Reflections on “Replicating Milgram” (Burger, 2009)

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In “Replicating Milgram: Would People Still Obey Today?”Jerry M. Burger (2009)reported a high base rate of obedience, comparable to that observed byStanley Milgram (1974). Another condition, involving a defiant confederate, failed to significantly reduce obedience. This commentary discusses the primary contributions of Burger's study in terms of (a) its novel methodological variation on Milgram's original paradigm (the “150-volt solution”) and (b) its attention to ethical concerns so as to minimize participant discomfort and ensure institutional review board approval. Burger's technique could unlock research on behavioral aspects of obedience, which has been essentially muted for several decades. However, Burger's intensive efforts to improve the ethics of the study may be exaggerated, are uncertain in their effectiveness, and pose impractical demands. Different procedures used by Milgram and Burger in the modeled refusal condition preclude a clear explanation for the results and challenge Burger's emphasis on the comparability of his and Milgram's experiments. This study documents the complexities of extending research on destructive obedience in the context of contemporary ethical guidelines.

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