The Untold Story of the Notorious Milgram Psychology Experiments

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Psychologist Gina Perry tells the full story of a controversial experiment by psychologist Stanley Milgram and its repercussions. In the summer of 1961, Milgram invited volunteers to take part in an experiment at Yale, and he reported that 65 percent of the volunteers had repeatedly administered electric shocks of increasing strength to a man they believed to be in severe pain, even suffering a life-threatening heart condition, because they had been ordered to by an authority figure. In Behind the Shock Machine: The Untold Story of the Notorious Milgram Psychology Experiments, Perry interviewed the original participants—many of whom remain haunted about what they did—and pieces together a more complex—and more troubling—picture of these experiments and what they reveal about us.


Gina Perry

Comments [7]

Meredith from nyc

ohn A says we are more individualistic after the rock and roll revolution, some of it pushing anti social trends.
Or is this just on the surface? I don't think rock and roll led to people being more individualistic, whatever that means. Maybe less, because r/r enables a sort of mass hypnosis. It amplified music to harsh, loud sound textures, and also amplified natural teen rebellion. They followed what was cool, aided by mass media. This gave them the illusion that they were independent of society's previous norms to some extent.
It was actually a regression--stressing rhythm above all, and downplaying melody-- the basis of musical phrases and its thought. Also it got rid of lyrics of the golden age of song, when lyrics were often thoughtful, witty, poetic and beautiful. We've seen dumbing down and more conformity in culture & politics and maybe also in independent thought.

Aug. 22 2013 12:22 PM
Robert Plautz from New York City

What I find interesting about the Milgram experiment regarding obedience is that Milgram was only 27 years old at the time of the experiment and had been at Yale less than a year after just receiving his Ph.D. It was probably his first experiment. How did Yale---or recognized psychological associations or other psychological academics---allow this to escape peer review at that time? Such review may very well have exposed the errors and the invalidity of many of Milgram's conclusions that Ms. Perry has found so many years later. Who was asleep at the switch?

The Milgram obedience experiment has a special memory for me. I recall being an undergraduate at Kent State University in 1968 and the instructor for a course in comparative politics was a very young German fellow. I think he had been in the US less than a few years. In any event, he lectured on the Milgram experiment one day in class, and I remember very distinctly that his point was that the Holocaust could have happened anywhere---including in New Haven, Connecticut in 1961.

I don't know what happened to that young German professor. Don't even remember his name. I wish him well. But if I did remember his name and knew his whereabouts I just might want to send him a copy of Ms. Perry's book.

Aug. 21 2013 03:18 PM
Larry from Brooklyn

While I realize that the way the study was conducted is probably messier than we have been led to believe from Milgram's and others' writings, as a psychologist I think it is likely that many of the research subjects were in denial about whether the shocks were occurring. However, I have tested many people in my own experiments and there are always a few who are looking for what's really going on and are more perceptive than the bulk of the subjects. Milgram's study has actually been replicated so I think the overall conclusion is generally valid for each of the conditions used.

Aug. 21 2013 01:49 PM
Amy from Manhattan

65%? That means over a third of the volunteers in this experiment didn't follow the instruction to keep shocking the people who were supposedly being tested. What was different about them that enabled them to resist the pressure from the authority figure?

Aug. 21 2013 01:45 PM
Katherine Boyd from Brooklyn, NY

I wonder if Milgram's study and his "findings" were studied by the CIA or FBI and if so, whether they relate at all to the (official) belief by these agencies that terrorism elicits answers and information.

Aug. 21 2013 01:44 PM
John A

A modern day analysis would be incomplete without noting how much we've changed as a rule-following people in 50 years. Rock'n'Roll and other popular media (EG SNL) guide and show that we're more individualistic for sure. Some of this is good, some may be later shown to be an antisocial force. Author suggests this when she mentions postwar mentality.

Aug. 21 2013 01:35 PM
Matt from Midtown

What were the first public and professional reactions to the experiment? Did it take long to gain notoriety?

Aug. 21 2013 01:34 PM

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