Tag Archives: Milgram

Theory & Psychology Special Issue: “Unplugging the Milgram Machine”

The October 2015 issue of Theory & Psychology is a special issue on “Unplugging the Milgram Machine.” Guest edited by Augustine Brannigan, Ian Nicholson, and Frances Cherry the issue includes a number of articles of interest to AHP readers. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Introduction to the special issue: Unplugging the Milgram machine,” by Augustine Brannigan, Ian Nicholson, and Frances Cherry. The abstract reads,

The current issue of Theory & Psychology is devoted to Stanley Milgram and his contribution to the study of obedience. It presents a decidedly critical evaluation of these well-known experiments that challenges their relevance to our understanding of events such as the Holocaust. It builds on recent investigations of the Milgram archive at Yale. The discipline’s adulation of the obedience research overlooks several critical factors: the palpable trauma experienced by many participants, and the stark skepticism of the deceptive cover-story experienced by many others, Milgram’s misrepresentation of the way in which the prods were undertaken to ensure standardization, and his failure to de-brief the vast majority of participants. There is also the cherry-picking of findings. The project was whitewashed in the film, Obedience, prepared by Milgram to popularize his conclusions. The articles contributed for this issue offer a more realistic assessment of Milgram’s contribution to knowledge.

“Coverage of recent criticisms of Milgram’s obedience experiments in introductory social psychology textbooks,” by Richard A. Griggs and George I. Whitehead III. The abstract reads, Continue reading Theory & Psychology Special Issue: “Unplugging the Milgram Machine”

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Experimenter: The Milgram Movie

Adding to the recent trend in popular uptake of classic mid-century controversies in psychology (see for example the acclaimed television series Masters of Sex, which fictionalizes the groundbreaking sex research conducted by Masters and Johnson), October sees the release of Sundance Festival feature Experimenter (find our earlier coverage of the festival here), a film written and directed by Michael Almereyda about Stanley Milgram’s still infamous studies on obedience to authority.

Starring Peter Sarsgaard and Winona Ryder, the film dramatizes the ethical quandaries for which Milgram’s work became a poster child and contributed to the development of increased ethics regulation in psychological research. It also provides a characterization of Milgram himself, and contextualizes the infamy of his studies in light of his personal and professional lives.

The reception of Milgram’s work by public press has always promoted its more scandalous aspects (as we say in the field, it’s a ‘sexy’ topic for journalists), and as such this feature length is only the latest in a long line of media representation that Milgram has attracted since he published his conclusions. See our other blog coverage of these, starting with Shatner’s 1975 fictionalization; multiple renditions from the Travel, and Discovery channels, BBC, and ABC, often including attempts at actual replication of the experimental conditions; as well as a French mockumentary commenting on reality TV.


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History of Psych at Sundance

Two films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival take inspiration from now infamous experiments from psychology’s past. Experimenter, starring Peter Sarsgaard, centres on Stanley Milgram’s controversial obedience to authority experiments,

In 1961, social psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted the “obedience experiments” at Yale University. The experiments observed the responses of ordinary people asked to send harmful electrical shocks to a stranger. Despite pleadings from the person they were shocking, 65 percent of subjects obeyed commands from a lab-coated authority figure to deliver potentially fatal currents. With Adolf Eichmann’s trial airing in living rooms across America, Milgram’s Kafkaesque results hit a nerve, and he was accused of being a deceptive, manipulative monster.

Experimenter invites us inside Milgram’s whirring mind, beginning with his obedience research and wending a path to uncover how inner obsessions and the times in which he lived shaped a parade of human behavior inquiries, including the “six degrees of separation” findings. Constantly subverting expectations with surprising structural and stylistic choices, writer/director Michael Almereyda transmutes the crusty period biopic form into something playful, energetic, and deeply satisfying—taking bold risks to yield profound insights, like all great experiments. —C.L.

The Stanford Prison Experiment, starring Billy Crudup, explores Philip Zimbardo’s study of the same name. The film is described on the Sundance site as follows,

It is the summer of 1971. Dr. Philip Zimbardo launches a study on the psychology of imprisonment. Twenty-four male undergraduates are randomly assigned to be either a guard or a prisoner. Set in a simulated jail, the project unfolds. The participants rapidly embody their roles—the guards become power-hungry and sadistic, while the prisoners, subject to degradation, strategize as underdogs. It soon becomes clear that, as Zimbardo and team monitor the escalation of action through surveillance cameras, they are not fully aware of how they, too, have become part of the experiment.

Based on the real-life research of Dr. Zimbardo (who was a consultant on the film), The Stanford Prison Experiment is a dramatic period piece that remains relevant over 40 years later. Along with an impressive cast, including Billy Crudup as Zimbardo, Kyle Patrick Alvarez (C.O.G., 2013 Sundance Film Festival) delivers an intense, visceral film about the role of power that plays to both chilling and exhilarating effect. —K.Y.

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Milgram’s Obedience to Authority Experiment on Mysteries at the Museum

Stanley Milgram’s infamous obedience to authority experiments have made their way to the Travel Channel. The study appears – in highly dramatized form – in the February 6th episode of Mysteries at the Museum.  Helping describe the study is Cathy Faye, Assistant Director of the Center for the History of Psychology in Akron, Ohio. The simulated shock generator from Milgram’s experiment now resides in the Center’s Museum.

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New HoP: Milgram, Murray, Nostalgia, and More!

The August 2013 issue of History of Psychology is now online. Included in this issues are articles that look at the history of the concept of nostalgia, the contingencies surrounding the voice-feedback condition in Stanley Milgram’s obedience to authority experiments, a translation of Wilhelm Wundt’s (above) Psychology’s Struggle for Existence (Die Psychologie im Kampf ums Dasein) by James Lamiell, and the correspondence between American psychologist Henry Murray and Chinese psychologist Siegen K. Chou. Other items in this issue explore strategies in writing books in the history of psychology and developments in history and philsophy of psychology in Brazil. Full titles, authors and abstracts follow below.

“Nostalgia: The bittersweet history of a psychological concept,” by Krystine Irene Batcho. The abstract reads,

The concept of nostalgia has changed substantially both denotatively and connotatively over the span of its 300-year history. This article traces the evolution of the concept from its origins as a medical disease to its contemporary understanding as a psychological construct. The difficulty of tracing a construct through history is highlighted. Attention is paid to roles played first by the medical context, and then by the psychiatric, psychoanalytic, and psychological approaches. Emphasis is given to shifts in the designation of nostalgic valence from bitter to sweet to bittersweet, and the processes of semantic drift and depathologization are explored. Because the sense of nostalgia was constructed and reconstructed within social, cultural, and historical contexts, its meaning changed along with the words used to describe and connect it to other entities. Nostalgia’s past illustrates the influence of language, social-cultural context, and discipline perspectives on how a construct is defined, researched, and applied.

““The last possible resort”: A forgotten prod and the in situ standardization of Stanley Milgram’s voice-feedback condition,” Stephen Gibson. The abstract reads, Continue reading New HoP: Milgram, Murray, Nostalgia, and More!

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Obedience to Authority Conference Program Now Online

The full program for this summer’s Obedience to Authority Conference is now online. Fifty years after Stanley Milgram’s now infamous shock experiments, the conference looks back at the impact these studies have had on the discipline and in broader society. Among the stellar list of conference participants are a number of individuals who are undoubtedly familiar to AHP readers: Hank Stam, Jill Morawski, Ian Nicholson, Gina Perry, Thomas Blass, Herbert Kelman, and many more. The Obedience to Authority Conference: Milgram’s Experiments 50 Years On takes place August 6-8th, 2013 in Bracebridge, Ontario. The full program can be found here.

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Obedience to Authority Conference, August 2013

Fifty years after the results of Stanley Milgram’s (above) obedience to authority experiments first appeared in print, a conference on his controversial work is scheduled to take place. The 2013 Obedience to Authority Conference will take place August 6th to 8th in Bracebridge, Ontario in the Muskoka district north of Toronto. As the conference website describes, this event

came about as a result of a conversation at the 2012 Cheiron conference. After a panel discussion on Milgram’s obedience research, the four panellists – Nestar Russell, Gina Perry, Dr Stephen Gibson and Dr Ian Nicholson – agreed that a conference on the topic was long overdue.

The Call for Papers for the Obedience to Authority Conference follows below.

The 2013 Obedience to Authority conference invites proposals for papers that explore and investigate the implications and applications of Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments in the following areas:

Gender and power
Historical analysis
Paradigms of power
Replications and representations
Value and meaning

Submissions are due May 15, 2013 and can be submitted here.

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New Book: Behind the Shock Machine

The ongoing saga of Stanley Milgram’s obedience to authority experiments now includes yet another chapter. Australian psychologist and writer Gina Perry has just released a book, Behind the Shock Machine: The Untold Story of the Notorious Milgram Psychology Experiments, in which she explores the studies in detail. Perry has previously discussed Milgram’s work and interviewed participants in the obedience to authority experiments on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio Eye program in an episode titled, Beyond the Shock Machine. (Discussed previously on AHP here.) It is these interviews with the participants of this now infamous study, which is undoubtedly the most unique and provacative aspect of Perry’s work.

Behind the Shock Machine is described on the publisher’s website as follows,

In the summer of 1961, a group of men and women volunteered for a memory experiment to be conducted by young, dynamic psychologist Stanley Milgram. None could have imagined that, once seated in the lab, they would be placed in front of a box known as a shock machine and asked to administer a series of electric shocks to a man they’d just met. And no one could have foreseen how the repercussions of their actions, made under pressure and duress, would reverberate throughout their lives. For what the volunteers did not know was that the man was an actor, the shocks were fake, and what was really being tested was just how far they would go.

When Milgram’s results were released, they created a worldwide sensation. He reported that people had repeatedly shocked a man they believed to be in pain, even dying, because they had been told to — he linked the finding to Nazi behaviour during the Holocaust. But some questioned Milgram’s unethical methods in fooling people. Milgram became both hero and villain, and his work seized the public imagination for more than half a century, inspiring books, plays, films, and art.

For Gina Perry, the story of the experiments never felt finished. Listening to participants’ accounts and reading Milgram’s unpublished files and notebooks, she pieced together an intriguing, sensational story: Milgram’s plans went further than anyone had imagined. This is the compelling tale of one man’s ambition and of the experiment that defined a generation.

Read an extract from the book here.

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And Yet More Milgram…

For those following AHP’s continuing coverage of everything Milgram related, we bring you another look at the now infamous obedience to authority experiments. In a forthcoming issue of Theory & Psychology, historian of psychology Ian Nicholson (right) examines the recent rehabilitation of Milgram’s research. Nicholson draws on the archival record of the obedience to authority experiments to contextualize these attempts to rehabilitate Milgram and his research. The abstract to the article, “Torture at Yale”: Experimental subjects, laboratory torment and the “rehabilitation” of Milgram’s “Obedience to Authority,” reads,

Stanley Milgram’s experiments on “Obedience to Authority” are among the most criticized in all of psychology. However, over the past 20 years, there has been a gradual rehabilitation of Milgram’s work and reputation, a reconsideration that is in turn closely linked to a contemporary “revival” of his Obedience experiments. This paper provides a critical counterpoint to this “Milgram revival” by drawing on archival material from participants in the Obedience study and Milgram himself. This material indicates that Milgram misrepresented (a) the extent of his debriefing procedures, (b) the risk posed by the experiment, and (c) the harm done to his participants. The archival record also indicates that Milgram had doubts about the scientific value of the experiment, thereby compromising his principal ethical justification for employing such extreme methods. The article ends with a consideration of the implications of these historical revelations for contemporary efforts to revive the Milgram paradigm.

The article can currently be accessed through Theory & Psychology’s OnlineFirst publication system.

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Milgram Once More: How Evil Are You?

This Sunday October 30th, just in time for Halloween, the Discovery Channel is airing a special episode of their series Curiosity. The series itself is described on Discovery’s website as

an adventure of discovery, an expedition to uncover the truths behind life’s most challenging questions. With an insatiable thirst for answers and experiences, we’re prepared to do anything, go anywhere and ask anyone to get to the heart of the matter. Whether it’s jumping out of an airplane to confront fear, having neuroscientists implant false memories, or donating tissue to test the possibility of regeneration, there is nothing stopping us as we embark on a global journey of learning and surprises.

Curiosity asks and answers the most fundamental questions facing the world today. Each episode of Curiosity will focus on a single enduring question in science, technology, and society. As is always the case, one single question cascades into several more, making each episode of Curiosity a rich and textured experience. From the micro to the macro, we tackle provocative and insightful questions. Is there a Creator? Is it likely there’s an alternate universe? Could you find out exactly how you are going to die and would you want to know? Are some people genetically prone to violence? Is time travel really possible? Why is it that we dream? What don’t we know about gravity and does it hold the secret for exploring the universe?

Sunday’s episode tackles the question of evil. How Evil Are You?, hosted by horror film director Eli Roth, explores the nature of evil. And, of course, the Milgram obedience to authority experiments are front and center. As has been done a number of times in the last several years, the program attempts to replicate Milgram’s experiment to see if his finding – that ordinary people can be pushed to do horrible things – still holds. The episode is described as follows

Actor/Director Eli Roth is no stranger to exploring the nature of evil. As a master of horror with films like Inglorious Basterds and Hostel, Roth turns his lens to research possibly the most horrifying monster of them all – the average American. In CURIOSITY’s “How Evil are You?”, Roth sets out to recreate the infamous Milgram experiment to see how, or if, the results have changed. Roth himself even undergoes tests and scans to see if he carries what researchers dub “the evil gene.” So does Hollywood’s famous horror director have a little extra ‘edge’ in his craft?…

The video above offers a brief introduction to the program, much of which is focused on the Milgram replication, while the clip below is specifically of the show’s obedience to authority segment. Tune in Sunday at 9pm EST to see what you think of this latest recreation of Milgram’s now infamous experiments.

You can find AHP’s previous coverage of Milgram’s obedience to authority experiments here.

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