Attribution of Responsibility and Trust in the Milgram Obedience Experiment1


  • 1

    An earlier version of this report was presented at the annual meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on March 30, 1990.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Thomas Blass, Department of Psychology, UMBC, Baltimore, MD 21228.


The two primary theoretical explanations for the findings of the Milgram (1963, 1974) obedience studies are that of Milgram, stressing the role of relinquished responsibility to the authority on the one hand, and that of Mixon (1971, 1972), for whom trust in the experimenter is the key element on the other hand. The aim of the 2 studies reported in this article, using edited portions of the film Obedience (Milgram, 1965), was to explore the naive social perceiver's understanding of the dynamics of obedience to authority through his or her attributions about responsibility and trust, and thereby to provide some input into the theoretical controversy between Milgram and Mixon. Both studies were more supportive of Milgram's than of Mixon's position.