• Burger (2009) Replicating Milgram: Would people still obey today?


Burger (2009) conducted a replication of Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments to examine whether people today would still obey as much as they did in the original experiments. The results showed that obedience rates were slightly lower in the replication, but this difference was not statistically significant, with about two-thirds of participants administering the highest level of shock. The study suggests that obedience to authority remains a relevant phenomenon in contemporary society, although changes in societal attitudes and norms may have influenced obedience levels.


The study aims to examine whether Milgram’s obedience findings would still hold today and how norm information, gender, and personality affect obedience. The study predicts minimal differences in obedience between Milgram’s participants and current participants. The study also explores the impact of a modelled refusal on obedience and examines the effect of gender and personality on obedience. The two personality variables being examined are dispositional empathy and motivation to control events.


The study recruited participants through advertisements and flyers, and a final sample of 29 men and 41 women was selected after screening procedures. The age range of participants was 20 to 81 years, with a mean age of 42.9 years and a median age of 41.


Base condition: Participants in a base condition of the study were randomly assigned and gender ratios were equal. They were introduced to an experimenter and a confederate and given a $50 bill for participating. Roles were decided through a rigged drawing, with the participant always as the teacher and the confederate as the learner. They signed a consent form and were being taped. The confederate was seated in a room with a chair, table, intercom box, and four switches. The participant was secured to the armrests with straps, an electrode was attached, and an electrode paste was added. The experimenter read 25 word pairs and the confederate’s task was to press one of four buttons to indicate the correct pairing. If incorrect, an electric shock was given. The confederate mentioned a heart condition, but the experimenter said the shocks were not dangerous. The participant was seated in front of a shock generator and given instructions on how to use the switches. The experimenter handed the participant a list of word pairs and reviewed the instructions.

The experimenter prodded the participant using four predetermined statements, given in a specific order if the participant showed hesitation to continue. The experiment was ended when the participant refused to continue after all of the experimenter ´s prods or read the next item on the test after hearing the confederate’s protests following their press of the 150-volt switch. As soon as the experiment was over, the participant was informed that the shock generator was not real and was debriefed by the principal investigator.

Modelled refusal condition: In the modelled refusal condition of the experiment, two confederates were used. One was the same man from the base condition and the other was of the same gender as the participant. The drawing was rigged so that the participant was assigned as Teacher 2 and the confederate was Teacher 1. Both watched the learner being strapped in, and both were given a sample shock. The confederate, posing as Teacher 1, started the procedure, but hesitated after the learner made a noise after the 75-volt switch and said, “I don’t know about this.” The experimenter instructed the real participant to continue the test after the confederate declined. The confederate sat silently through the rest of the study and avoided eye contact with the participant.


70% of participants in the base condition continued after pressing the 150-volt switch and had to be stopped by the experimenter. This is slightly lower than the percentage who continued beyond this point in Milgram’s comparable condition (82.5%) but the difference was not statistically significant.

Participants in the modelled refusal condition (63.3%) were not significantly different from the base condition in continuing past the 150-volt point. Participants in the base condition received a prod from the experimenter significantly earlier than participants in the modelled refusal condition.

There was little difference in obedience rates between men and women. The study found no significant relation between obedience rates and scores on two personality trait measures (empathic concern and desire for control).


Burger´s 2009 replication of Milgram’s obedience experiment found that the same situational factors that affected obedience in Milgram’s participants still exist today. The participants were told they could leave the study anytime and still keep the $50 reward, but the same results were obtained. The study also found no effect of modelled resistance on obedience, and no evidence for gender differences in obedience. Participants who were high in empathic concern expressed reluctance to continue the procedure earlier, but this did not result in greater likelihood of refusal. Personality traits were related to participants’ reactions, but results were not easily interpretable.


  • Burger (2009) had males and females and participants had different levels of education and varied ethnicity. Therefore, Burger’s (2009) study had population validity as the sample had variety in terms of gender, education and ethnicity so could be generalised to the US population.
  • The study had a lot of controls such as the same experimenter, the same script read by the experimenter and all participants were paid $50. The standardised procedure meant that Burger (2009) could be replicated to test for reliability which is a strength of the study. 
  • Burger (2009) took place in a laboratory at Santa Clara university in a controlled, artificial setting. The ‘teacher’ who gave the shocks may not have acted in the way they would have normally as they were in an unfamiliar setting so the study lacks ecological validity.
  • Burger (2009) found high levels of obedience as 70% of participants in the base condition continued after 150 volts. There is test-retest reliability in Burger (2009) because the obedience levels were consistent to that of Milgram’s original obedience research in the 1960s.
  • Even though Burger (2009) used direct deception when he told his participants the study was on learning when it was on obedience it was approved by an ethical committee.

Past Paper Questions

2 Marker
  • Explain one strength of Burger’s (2009) study. (2) January 2017
  • Describe the sample of participants that Burger (2009) used in his study. (2) October 2020
3 Marker
  • (From Burger results given) Draw a bar chart to represent the results for Condition A. (3) January 2017
4 Marker
  • Explain two weaknesses of Burger’s (2009) study. (4) January 2017
8 Marker
  • Evaluate the contemporary study by Burger (2009) in terms of reliability and validity. (8) June 2019