The experiment conducted by Milgram was associated with several issues that were considered unethical. The purpose of the experiment was to measure the level of obedience to the authority of an average person (Cave & Holm, 2003). The experiment included three people: the researcher, a participant, and an assistant of the researcher. Milgram made the participant believe that the assistant was another random participant. The participant was meant to teach the assistant pairs of words, and if the assistant failed to remember the pair of words, the participant was instructed by the researcher to apply electric shock (from 15 to 450 volts). Even though no actual shock was applied, the assistant pretended to be in pain from the shock.
Johnson identifies at least three ethical problems with the experiment conducted by Milgram. First, the participants were deceived about the purpose of the study and the procedures. The participants were unaware that they did not actually apply electric shocks to people, which is a significant violation of today’s ethical standards. Second, the experiment did not include any participant protection considerations. The participants experienced significant emotional distress as they believed they were harming other people. Finally, the participants were informed about their right to withdraw at any moment of the experiment. Moreover, the researcher repeatedly insisted that the participants continue the experiment. Today’s ethical standards require that the participants know about their rights before the start of the experiment. Considering the three factors described above, the experiment conducted by Milgram was unethical.
Cave, E., & Holm, S. (2003). Milgram and Tuskegee—Paradigm research projects in bioethics. Health Care Analysis, 11(1), 27-40.