Stanley Milgram (15 August 1933 – 20 December 1984) was an American social psychologist famous for his controversial study known as the Milgram Experiment on obedience to authority figures, conducted in the 1960s during his professorship at Yale, and for the small-world experiment (the source of the six degrees of separation concept) as part of his dissertation while at Harvard. He also introduced the concept of the familiar stranger.
- If you think it is easy to violate social constraints, get onto a bus and sing out loud. Full-throated song now, no humming. Many people will say it's easy to carry out this act, but not one in a hundred will be able to do it.
The point is not to think about singing, but to try to do it. Only in action can you fully realize the forces operative in social behavior. That is why I am an experimentalist.
- Psychology in Today's World (1975), p. 314
- I would say, on the basis of having observe a thousand people in the experiment and having my own intuition shaped and informed by these experiments, that if a system of death camps were set up in the United States of the sort we had seen in Nazi Germany, one would find sufficient personnel for those camps in any medium-sized American town.
- Interview on Sixty Minutes (31 March 1979)
- Actual quote, which can be heard in Discovery Channel's Curiosity: How Evil Are You?: I would say -- on the basis of having observed a thousand people in the experiment, and having my own intuition shaped and informed by these experiments -- that if a system of death camps were set up in the United States of the sort we had seen in Nazi Germany, one would be able to find sufficient personnel for those camps in any medium-sized American town.
- It may be that we are puppets — puppets controlled by the strings of society. But at least we are puppets with perception, with awareness. And perhaps our awareness is the first step to our liberation. The fact that obedience is often a necessity in human society does not diminish our responsibility as citizens. Rather, it confers on us a special obligation to place in positions of authority those most likely to use it humanely. And people are inventive. The variety of political forms we have seen in history are only several of many possible political arrangements. Perhaps the next step is to invent and to explore political forms that will give conscience a better chance to resist errant authority.
- As quoted in The Social Dimensions Of Law And Justice In Contemporary India (1979) by V. R. Krishna Iyer
- The disappearance of a sense of responsibility is the most far-reaching consequence of submission to authority.
- Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View (1974), ch. 1: The Dilemma of Obedience
- When an individual wishes to stand in opposition to authority, he does best to find support for his position from others in his group. The mutual support provided by men for each other is the strongest bulwark we have against the excesses of authority. (Not that the group is always on the right side of the issue. Lynch mobs and groups of predatory hoodlums remind us that groups may be vicious in the influence they exert.)
- p. 121
- Each individual possesses a conscience which to a greater or lesser degree serves to restrain the unimpeded flow of impulses destructive to others. But when he merges his person into an organizational structure, a new creature replaces autonomous man, unhindered by the limitations of individual morality, freed of humane inhibition, mindful only of the sanctions of authority.
- p. 188
- The social psychology of this century reveals a major lesson: often it is not so much the kind of person a man is as the kind of situation in which he finds himself that determines how he will act.
- p. 205
Quotes about Milgram
- While I was a subject in 1964, though I believed that I was hurting someone, I was totally unaware of why I was doing so. Few people ever realize when they are acting according to their own beliefs and when they are meekly submitting to authority.
- Unnamed participant in the Milgram experiment, in a letter to Milgram, thanking him for the lessons it taught him, as quoted in Ugly as Sin : The Truth about How We Look and Finding Freedom from Self-Hatred (2010) by Toni Raiten-D'Antonio, p. 89
- It becomes clear that the Asch, Milgram and Zimbardo experiments replicated, in a compressed time, the dynamics of authority and groupthink that play a critical role in our socialization. Asch showed that once the standard is set, people will adopt it and go along with it, even if it is illogical. When the stakes are raised, as they were in Milgram's work, people may struggle with unethical commands, but the majority still obey. And when authorities set parameters but leave the decision-making to the rest of us, we still have a tendency to impose strict control on those we consider deviant. All of these findings affirm the power of culture, socialization, and our widespread fear that we will be judged and punished.
Since human beings have a desperate need for safety, approval, and belonging (which yields access to group resources), the worst kind of punishment is ostracism. This shunning may be subtle or extreme.
- Toni Raiten-D'Antonio, in Ugly as Sin : The Truth about How We Look and Finding Freedom from Self-Hatred (2010), Ch. 8 : Difference as Deviance p. 89
- The Milgram experiments asked participants to play the role of a “teacher,” who was responsible for administering electric shocks to a “learner” when the learner failed to answer test questions correctly. The participants were not aware that the learner was working with the experimenters and did not actually receive any shocks. As the learners failed more and more, the teachers were instructed to increase the voltage intensity of the shocks — even when the learners started screaming, pleading to have the shocks stop, and eventually stopped responding altogether. Pressed by the experimenters — serious looking men in lab coats, who said they’d assume responsibility for the consequences — most participants did not stop administering shocks until they reached 300 volts or above — already in the lethal range. The majority of teachers delivered the maximum shock of 450 volts.
We all like to think that the line between good and evil is impermeable — that people who do terrible things, such as commit murder, treason, or kidnapping, are on the evil side of this line, and the rest of us could never cross it. But the Stanford Prison Experiment and the Milgram studies revealed the permeability of that line. Some people are on the good side only because situations have never coerced or seduced them to cross over.
- stanleymilgram.com - site maintained by Dr Thomas Blass
- Milgram Page - page documenting Milgram's Obedience to Authority experiment
- 'The Man Who Shocked the World' article in Psychology Today by Thomas Blass
- 'The Man Who Shocked the World' article in BMJ by Raj Persaud
- 'Steve Blinkhorn's review of 'The man who shocked the world: the life and legacy of Stanley Milgram' by Thomas Blass.
- Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority (1974) Chapter 1 and Chapter 15
- Atrocity, which re-enacts the Milgram Experiment
- Guide to the Stanley Milgram Papers, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library
- Milgram's Obedience To Authority — Commentary from 50 Psychology Classics (2007)
- milgramreenactment.org - site documenting Milgram's Obedience to Authority experiment by UK artist Rod Dickinson