the MILGRAM experiment

Milgram experiment

The Milgram experiment was a famous scientific experiment of social psychology. The experiment was first described by Stanley Milgram, a psychologist at Yale University 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.”

Milgram created a documentary film showing the experiment and its results, titled “Obedience”, legitimate copies of which are hard to find today. He also produced a series of five other films on social psychology with
Harry From, some of which touched on his experiments [1] ( They may all be obtained from Penn State Media Services (
Before the experiment was conducted Milgram polled fellow psychologists as to what the results would be. They unanimously believed that only a few
sadists would be prepared to give the maximum voltage.
In Milgram’s first set of experiments, 65 percent of experimental participants administered the experiment’s final 450-volt shock, though many were quite uncomfortable in doing so. No participant stopped before the 300-volt level. Variants of the experiment were later performed by Milgram himself and other psychologists around the world with similar results. Apart from confirming the original results the variations have tested variables in the experimental setup.
Thomas Blass of the University of Maryland (who is also the author of a biography of Milgram, called The Man who shocked the World) performed a meta-analysis on the results of repeated performances of the experiment (done at various times since, in the US and elsewhere). He found that the percentage of participants who are prepared to inflict fatal voltages remains remarkably constant, between 61% and 66%, regardless of time or location (a popular account of Blass’ results was published in Psychology Today, March/April 2002). The full results were published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. [Blass, 1999]

The experiment raised questions about the
ethics of scientific experimentation itself because of the extreme emotional stress suffered by the participants (even though it could be said that this stress was brought on by their own free actions). Most modern scientists would consider the experiment unethical today, though it resulted in valuable insights into human psychology.
In Milgram’s defense, 84 percent of former participants surveyed later said they were “glad” or “very glad” to have participated and 15 percent chose neutral (92% of all former participants responding). Many later wrote expressing thanks. Milgram repeatedly received offers of assistance and requests to join his staff from former participants.
Why so many former participants reported they were “glad” to have been involved despite the apparent levels of stress, one participant explained to Milgram in correspondence six years after he participated in the experiment, during the height of the
Vietnam War:
“While I was a subject [participant] in
1964, though I believed that I was hurting someone, I was totally unaware of why I was doing so. Few people ever realize when they are acting according to their own beliefs and when they are meekly submitting to authority. … To permit myself to be drafted with the understanding that I am submitting to authority’s demand to do something very wrong would make me frightened of myself. … I am fully prepared to go to jail if I am not granted Conscientious Objector status. Indeed, it is the only course I could take to be faithful to what I believe. My only hope is that members of my board act equally according to their conscience…”
In contrast to the life-changing experience reported by some former participants, however, participants were not fully debriefed by modern standards and many seemed to never fully understand the nature of the experiment according to exit interviews.
Milgram describes 19 variations of the experiment that he conducted in Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View. In general, he found that when the immediacy of the victim was increased, compliance decreased, and when immediacy of the authority increased, compliance increased (Experiments 1-4). For instance, in one variation where participants received instructions from the experimenter only by telephone (Experiment 2), compliance greatly decreased; interestingly, a number of participants deceived the experimenter by pretending to continue the experiment. In the variation where immediacy of the “learner” was closest, participants had to physically hold the learner’s arm onto a shock plate, which decreased compliance (Experiment 4). In this latter condition 30 percent still completed the experiment.
In Experiment 8, women were used as participants (all of Milgram’s other experiments used only men). Obedience did not differ significantly, though they indicated experiencing higher levels of stress.
In one version (Experiment 10), Milgram rented a modest office in
Bridgeport, Connecticut, purporting to be run by a commercial entity called “Research Associates of Bridgeport” with no apparent connection to Yale, in order to eliminate the prestige of the university as a possible factor influencing participants’ behavior. The results of this experiment did not significantly differ from those conducted at the Yale campus.
Milgram also combined the power of authority with that of
conformity. In these experiments, the participant was joined by one or two additional “teachers” (who were actually actors, like the “learner”). The behavior of the participants’ apparent peers strongly affected results. When two additional teachers refused to comply (Experiment 17), only four participants of 40 continued the experiment. In another version, (Experiment 18) the participant performed a subsidiary task with another “teacher” who complied fully. In this variation only three of 40 defied the experimenter. [2] (
External links and references
Blass, Thomas. The Milgram paradigm after 35 years: Some things we now know about obedience to authority, Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 1999, Vol. 25, pp. 955-978.
Blass, Thomas. (2002), “The Man Who Shocked the World”, Psychology Today, Mar/Apr 2002, Vol. 35 Issue 2.
Blass, Thomas. (2004), The Man Who Shocked the World: The Life and Legacy of Stanley Milgram. (
ISBN 0738203998)
American Scientist book review Official site (
Milgram, Stanley. (1963). “
Behavioral Study of Obedience (” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67, 371-378.
Milgram, Stanley. (1974), Obedience to Authority; An Experimental View (
ISBN 006131983X)
Milgram, Stanley. (1974),
“The Perils of Obedience” (, Harper’s Magazine
Abridged and adapted from Obedience to Authority
Miller, Arthur G., (1986). The obedience experiments : a case study of controversy in social science, New York : Praeger, 295 p.
Parker, Ian, Obedience, published in Granta magazine ( ), issue 71, Autumn 2000. Includes an interview with one of Milgram’s volunteers, and discusses modern interest in, and scepticism about, the experiment.
Wu, William, ( Practical Psychology: Compliance: The Milgram Experiment.
Obedience (, May 1962. (link broken 2005-04-29) Black-and-white film of the experiment, shot by Milgram. Distributed by The Pennsylvania State University Media Sales
The Milgram Reenactment (, 2002. Colour, Exact reenactment of one condition of the obedience experiment. Created by conceptual UK artist Rod Dickinson


5 Responses to “the MILGRAM experiment”

  1. Fred Says:

    Wow, gotta be the longest link I’ve ever seen.

  2. Seismos Says:

    Whats up with the format plazoid?

  3. Michael Paul Says:

    YOu left off an closing tag for your link.

  4. the PLAZOID Says:

    michael paul:
    I’m new at this – what do you mean by a “closing tag”?

  5. Michael Paul Says:

    The whole post is like 50 or more links to another page. It could be a syntax error anywhere in your html.

    Tags are like the marks like this “<>“
    One of those is messed up somewhere so it makes everything look like one big link.

    Now that I looked at the source code for the post it looks like that is what you posted. tons of links. You just can’t tell that its different ones.

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