A meta-analysis by Dominic J. Packer, recently published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3(4), offers to shed new light on how we interpret the influential series of studies conducted by Stanley Milgram at Yale in July 1961.
A meta-analysis of data from eight of Milgram’s obedience experiments reveals previously undocumented systematicity in the behavior of disobedient participants. In all studies, disobedience was most likely at 150 v, the point at which the shocked “learner” first requested to be released. Further illustrating the importance of the 150-v point, obedience rates across studies covaried with rates of disobedience at 150 v, but not at any other point; as obedience decreased, disobedience at 150 v increased. In contrast, disobedience was not associated with the learner’s escalating expressions of pain. This analysis identifies a critical decision point in the obedience paradigm and suggests that disobedient participants perceived the learner’s right to terminate the experiment as overriding the experimenter’s orders, a finding with potential implications for the treatment of prisoners.
Yet this analysis does more than offer a new interpretation of a famous data set. It also highlights one of the many benefits, for contemporary researchers, of studying history: finding results that are both significant and meaningful, both statistically and from the perspective of the discipline as a whole. Continue reading Systematic Disobedience in Milgram’s Studies
Robert Zajonc’s was probably best known for his work finding situations in which emotion, rather than cognition, seems to lead behavior. Sometimes the effect was entirely unknown to the person engaged in the behavior. For instance, there was the “mere exposure effect,” in which people prefer objects they have previously seen, often so fleetingly that they cannot consciously recall having seen them. He also demonstrated a small relationship between birth order and IQ; and he found that experts are facilitated by the presence of onlookers, but novices are hindered by them; and he controversially theorized that emotional facial expressions actually control the flow of blood to regions of the brain responsible for emotional feeling. Continue reading Social Psychologist Robert Zajonc Dies
The British Psychological Society’s flagship journal, The Psychologist, has published two items related to the history of psychology in its latest issue, and it has kindly made them freely available on its website.
The first is an article by Australian psychologist Malcolm Macmillan on the mythology surrounding the case of Phineas Gage, the Vermont railroad worker who had a tamping iron blasted through his head in 1848 and lived to tell about it.
Macmillan’s research on the case was published in An Odd Kind of Fame: Stories of Phineas Gage (MIT, 2002), and he has been interviewed for my podcast series, “This Week in the History of Psychology” (Sept. 11-17). Through extensive examination of the primary documents in the case, MacMillan has discovered that the Gage case has been distorted repeatedly through the century-and-a-half since, to suit the neuropsychological theories of the person writing the account. Continue reading “The Psychologist” on Scientific Myths
Although nearly half a century old, it seems that there are still many things to say about Stanley Milgram’s famous series of experiments on obedience. Recently there was a new report in New York Times on the research program, in which many otherwise normal subjects were persuaded by white-coated experimenter to deliver (apparent) electrical shocks to another (apparent) subject, sometimes up to the point of (apparently) killing him.
The July 1 NYT article, by Benedict Carey, includes a description of a forthcoming publication in American Psychologist of Jerry Burger’s replication of the Milgram study. Continue reading More on Milgram in NYT
It is often thought that “old” experiments — especially in topics like social psychology — may not reveal very much about how people would behave today. Today’s people, the story is often told, are more sophisticated than the lock-step dupes of times past. This “explanation” is often repeated even in the face of modern replications showing that people are as just as likely, for instance, to give severe electrical shocks to strangers as they were back in the early 1960s (here). And we have recently seen all too clearly that people in the “real world” will still follow orders to torture others. Continue reading Asch Conformity Replication
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. Continue reading A Milgram Resister Speaks
Famed American psychologist Gardner Lindzey died on Tuesday, February 5 at the age of 87. The announcement was made on the e-mail list for Cheiron by John Hogan, the History and Obituaries Editor for American Psychologist. No other details were given.
Perhaps best known for editing the two-volume Handbook of Social Psychology, first published in 1954, Lindzey also authored popular textbooks on psychology (with Calvin S. Hall and Richard Thompson) and on personality (with Calvin S. Hall). He also co-edited several recent volumes of the History of Psychology in Autobiography, a series begun by Carl Murchison in 1930. Continue reading Gardner Lindzey Dies
The Psychologist, the flagship journal of the British Psychological Society, has published an article by S. Alexander Haslam and Stephen D. Reicher that challenges what the authors call the “clear consensus amongst social psychologists, historians and philosophers that everyone succumbs to the power of the group and hence no one can resist evil once in its midst.”
Relying on a number of recent and soon-to-be-published studies, and re-analyses of old studies, they reject Hannah Arendt’s famous conclusion that Adolf Eichman and others like him are not immoral “monsters” who can be easily distinguished from the “normal” people but, rather, are entirely ordinary individuals caught up social currents beyond their ability to control or disengage themselves from. Arendt’s conclusion was instrumental in the famous experiments of Asch, Milgram, and Zimbardo, [SEE CORRECTION BELOW] Continue reading Is Evil Not So Banal After All?
The latest issue of American Psychologist, 62(6), includes an article questioning the fundamental assumption of an exemplary case in the history of social psychology.
This article argues that an iconic event in the history of helping research–the story of the 38 witnesses who remained inactive during the murder of Kitty Genovese–is not supported by the available evidence. Using archive material, the authors show that there is no evidence for the presence of 38 witnesses, or that witnesses observed the murder, or that witnesses remained inactive. Drawing a distinction between the robust bystander research tradition and the story of the 38 witnesses, the authors explore the consequences of the story for the discipline of psychology. They argue that the story itself plays a key role in psychology textbooks. They also suggest that the story marks a new way of conceptualizing the dangers of immersion in social groups. Finally, they suggest that the story itself has become a modern parable, the telling of which has served to limit the scope of inquiry into emergency helping.
Related resources are provided below. Continue reading Kitty Genovese and the history of helping