The ongoing saga of Stanley Milgram’s obedience to authority experiments now includes yet another chapter. 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 Listening to participants’ accounts and reading Milgram’s unpublished files and notebooks, she pieced together an intriguing, sensational story: Milgram’s plans went further than anyone had imagined.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.