Monday, August 7, 1961: Milgram experiment

Stanley Milgram, an assistant professor of psychology at Yale University, begins his now-famous experiment to explore the question: How much pain would you inflict on another person if you were ordered to do so?

Milgram pursued the research in light of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi Germany official who had said he was only following orders when he helped orchestrate the Holocaust. (Search site for "Eichmann" for posts on his abduction, trial, verdict and hanging.)

"Stark authority was pitted against the subjects' strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects' ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often that not," Milgram wrote later.

Summary from The Guardian newspaper, 2004 (@):

A subject, greeted by a scientist in a white lab coat, was given the role of "teacher." Introduced to a "learner," the teacher watched the learner strapped into a chair with an electrode attached to his or her wrist. Seated behind a screen in front of a large electroshock machine, the teacher read out a list of words and the learner replied with pre-learned corresponding words.

If the learner's response was wrong, the teacher was to apply an electric shock to the learner by pressing one of 30 switches, labeled from "slight shock" through to "danger: severe shock." For each incorrect response the teacher was told to increase the voltage, resulting in grunts, screams and then silence from the learner.

In fact, the learner was an actor; the teacher was the real subject of this experiment. When the learner's screams and pleadings reached a certain intensity, the teacher often asked whether he or she should continue, or might refuse to carry one. This was the crucial moment: the scientists now insisted that the session should continue.

Before the experiment began, psychologists predicted that only one in a thousand would administer the strongest shocks. In fact, during the first round of experiments, using Yale undergraduates, 60% were fully obedient and took the sessions to their conclusion. Subsequent experiments achieved similar results, with no significant differences between males and females.

(Note: I used August 7 as the starting point, as referenced in "The Man Who Shocked The World," linked below.)

* Study as published in Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology (October, 1963): @ 
* Milgram's "Obedience" documentary (video, 1965): @
* Summary (from www.holah.co.uk): @
* Summary (from www.explorable.com): @
* Summary (from www.simplypsychology.org): @
* Summary (www.paulgraham.com): @
* "The Making of an (in)famous experiment" (British Psychological Society): @
* "Obedience to Authority" (Milgram, 1974): @
* "Obedience to Authority: Current Perspectives on the Milgram Paradigm" (edited by Thomas Blass, 1999): @
* "The Man Who Shocked The World: The Life and Legacy of Stanley Milgram" (Blass, 2004): @
* www.stanleymilgram.com (Blass' site): @
* "Decades Later, Still Asking: Would I Pull That Switch?" (New York Times, 2008): @ 

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