Ethics in Research: Contesting the “Nature” of Conformity

Topic: Psychological Issues
Words: 592 Pages: 2

Some of the groundbreaking discoveries in psychology were made by conducting experiments, which involved people and animals and were unethical. For example, famous Pavlov’s experiments on classical conditioning involved dogs, Stanley Milgram’s study on obedience, or Zimbardo’s Stanford prison experiment, which was associated with violence and human suffering (McLeod, 2017). There are strict regulations and ethical principles in modern days, which should be followed while conducting the research. Hence, the studies that involve humans or animals cannot be prohibited or viewed as unethical by definition. However, these experiments should strictly adhere to the ethical principles of the American Psychological Association, which were designed to avoid violation of human or animal rights.

Stanley Milgram’s study on obedience does not correspond with the modern ethical principles in psychology, which professionals are willing to follow. Hence the information gained from the study does not justify the means and human suffering experienced during its conduction. The experiment violated the general principle of non-maleficence and principle E, which promotes respect for people’s rights and dignity. Therefore, this experiment cannot be viewed as acceptable by any means.

The Stanford prison experiment by Zimbardo was a more long-term experiment, where part of the students acted as prisoners, and another part was guarding them. During the experiment, guards showed acts of brutality and violence towards students who acted as prisoners. The conclusion made by Zimbardo about the conformity of people to authority has been challenged by the research “Contesting the “Nature” Of Conformity: What Milgram and Zimbardo’s Studies Really Show” by Haslam and Reicher (2012). Authors of the research argue that the results of Milgram’s and Zimbardo’s studies have shaped public consciousness to the extent that the creator of the Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, was treated as a tool in the big scheme. The banality of evil thesis states that he was motivated by simply doing his job and advancing his career and had no evil intentions in designing a plan that resulted in six million deaths.

The results of the experiments were taken for granted and were not re-evaluated. In an attempt to do this, Haslam and Reicher point out the confirmation bias of Zimbardo’s assumptions and conclusion and refer to the BBC Prison Study. As such, Zimbardo clarified what the expected behavior of the guards was, but still, some of them did not conform, and prisoners later confronted the researcher, stating that they would not behave violently if they were assigned to guard (Haslam & Reicher, 2012). Moreover, in the BBC Prison Study, one of the main findings was that members did not conform automatically to their roles and did not show any violent behavior. Hence, the ethical principles of integrity, carefulness, and honesty were followed.

The research “Conformity in the Ashch experiment” by Larsen also provided an alternative to the famous social experiment. The author attempted to recreate the original study to examine how did the level of conformity changed over time and how did it correlate to the self-esteem of participants and their sex (Larsen, 1974). The results have shown decreased conformity in males compared to Ashch’s experiment and higher rates of conformity in females. Ethical considerations of anti-discrimination were followed as the research was inclusive.

Finally, the “‘Willpower’ over the life span: decomposing self-regulation” study reflects on Bing’s marshmallow experiment. The children who participated in it were later contacted, which turned the experiment into a long-term study on willpower (Mischel et al., 2011). Hence, the study incorporated different developmental studies to make it more in-depth. The ethical considerations of these studies include confidentiality, morality, and objectivity.


Haslam, S. A., & Reicher, S. D. (2012). Contesting the “nature” of conformity: What Milgram and Zimbardo’s studies really show. PLoS Biology, 10(11), e1001426.

Larsen, K. S. (1974). Conformity in the Asch experiment. The Journal of Social Psychology, 94(2), 303-304.

McLeod, S. (2017). Stanford prison experiment. Simply Psyschology.

Mischel, W., Ayduk, O., Berman, M. G., Casey, B. J., Gotlib, I. H., Jonides, J.,… & Shoda, Y. (2011). ‘Willpower’over the life span: decomposing self-regulation. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 6(2), 252-256.

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