"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."

~Stanley Milgram, 1974 (as quoted on http://www.stanleymilgram.com/quotes.html)

Stanley Milgram: His Life and Work

Above: Stanley Milgram and the false shock generator that he used in his obedience experiments (image and caption from Franzoi 298)

Stanley Milgram (1933-1984) conducted influential and controversial experiments that demonstrated how blind obedience to authority could override moral conscience. Milgram was raised in a Bronx working-class home of first-generation Jewish-American parents from Eastern Europe. He attended James Monroe High School in the Bronx (1947-1950) and earned an A.B. in political science at Queens College (1950-1954), where an impressed dean convinced him to switch to psychology. He subsequently studied scientific methods of interpersonal behavior with Solomon Asch and Gordon Allport at Harvard University, where he completed his doctorate in social psychology (1954-1960) with a dissertation on nationality and conformity. For this reserach, Milgram spent a year in Norway and a year in France, exploring the cultural differences in conformity. He found that pressure for conformity was greater for Norwegians than for the French. After returning from France, Milgram studied social psychology with Asch at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. He married Alexandra Menkin, a psychiatric social worker, on December 10, 1961; they had two children (http://www.findarticles.com).


Milgram began his remarkable academic career as an assistant professor at Yale University (1960-1963), where he conducted his experiments on obedience to authority; he found that participants continued to obey the destructive commands of an authority figure and deliver what they thought were painful shocks to a restrained individual (Franzoi 30). From Yale, Milgram returned to Harvard (1963-1967), where he continued his socio-psychological research. At Harvard, Milgram performed an experiment to see how much social circles overlapped. He selected 100 names at random from an Ohio telephone directory. Each of those people was mailed a card addressed to a stockbroker in Boston. These individuals were asked to mail this card to the stockbroker if they knew him, or to forward the card to a friend who might be able to get it closer to its destination. Milgram concluded that we are all separated from any other person on Earth by about six degrees of mutual acquaintances. He called them degrees of separation, and this idea of "six degrees of separation" quickly entered the popular consciousness. (http://aries.mos.org/internet/activities.html)

In 1967, Milgram moved from assistant professor at Harvard to professor and head of the social psychology doctoral program at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate School. At CUNY, Milgram was eventually appointed CUNY Distinguished Professor (1980); he remained at CUNY for the rest of his career, until 1984, continuing with his innovative research. In 1970 he published "The Experience of Living in Cities," which appeared in Science (March 13, 1970) and had a major influence on the new field of urban psychology; four years later, he published Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View (1974), his award-winning book (http://www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC).

One of Milgram's most unique social experiments during his time at CUNY studied the effects of television violence. The experiment involved an episode of the CBS program "Medical Center," with subjects viewing one of three endings. Milgram found that viewers watching a violent ending were no more likely than others to commit an antisocial act when given the opportunity. He also performed experiments with "cyranoids:" intermediaries who communicated with someone using words from a third person. He found, for example, that listeners never suspected that an 11-year-old cyranoid's words were actually those of a 50-year-old professor. (http://www.findarticles.com).

Milgram suffered the first of a series of massive heart attacks in 1980. He died of his fifth heart attack in New York City in 1984, at the age of 51. Milgram's most enduring legacy is his innovation in devising new experimental methods to reveal the causes underlying interpersonal behavior, and his courage in championing these methods when under fire. (http://www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC; http://www.findarticles.com).


Stanley Milgram Homepage
About the obedience experiment
Follow-up Studies
Biography of Stanley Milgram: his life and work
The Results
Interpretations of the Results
Basis for the experiment

Sample Conversations

Works Cited/Useful Links