Stanley Milgram – USA (1933 – 1984)

From Milgram’s reply to Baumrind’s ethical critique of the obedience experiments: I started with the belief that every person who came to the laboratory was free to accept or to reject the dictates of authority.

Stanley Milgram

This view sustains a conception of human dignity insofar as it sees in each man a capacity for choosing his own behavior. And as it turned out, many subjects did, indeed, choose to reject the experimenter’s commands, providing a powerful affirmation of human ideals (1964).

Controversy surrounded the social psychologist Stanley Milgram for much of his professional life as a result of a series of experiments on obedience to authority which he conducted at Yale University in 1961-1962. He found, surprisingly, that 65% of his subjects, ordinary residents of New Haven, were willing to give apparently harmful electric shocks-up to 450 volts-to a pitifully protesting victim, simply because a scientific authority commanded them to, and in spite of the fact that the victim did not do anything to deserve such punishment. The victim was, in reality, a good actor who did not actually receive shocks, and this fact was revealed to the subjects at the end of the experiment. But, during the experiment itself, the experience was a powerfully real and gripping one for most participants.

Milgram’s career also produced other creative, though less controversial, research; such as, the small-world method (the source of “Six Degrees of Separation”), the lost-letter technique, , mental maps of cities, cyranoids, the familiar stranger, and an experiment testing the effects of televised antisocial behavior which, though conducted 30 years ago, remains unique to the present day.

You’ll find in Wikipedia (there with graphics): The Milgram experiment was a famous scientific experiment of social psychology. The experiment was first described in an article titled Behavioral Study of Obedience, published in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology in 1963, and later summarized in his 1974 book Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View. It was intended to measure the willingness of a participant to obey an authority who instructs the participant to do something that may conflict with the participant’s personal conscience.

The experiments began in July 1961, a year after the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. Milgram devised the experiment to answer the question “Could it be that Eichmann and his million accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders? Could we call them all accomplices?” (Milgram, 1974)

Milgram summed up in the article “The Perils of Obedience” (Milgram 1974), writing: “The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of enormous import, but they say very little about how most people behave in concrete situations. I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects’ / participants’ strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects’ / participants’ ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.”

Stanley Milgram carried out influential and controversial experiments that demonstrated that blind obedience to authority could override moral conscience. His early studies on conformity were the first experiments to compare behavioral differences between people from different parts of the world. Milgram also examined the effects of television violence, studied whether New York City subway riders would give up their seats if asked to do so, and made award-winning documentary films.

Milgram, born in 1933 in the Bronx, New York, was the son of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, Samuel Milgram, a baker, and Adele Israel. Growing up in the Bronx, with an older sister and a younger brother, Milgram attended James Monroe High School. His high school interests centered around science, as shown by his earning the school’s gold medal in biology. He graduated from Queens College in 1954, and had a majored in political science and planned to enter the School of International Affairs at Columbia University to prepare for the Foreign Service.

After high school he enrolled at Queens College of the City University of New York, where he majored in political science. Then, he enrolled in Harvard University’s new interdisciplinary Department of Social Relations. There, Gordon Allport became his mentor and a series of fellowships enabled him to earn his Ph.D. in social psychology in 1960.

At Harvard, Milgram became Solomon E. Asch’s teaching assistant. Asch was applying Gestalt psychology to social relations and designing experiments to examine conformity. For his doctoral research, Milgram spent a year in Norway and a year in France, exploring the cultural differences in conformity. He found that pressure for conformity was greater for Norwegians than for the French. After returning from France, Milgram worked with Asch at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.

Moving to Yale University in 1960, as an assistant professor of psychology,

Milgram conducted a large number of studies in social psychology. Perhaps the best known is his controversial obedience study described in his 1974 book, Obedience to Authority. He began his experiments on obedience, with funding from the National Science Foundation. Much to his surprise, he found that 65% of his subjects would inflict what they believed to be painful electric shocks on others, simply because they were told to do so.

Milgram’s research was often creative and original. For example, he once dropped letters from a helicopter to measure prejudice, asked people to hand a package to someone they knew to study communication channels, and took photographs of people to study social interactions. Milgram received numerous awards for his creative contributions to psychology. He produced an award-winning film on his work on urban life and overload.

Milgram married Alexandra “Sasha” Menkin, a psychiatric social worker, in 1961 and the couple eventually had a daughter and a son. Returning to the Department of Social Relations at Harvard in 1963 as an assistant professor of social psychology, Milgram used his “lost-letter technique” to study people’s inclinations to help others when it wasn’t required. These experiments examined whether subjects would re-mail lost letters. Milgram also addressed the “small-world problem,” determining that any two individuals in the United States could reach each other via an average of five acquaintances.

In 1967, Milgram moved to the Graduate Center of the City University of New York as professor and chairman of the social psychology program. In 1970 he published “The Experience of Living in Cities,” which had a major influence on the new field of urban psychology. He also examined how residents of New York and Paris perceived the geographies of their cities. One of Milgram’s most unique social experiments, designed to study the effects of television violence, involved an episode of the CBS program “Medical Center,” with subjects viewing one of three endings. He found that viewers watching a violent ending were no more likely than others to commit an antisocial act when given the opportunity. He also performed experiments with “cyranoids,” intermediaries who communicated with someone using words from a third person. He found, for example, that listeners never suspected that an 11-year-old cyranoid’s words were actually those of a 50-year-old professor. In 1980, in the midst of these experiments, Milgram suffered the first of a series of massive heart attacks. He died of his fifth heart attack in New York City in 1984, at the age of 51.

links about the obedience experiment:

the synaptic.bc.ca, in pdf (describes the experiment);

cba.uri.edu;

Wikipedia

muskingum.edu;

swbell;

Psychology Today;

Biography;

is.wayne.edu;

mtholyoke.edu;

Links about the ’small world experience’:

uaf.edu;

book of joe;

blog critics;

links about ‘the lost letter technics’:

everything2;

webtext library;

factbites;

links about ‘maps of the city’:

plw.media.mit.edu;

Mauro Cherubini’s moleskin;

about mental maps;

Uni Illinois;

a link about ‘cyranoids’, or remotely controlled subjects:

a.parsons.edu.

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