A Milgram Resister Speaks

AHP has already done a number of items on the famous obedience experiments of Stanley Milgram and their aftermath. Now we have come across a description from the perspective of one of Milgram’s subjects who refused to continue to the end. The January 2004 issue of Jewish Currents contained an article by Joseph Dimow entitled “A Personal Account of the Milgram Obedience Experiments.” Dimow credited his refusal, in part, to his having been raised in a socialist household where resisting authority was a common theme.

He says that he was suspicious of the real aim of the experiment from the outset, when he was not allowed to see the “short straw” that the “other” subject (the confederate) had putatively selected, and which had led to his being made to play the role of “learner.” Once the study began in earnest, Dimow says:

After a few shocks, the learner let out an “Ouch!” and I asked if he was okay. He said he was, but after the next shock, his complaint became louder. I said I would stop. The “professor” told me to continue, and the learner said he was ready to go on, too. I went on for two or three more shocks. With each, the learner’s cry of pain became louder — and then he asked to stop, and I refused to go any further. The professor became very authoritative. He said that I was costing them valuable time, it was essential for me to continue, I was ruining the experiment. He asserted that he was in charge, not me. He reminded me that I had been paid and insisted that I continue. I refused, offered to give him back the five dollars, and told him that I believed the experiment to be really about how far I would go, that the learner was an accomplice, and that I was determined not to continue.

After convincing the experimenter that he really would not continue, he was asked a number of questions about how he apportioned responsibility for what had gone on during the experiment (he said half to experimenter, a quarter each to the two subject), but was never told whether his suspicions that the experiment was really about “how far one would go” were correct.

I sometimes wonder why I do this when it is already done so well by the people at Mind Hacks who put me on to this story.

About Christopher Green

Professor of Psychology at York University (Toronto). Former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Creator of the "Classics in the History of Psychology" website and of the "This Week in the History of Psychology" podcast series.