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A88058316 - The Milgram Experiment: Studying What Humans Are Capable Of

Post 1

Dmitri Gheorgheni - Post Editor

Entry: The Milgram Experiment: Studying What Humans Are Capable Of - A88058316
Author: Dmitri Gheorgheni - Post Editor - U1590784

I finally finished rewatching the movie and reading the whole book. I did this because I really think the Milgram experiments were important.

Milgram's biggest surprise was that the only person who behaved in the way he had first predicted - staying calm and rational, but absolutely refusing to participate once she realised what was happening - was Gretchen Brandt. Who had grown up in Nazi Germany.

She said she'd seen too much already.

If you get a chance, watch the movie. It's informative, it's really funny in places, and it has a literal interpretation of the phrase 'the elephant in the room.'

smiley - dragon


A88058316 - The Milgram Experiment: Studying What Humans Are Capable Of

Post 2

coelacanth

I can't believe we didn't have already have an Entry about this research! Thank you for filling the gap.

My thoughts:
Entry title "The Milgram Experiment". People would recognise the name, but perhaps "Milgram's research into Obedience" would be more accurate. Despite psychology researchers at the time calling all kinds of work "experiments" in order to assist with credibility and acceptance by the wider scientific community, it's not what today would be recognised as a true experiment, more a controlled observation. There are several times you've used the work "experiment" in the Entry, because Milgram did, but some could be replaced with "the research" or "the study".

You have writen about "Planning to fool people" and "The whole thing was a scam", which might be personal opinion, but Milgram carried out a piece of academic research in a prestigious university, using all due processes of the scientific method in use at the time. Prior discussion with his academic peers, literature review, predictions made before the study, piloting the study, refining the methodology and so on.

I've looked at my own 1974 copy of "Obedience to Authority". There are phrases which are less value laden.
From the dust jacket: "...under the pretext of taking part in a laboratory experiment..."
Chapter 1 The Dilemma of Obedience "...genuinely naive subject.."
Chapter 2 Method of Inquiry describes the "careful postexperimental treatment..." - debriefing - and the reconciliation with the "learner", along with assurance that "their own part in the experiments was treated in a dignified way and their behaviour in the experiment respected". In these interviews, if the participants were asked, the majority of them said they had accepted the situation as genuine, although Milgram does admit that even if people said they didn't believe it, this might be due to a post experimental attempt to rationalise their behaviour which would "...go a long way towards preserving their positive self-conception". Essentially some participants might have made a "cognitive adjustment" of denial.

In the appendix Milgram admits to "...elements of theatrical staging..." to improve credibility. It's long been a criticism to say that he didn't really consider the ethical issue of deception, but that's of its time. Deception wouldn't happen now unless a researcher could convince an ethics committee that there was absolutely no other way.

So, fooling people and scamming them might be for Barnum and Candid Camera but in my belief not appropriate descriptors in this case. Deception, a pretext, misleading, concealing the true nature of the study or other similar phrases might be better.

(Did the biology teacher playing the part of the "experimenter" do the debriefing, or Milgram, with both "experimenter" and "teacher" present. I can't really work it out from the book.)

Last thing which I realise is very picky so ignore if you think it might confuse people. You state early on "Stanley Milgram wanted to test whether ordinary, civilised people could be persuaded to hurt another human being just because an authority figure told them to." Actually that's really not what he wanted to do. He assumed - because so many of those he discussed it with told him so - that *some* people might be receptive to obeying authority figures and that it *might* be due to society or upbringing, and that whilst conditions in Nazi Germany at the time might lead to extreme obedience, citizens in freethinking democratic societies such as America in the 60s would make their own minds up. So he predicted that they *couldn't* be persuaded to hurt someone, and was very suprised to find that in fact they could. Which you do talk about later on in the section "Predicting the Results".

(Quite wordy, my apologies!)

smiley - bluefish


A88058316 - The Milgram Experiment: Studying What Humans Are Capable Of

Post 3

Dmitri Gheorgheni - Post Editor

Hey, thanks for reading! You've shown me one thing: once again, irony doesn't translate well.

I wasn't criticising Dr Milgram. I was trying to make his work more accessible. (And from the perspective of a former undergraduate psych experiment participant in the 70s, they did 'fool' you but not in a bad way.)

I like the idea about changing the title. I will do that. I'll also go through and tone down the 'scam' business with softer words in an attempt to keep it breezy but make sure it's clear there's no criticism implied.

The film 'Experimenter' reenacts the work and appears to adhere closely to the book as it quotes directly from it. In the film, Milgram is doing the debriefing. I hope that helps.

Give me a few minutes for a rewrite. smiley - smiley


A88058316 - The Milgram Experiment: Studying What Humans Are Capable Of

Post 4

coelacanth

Yes, I totally missed the breezy and ironic aspect! I'll back away.

I had a look at Slater's chapter in "Opening Skinner's Box" and she talks about Milgram doing the debriefing too. She's done some recent interviews with a couple of now elderly participants, although says the archive material won't be released until 2075.

I always taught my students to look at who funded research, because thats often an indication of what they want to find. Like so much of the social psychology research at the time, it was funded through the National Science Foundation - part of the USA government. I vaguely think a lot of it was to do with NASA being interested in findings, but that could be wrong. Either way, you can see why the US government might like to fund research that would 'prove' America wasn't like Nazi Germany, and then to be not very pleased to find that perhaps it was.
smiley - bluefish


A88058316 - The Milgram Experiment: Studying What Humans Are Capable Of

Post 5

Dmitri Gheorgheni - Post Editor

Okay: I have gone through and coyly changed 'experiment' to other locutions, although that's what Stanley Milgram called it. The direct quotes, of course, remain verbatim.

Interestingly, the 2006 virtual replication of the Milgram work refers to it as an 'experiment'. This is a multi-authored study (see link).

Thanks - going through and varying the wording improved readability, I think. smiley - ok See what you think.

As for the reference to 'Candid Camera': this comes partly from the film and partly from other sources which insist that both Milgram and his high school friend Philip Zimbardo (of Stanford Prison Experiment infamy) were influenced by the work of Allen Funt, who at one time worked with Kurt Lewin. (Funt also worked for Eleanor Roosevelt during the war.) Having grown up with 'Candid Camera' as part of my cultural baggage I can attest that the series was more than amusement at the time.

Here's some background by a psychologist/historian named Gina Perry:

http://www.gina-perry.com/2012/04/10/candid-camera/

Here's an Open Culture piece with embedded Milgram videos which I haven't had a chance to watch yet - if I see anything in there that leads to tweaking, I will tweak.

http://www.openculture.com/2013/11/watch-footage-from-the-psychology-experiment-that-shocked-the-world-milgrams-obedience-study-1961.html

One of the things I wanted to get across is that, apart from the 'shock value' of the initial results, Milgram truly did refine his research methods in a search to find which parameters would make it easier for the subject to make better choices.

So let me know if you have other thoughts, and thanks for the read-through! smiley - smiley

smiley - dragon




A88058316 - The Milgram Experiment: Studying What Humans Are Capable Of

Post 6

Dmitri Gheorgheni - Post Editor

Just saw your post - I agree about funding. We 50s-60s children became very skeptical for obvious reasons...


A88058316 - The Milgram Experiment: Studying What Humans Are Capable Of

Post 7

coelacanth

By 2006 Milgram's study was very widely known about so behaviour in the replication might have had a different cause.

To open up class discussion I used to show my students footage of the 2010 French documentary Le Jeu de Mort, the first part of which mislead people into thinking they could win big money in a game show as long as they obeyed orders to administer "shocks" to opponents. Perhaps in these times people are driven to be on TV, get famous and win money, and even if they were aware of Milgram's work, perhaps didn'tconnect it with the chance to get known.

I once worked with someone who was part of a massive televised hoax lasting several weeks. This person told me they suspected it was a hoax but didn't want to speak up because if it wasn't they would look foolish in front of millions of viewers and lose the chance of the really huge prize at the end. There is one episode where you can hear them being vaguely doubtful. There was of course no prize and they did feel foolish and ashamed afterwards, especially given how excited they had been beforehand. It wasn't until I invited them to talk to my students after we had looked at the Stamford Prison study that they were able to make sense of their own behaviour. They said it helped.

Yes I know Milgram called his study an experiment. Most researchers did at the time, since they wanted to raise the scientific status of the subject. But it would be referred to as a controlled observation now. The word experiment now has a very specific meaning and would require operationalising the variables and having a testable hypothesis.
smiley - bluefish


A88058316 - The Milgram Experiment: Studying What Humans Are Capable Of

Post 8

coelacanth

This really will be my last bit, I'm procrastination posting!

You said: "Milgram truly did refine his research methods in a search to find which parameters would make it easier for the subject to make better choices."
This seems like very poor science, but a very good way to continue getting funding. Tweak the procedures until you get the results you've been told to find.
smiley - bluefish


A88058316 - The Milgram Experiment: Studying What Humans Are Capable Of

Post 9

coelacanth

Popping back because I forgot to say about finding some meaningful way to put the $4 into an equivelant for today.

Very roughly, that's about £3 10 in 1961 UK (pre decimal) which put into Measuring Worth (used for previous Edited Entries) http://www.measuringworth.com/calculators/ppoweruk/ gives perhaps about £90 today, $100?
smiley - bluefish


A88058316 - The Milgram Experiment: Studying What Humans Are Capable Of

Post 10

Dmitri Gheorgheni - Post Editor

Well, I remember 1962, and I'm doubtful $4 was ever equivalent to $100. smiley - laugh I'd say it was more like $20. For $4, you could have bought a good meal in a diner for a couple of people, but nothing fancy. Prices were pretty stable throughout the 60s, as I recall. Now, that's anecdotal, I realise, but $100 was a lot more money - I mean, you could rent a room as a student for $50/month in 1970...

The $4 was a pretty token sum. My mom might give us $5 to go to the bowling alley - 3 games and snacks for two kids.

I agree absolutely about the difference between using the term 'experiment' then and now. Even allowing for the fact that I studied biology and chemistry and we tended to think the psych department played fast and loose. smiley - winkeye

smiley - applause I like your approach to teaching the material. I realise it's different now - what was fresh news to us in 1970 is 'history' now. smiley - rofl


A88058316 - The Milgram Experiment: Studying What Humans Are Capable Of

Post 11

coelacanth

There's an Edited Entry on the Scientific Method A918461
smiley - bluefish


A88058316 - The Milgram Experiment: Studying What Humans Are Capable Of

Post 12

Dmitri Gheorgheni - Post Editor

smiley - ok


A88058316 - The Milgram Experiment: Studying What Humans Are Capable Of

Post 13

coelacanth

I think my mistake in the conversion was in changing $ to £ and then using Measuring Worth on the result. Using just the $ conversion, $4 in 1961 seems to be equivalant to about $37 now, which sounds more likely.

Would that get you two meals in a diner today? It's about £32 (today anyway) which probably would buy two cafe meals in the UK.
smiley - bluefish


A88058316 - The Milgram Experiment: Studying What Humans Are Capable Of

Post 14

Dmitri Gheorgheni - Post Editor

Yes, it would. smiley - smiley


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