Experiments are conducted in the natural and human sciences in order to collect data.
In the human sciences, however, there are factors that complicate this process:

  • it is very difficult to run controlled experiments because of complexity of real world situations
  • the artificiality of experiments may distort behavior
  • there are ethical reasons for not conducting experiments on human beings

Two very good examples of psychological experiments that raise questions of ethics, as well as the distortion of behavior due to the artificiality of experiments, are the Milgram experiment of 1965 and the Stanford Prison experiment of 1971.

This documentary titled The Stanford Prison Experiment also includes a description and original footage of the Milgram experiment .

Please view the video and consider the following questions for class discussion:

  • Was it ethical to do this study? Was it right to trade the suffering experienced by the participants for the knowledge gained by the research?

  • How do the ethical dilemmas in this research compare with the ethical issues raised by Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments?
  • What were the flaws/problems with the design of either of the experiments? Could you study similar human behavior and conditions in a better way?
  • Would it have been better if these studies had never been done?