Stanley Milgram

Stanley Milgram (1933-1984) was an eminent American psychologist who was famous for his innovative approach. His study, called The Milgram experiment, caused controversy among the general public and fellow psychologists alike and most of his other experiments have been influential in development of psychology.

Stanley Milgram was born on August 15, 1933 in the Bronx, New York City. His parents were immigrants; his father Samuel was a Hungarian Jew and his mother Adele came from Romania. While at school, Milgram excelled in all subjects and he was as good at science as he was at art. He first attended James Monroe High School, where he was a member of an honor society and also the school newspaper's editor. After that he continued his education in Queens College, from which he graduated in 1954 with a major in political sciences.

Initially, Milgram considered moving on to Columbia University but changed his mind and enrolled in Harvard University in the relatively new department of Social Relations. At Harvard, he was mentored by Gordon Allport and achieved a Ph.D. in Social Psychology in 1960. While doing a research for his dissertation, Milgram spent a year in Norway and one in France.

Milgram's doctoral thesis was based on cross-cultural differences in conformity, so spending time abroad gave him the data he needed to conduct his research. More than 400 people were subjects to his test. He concluded that Norwegians felt more pressure to conform than the French. He said: "The group is always willing to perform in the laboratory at the experimenter's convenience." In the early 1960s, Milgram moved to Yale, where his experiments on obedience began. The National Science Foundation funded this work.

The experiment consisted of two people in a room, who were described as a teacher and a learner. In fact only the teacher was a subject of the experiment but they did not know it. The teacher asked the learner questions and had to inflict an electric shock on the learner for each wrong answer. The voltage increased by 15 volts with each mistake. There was no shock at all, since the learner was a part of the set-up. They were asked to demonstrate distress, pain and even symptoms of heart problems. If a teacher decided to stop the test, they were given orders to continue inflicting the shocks until a maximum of 450 volts were reached. Milgram's finding showed that 65 percent of the subjects reached the maximum power.

Milgram published the results in 1963 and immediately became the subject of a national debate. His experiment was classified as unethical and misleading for the subjects, who only wished to help and please the psychologist. However, this method was taken into consideration in various trials against suspected Nazi perpetrators. In 1985, two mandatory psychology courses, based on Milgram's findings, were introduced to the United States Army.

Although they do not match the popularity of the obedience experiment, the rest of Milgram's experiments are no less notable and interesting. The ‘Small World' phenomenon, for instance, suggests that any person in the world can reach any other person in the world via six acquaintances. Despite the fact that the results of this experiment were considered inconclusive, the theory is still remarkably popular. The ‘Lost Letter Experiment' studied people's willingness to help others when it was not required. Stamped and sealed letters were left at random public places and Milgram examined whether passers-by would pick them up and re-send them. Milgram also studied the effects of violence on TV. The participants in the experiment were shown three different endings of a TV series and findings revealed that the subjects who have seen the violent ending were no more prone to violence than others.

In 1967, Milgram moved to City University of New York and became head of the social psychology program. In 1970, he published The Experience of Living in Cities, which had a profound influence on the development of urban psychology. In 1980, while he was carrying out another series of experiments, he had a heart attack. Four more experiments ensued over the next few years and in 1984 Milgram died in New York City, leaving a wife and two children behind.

Stanley Milgram: Selected full-text books and articles

Experiments with People: Revelations from Social Psychology By Robert P. Abelson; Kurt P. Frey; Aiden P. Gregg Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004
Librarian's tip: Chap. 21 "Just Following Orders: A Shocking Demonstration of Obedience to Authority"
The Making of Psychology: Discussions with Creative Contributors By Richard I. Evans Alfred A. Knopf, 1976
Librarian's tip: Chap. 27 "Stanley Milgram"
A primary source is a work that is being studied, or that provides first-hand or direct evidence on a topic. Common types of primary sources include works of literature, historical documents, original philosophical writings, and religious texts.
Understanding Genocide: The Social Psychology of the Holocaust By Leonard S. Newman; Ralph Erber Oxford University Press, 2002
Librarian's tip: Chap. 4 "Perpetrator Behavior as Destructive Obedience: An Evaluation of Stanley Milgram's Perspective, the Most Influential Social-Psychological Approach to the Holocaust"
Ethics in Practice: Lawyers' Roles, Responsibilities, and Regulation By Deborah L. Rhode Oxford University Press, 2000
Librarian's tip: "The Milgram Obedience Experiments" begins on p. 96
Research - Tips for Readers of Research: Beware the 'Classic Study' By Bracey, Gerald W Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 83, No. 8, April 2002
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