Call Us to Find a Therapist
Stanley Milgram was born in New York City in 1933. He studied political science at Queens College and went on to attend Harvard, where he earned a Ph.D. in social psychology in 1960. Milgram studied obedience using methods that caused much controversy. He was denied acceptance into several esteemed psychological organizations and institutions of education because of the moral and ethical questionability of his studies. His most famous study was the Milgram Experiment, which initially caused him to be rejected by many in his field, but ultimately earned him a social psychology award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Milgram is also known for his Small World Experiment, which has been conceptualized in the term “six degrees of separation.” The experiment was highly criticized and had been deemed by many as being unscientifically substantiated. Milgram’s Lost Letter Experiment led to his development on theories of helpful behaviors.
Contribution to Psychology
Milgram designed The Milgram Experiment to determine the effects of authority on obedience and was influenced by the trial of a Nazi war criminal, Adolf Eichmann. The series of psychological experiments gauged the level of obedience that a participant would display to an authority figure when that figure assigned them tasks that conflicted with their moral and ethical conscience. Milgram wanted to know if Eichmann and the other war criminals all had the same sense of morality when they inflicted torturous and despicable acts on Holocaust victims, or were they merely acting in obedience to their authority figures regardless of their consciences.
In the experiment, volunteers were told they were assigned random roles, when in reality, all the volunteers were teachers, and an actor was playing the role of the student. The teachers were instructed to administer electric shocks to the students or “learners” in order to have them learn pairs of predetermined words. If the learner answered incorrectly, the teacher was told to increase the shock voltage incrementally. Because the learners and teachers were in separate rooms, the volunteers were not aware that the learners were not actually receiving the shocks. The actor banged on the wall and complained loudly of a heart condition, prompting the teachers to want to halt the experiment. But they continued, even when the banging stopped and the learner became silent. When the teachers believed that there was no sign of life coming from the learner, they asked to stop but were prompted to continue and most did, with several teachers exhibiting signs of nervousness or extreme stress. The results from the experiment revealed that nearly 65 percent of the teachers remained obedient to the experiment facilitators, regardless of their level of discomfort or personal distress over the actions they were taking. Although the experiment raised many ethical questions, most of the participants expressed gratitude for having been part of the study, saying that it gave them a much better insight into their own behaviors toward obedience.