Thursday, January 04, 2007

Stanley Milgram's Experiments

Milgram's Experiment "Replicated" on ABC's Primetime

Each semester students find out about the Milgram Experiments, sometimes from a psychology class, sometimes from their English/composition classes. As most everyone is, they are shocked, dismayed, horrified, to find out about the "banality of evil." To learn that under the guidance of an authority figure, everyday, normal people will administer electric shocks to innocents.

Primetime has a short video on its website that you can watch. However, in the video, they fail to state that the main difference they found between the participants who finished the experiment, giving the entire set of shocks, and those who refused, was...those who refused took personal responsiblity for their actions. The others were "doing their job" or "just following orders." (However, I'd like to see a real write up.)

But what really interested me was that at the time the Milgram Experiments were done in the 1960's, Milgram and the psychology world in general were aghast at the psychological pain that the experimental subjects endured. The APA held Milgram's application to the APA because of ethical concerns from his work. Human subjects restrictions were developed and tightened because of this work. Milgram and his colleagues were very careful to sit with subjects after the experiment and calm them after they found out the could act in such ways.

However, in the Primetime story, the reporter sat with the subjects and pointedly asked them how they could administer the shocks without considering the feelings or health of the "learner." As one of the other librarians said to me, he was torturing the torturer. Do we think that people have become so inured to torture, that we have to remind them when they engage in it? There wasn't an increase in the number of people finishing the experiment.

(Actually, in the study for Primetime, they shortened the experiment, so they didn't actually administer as "dangerous" a shock level. And 20% of Milgram's subjects stopped between the end of the Primetime experiment and his. So even though Primetime said that the results were similar, if another 20% stopped, then we'd get about 50.4% finishing, rather than 63%.)

The library has several resources about these experiments -- and also about the Zimbardo Prison Experiment. The program interviewed Philip Zimbardo and several of the "inmates" and "guards" who took part in the experiment, which Zimbardo calls one of the most unethical experiments ever run. (I assume he means in the United States. Not quite as bad as some in Nazi Germany, which were what these experiments were intended to study.)

Our resources include videos and DVDs, among them Quiet Rage: a DVD of the Stanford Prison Experiment. Zimbardo has an excellent website about the experiment as well. The Discovering Psychology series of videotapes includes a !9th tape which describes and excerpts the Milgram Experiment and the Prison Experiment.

The man who shocked the world : the life and legacy of Stanley Milgram by Thomas Blass was published in 2004. Thomas Blass is a psychologist who clearly greatly admires Milgram. (HM1031.M55 B57 2004)

American dreams and Nazi nightmares : early Holocaust consciousness and liberal America, 1957-1965, a book by Kirsten Fermaglich, describes how Jewish Americans, among them Stanley Milgram, took lessons from the Holocaust and applied them to the political situation in America after World War II. (LIBRARY WEST, Judaica Library 1st Floor - Northwest Corner D804.7.M67 F47 2006)

Understanding genocide: the social psychology of the Holocaust
edited by Leonard S. Newman and Ralph Erber is accessible online through netLibrary (logon remotely through VPN), We also have the book in print in the Judaica Library (the Northwest Corner of the 1st Floor in Library West). (D804.3 .S597 2002)

Classic experiments in psychology by Douglas Mook discusses the Milgram and the Unresponsive Bystander Experiments. (BF198.7 .M66 2004)

Experiments with people : revelations from social psychology edited by Robert P. Abelson, Kurt P. Frey, Aiden P. Gregg. includes Milgram's own discussion of his studies. (BF198.7 .M66 2004)


kxo said...

Hi! I found your blog via my psychology lab methods professor at the University of Florida, where I'm a psychology major.

I love the Milgram experiment! I didn't think any experimenter would be able to scrape together enough people to test who hadn't already heard of the original research, but I guess I was wrong. I'm a bit disappointed that the subjects only went to 150 volts, though. Watching their reactions as they'd go farther and farther down the line of switched was always fascinating.

PS: I'm amused at the results of the poll on the website.

merrie alynn said...

I also thought it odd that they could find people who didn't know about the experiment. Especially a 7th grade teacher!
About the 150 volts: they said the Human Subjects Committee only allowed up to 150 volts.

angie w said...

The women were reported to have been more subject to authority. This was not as surprising as their inability to take into account the dire consequences for their actions. Whatever happened to a woman's soft touch and kind heart? I wonder if the experimentor had not been present, if the participants would have been more likely to end the experiment (take the money and run)? Perhaps there was some "bystander effect" going on. When one is alone, they are more likely to help someone else in an emergency situation. It may be that women are more prone to be led astray. Eve in the garden of Eden was beguiled by evil. Let us women take heed.

Unknown said...

Experiments like these show that anyone of us can turn into the torturer with the right situation and presents of an authority figure. As in both experiments the "teacher" or "guard" proceeded on with harm to the "learner" or "prisoner" In Milgram's experiment the "teacher" never saw the "learner" while the volts were being administered. In the case of the Stanford experiment the "guards" saw exactly what they were doing to the "prisoners". In my opinion the Stanford Prison Experiment was worse. The guards felt ashamed at what they had done after the experiment was over. In the Milgram experiment, they were told at the end that no one was harmed or received any shocks. The same can not be said for the Prison experiment.