Learning, to be conducted at Yale University. The ad looks a little too flashy for Yale, you think. But – well, hell, why not? So you send in the coupon. A couple of weeks later, you get a phone call. This young man says he’s calling for the Memory and Learning Project at Yale, and he wants to know whether you can come tomorrow evening at eight. How about nine, you say, since you eat dinner at 7:30. He says okay and gives you directions. The next night, you drive through the fancy arch by the art gallery, right into the heart of the Old Campus, and park your car outside one of those old stone buildings, Linsly-Chittenden Hall. You stroll through the first floor hallway until you see another guy, middle-aged uncle type, bumbling around like he doesn’t know where to go. “You looking for the memory experiment?” you say, and when he says yes you point to what you think is the right number: “This door here, looks like.”
[To be continued….]