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The Untold Story of the Notorious Milgram Psychology Experiments

by Gina Perry

Pub Date: Sept. 3rd, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-59558-921-7
Publisher: New Press

The famed Stanley Milgram psychology experiments shocked the world by suggesting that a majority of humans are capable of cruelty when under the orders of an authority figure. In this book, a secret history of the experiments is revealed, debunking Milgram's most sensational claims.

The experiments, conducted at Yale University in the early 1960s, have long been a staple of psychology textbooks. The setup is dramatic but simple: Subject A sits in a room with a "shock machine" and is instructed to shock an unseen Subject B if he fails a simple memory test. The study was advertised as collecting data on how punishment affects learning and memory, but in reality, Milgram was not shocking Subject B, instead carefully monitoring the behavior of Subject A. The experiment's surprising results indicated that 65 percent of the subjects administered shocks even after the actor playing Subject B screamed in pain or even complained of a heart condition. In a postwar environment still reeling from the horror of the Holocaust, the connection between the Milgram experiments and the behavior of the Nazis brought questions of human behavior and obedience into the national spotlight. However, much like the experiments themselves, Milgram's published results were replete with omissions and inconsistencies, casting doubt on his methodology and ethics. Perry, a psychologist who first presented her research in an award-winning Australian documentary, spent several years interviewing original participants, combing through archived transcripts of the experiments, analyzing unpublished data and meeting with psychologists who worked with Milgram at that time. The result is a passionate text that humanizes the subjects and provides nuanced, provocative context to the experiments. The author asks profound questions about what truths, if any, can be elicited from analysis of human nature in a constructed environment.

It's about time someone wrote this book.