Tag Archives: obedience to authority

New Book: Behind the Shock Machine

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 Listening to participants’ accounts and reading Milgram’s unpublished files and notebooks, she pieced together an intriguing, sensational story: Milgram’s plans went further than anyone had imagined.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.

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.

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.

William Shatner’s Milgram Portrayal Now Online

In 1975, William Shatner, best known for his role as Captain James T. Kirk in the original Star Trek television series, took on the starring role in a now largely forgotten television movie: The Tenth Level. Broadcast on CBS, the TV movie featured Shatner as the Stanley Milgram-esque psychologist Stephen Turner, conducting research into the ability of individuals to “just follow orders.” While the movie is not a cinematic masterpiece, it is a fun watch for fans of Shatner and historians of psychology alike. The full movie, though not available for purchase, has been posted online on YouTube in 13 parts:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10
Part 11
Part 12
Part 13

AHP’s previous posts on Stanley Milgram and his obedience to authority experiments can be found here.

Milgram and Masculinity, & More in Isis

The June 2011 issue of Isis, the official journal of the History of Science Society, is now out. Included in this issue are two articles of interest to historians of psychology. In his article on Stanley Milgram’s now infamous obedience to authority experiments, Ian Nicholson argues that Milgram’s research was less an attempt to explain the horrific acts of the Holocaust than it was a response to a crisis of masculinity in Cold War America. Nadine Weidman, in her article on American playwright Robert Ardrey, explores the popularization of the idea that human beings are innately violent and relates this view to the later development of sociobiology. Titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“’Shocking’ Masculinity: Stanley Milgram, ‘Obedience to Authority,’ and the ‘Crisis of Manhood’ in Cold War America,” by Ian Nicholson. The abstract reads,

Stanley Milgram’s study of “obedience to authority” is one of the best-known psychological experiments of the twentieth century. This essay examines the study’s special charisma through a detailed consideration of the intellectual, cultural, and gender contexts of Cold War America. It suggests that Milgram presented not a “timeless” experiment on “human nature” but, rather, a historically contingent, scientifically sanctioned “performance” of American masculinity at a time of heightened male anxiety. The essay argues that this gendered context invested the obedience experiments with an extraordinary plausibility, immediacy, and relevance. Immersed in a discourse of masculinity besieged, many Americans read the obedience experiments not as a fanciful study of laboratory brutality but as confirmation of their worst fears. Milgram’s extraordinary success thus lay not in his “discovery” of the fragility of individual conscience but in his theatrical flair for staging culturally relevant masculine performances.

“Popularizing the Ancestry of Man: Robert Ardrey and the Killer Instinct,” by Nadine Weidman. The abstract reads,

This essay examines Robert Ardrey (1908–1980)—American playwright, screenwriter, and prolific author—as a case study in the popularization of science. Bringing together evidence from both paleoanthropology and ethology, Ardrey became in the 1960s a vocal proponent of the theory that human beings are innately violent. The essay shows that Ardrey used his popular scientific books not only to consolidate a new science of human nature but also to question the popularizer’s standard role, to reverse conventional hierarchies of scientific expertise, and to test the boundaries of professional scientific authority. Understanding how he did this can help us reassess the meanings and uses of popular science as critique in Cold War America. The essay also shows that E. O. Wilson’s sociobiology was in part a reaction to the subversive political message of Ardrey’s science.