Orne, Martin T., and Holland, Charles H., On the Ecological Validity
of Laboratory Deceptions, International Journal of Psychiatry, 1968 6:282-293
This is a critique of Milgram's famous obedience experiments.
"As has often been pointed out, the extent to which scientific findings
become generally accepted is only partly a function of the care with with
they are obtained. In large part, acceptance depends upon the extent to
which results fit the Zeitgeist and the prejudices of the scientific community.
The flair with which Milgram presents his findings and the affect they
generate tend to obscure serious questions about their validity. "
Ecological validity -- for a lab test to allow valid inference to normal
activities the test must adequately reflect the process under investigation.
Problems of Deception Studies
"Unless a postexperimental inquiry is carried out with great persistence
and sensitivity, a "pact of ignorance" tends to develop (where
an S who realizes the deception plays along with it).
Subjects in psychological studies have learned to distrust the experimenter
because they know the true purpose of the experiment may be disguised.
(Especially in university situations where the sujects may know each other
are aware that an experiment is being conducted.). But it appears this
not to be the case in Milgram's studies.
The way in which Milgram's study is carried out is certainly sufficient
to allow some subjects to recognize that they, rather than the victim, are
the real subjects of the experiment. The fact that the experimenter is
unconcerned is another clue for the subjects.
The authors then cite hypnosis research showing that people can't be compelled
to actually harm others if it's really clear the victims will be injured.
In some of the author's studies the subjects were quite aware of the research
restraints imposed by law.
In an analog to Migram's study, 75% of the subjects stated that they assumed
that the victim really wasn't hurt in the study on follow-up. In a study
where subjects were told beforehand that something fishy was in the test,
they still performed the same as the control group and had a similar stress
reaction as well. "Thus, in the final post experimental inquiry it
became clear that much of the subject's disturbed behavior occured because
the individual felt that such behavior was demanded by the situation."
In another of the author's studies, subjects were asked to do some serial
additions and destroy each page as they completed them. They complied without
fail. Is this really applicable to the real world?
"That the subject will in an experiment carry out behaviors that appear
destructive either to himself or others reflects more upon his willingness
to trust the experimenter and the experimental context than on what he would
do utside of the experimental situation."