Author of "Obedience to Authority".

Born in 1933, Died in 1984.

Milgram is probably best known for his examination of the justifications for acts of genocide offered by those accused at the WWII Nuremburg War Criminals Trials. They said that they were merely "following orders" from their superiors - and therefore they were not to be blamed for the atrocities committed by the Nazi Regime. Milgram's experiments attempted to test the validity of these excuses by determining just how sick and twisted people could get when ordered to do so by an authority figure.

The full graphical details of the experiments are explained in another node, but I'll go over the general idea here - the experiment consisted of three individuals, two of whom knew what was going on, and the other who was ignorant of the fact that he was in an experiment. There were three characters relevant to these experimental scenarios.

In reality, nobody was hurt or injured. The learner was an actor with a scripted reaction for each level of abuse to be applied, which would increment as the experiment progressed. Surprisingly (or not, depending on how cynical you are), he discovered that 65% of the teachers who came and went were willing to give harmful electric shocks to their learners - up to 450 volts - no matter how much the learner screamed. Although some of them started whining to the authority figure when the voltage got to be too intense. 0% of the teachers balked before 300 volts.

Not one.

These experiments were and are considered to be highly unethical, because the teacher had no idea that he or she was in an experiment, and they found out some pretty disturbing things about themselves. Oddly TV Shows like Candid Camera and Spy T.V. are viewed with glee.

These experiments ran from 1961-1962.

Candid Camera was introduced in 1960.

On the lighter side, Milgram performed many other, less controversial experiments during his career. One of which I'm sure most everyone is familiar with - the Small World Method (a.k.a. Six Degrees of Separation or The Kevin Bacon Game), and the Lost Letter Technique. (A node already exists on the 6DoS, so I won't go into that, but I'll breifly explain The Lost Letter Technique.)

The lost letter technique attempts to determine how helpful people are in a given situation. Several envelopes presumably containing letters or donations are "lost" throughout the designated area, fully stamped and addressed, but nevertheless abandoned. Surprisingly (or not, depending on how cynical you are), most of the envelopes addressed to favorable organizations (Medical Research labs for instance) and personal letters (Walter Carnap), reached their destination (71 - 72% respectively). Most of the letters (75%) addressed to Friends of the Nazi Party and Friends of the Communist Party, were never seen again.

Another interesting thing to note about that experiment is that 40% of the letters to the Communist Party, 32% of the Nazi Party, 25% of the Medical Research letters, and 10% of the letters to 'Walter Carnap' had been opened.

This technique was used to accurately predict the Johnson-Goldwater election. Today this has become the most widely used non-reactive measure of societal attitudes.

Another experiment which Milgram ran from 1970 - 1971 was an experiment on television's ability to produce antisocial behavior. A popular television show (Medical Center) provided an episode with 4 endings, two of which were antisocial - depicting a main character stealing money - one had the same character promoting pro-social activity - donating money to charity - and the final episode was basically neutral. People were invited to watch the show, then they were directed to an office where they could pick up compensation.

When these people got to the office they were greeted with an empty office and a note that said all the prizes were gone.

Plus there was a charity box sitting there with a buck sticking out of it.

Several follow-up experiments were tried; different cities, different boosters and facilitators, etc, but never found a correlation between the media and anti-social behavior.

Even so, media is still the first thing to be scrutinized when a child goes on a murderous rampage.

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