Stanley Milgram is one of the most influential and widely-cited social psychologists of the twentieth century. Recognized as perhaps the most creative figure in his field, he is famous for crafting social-psychological experiments with an almost artistic sense of creative imagination – casting new light on social phenomena in the process. His 1974 study Obedience to Authority exemplifies creative thinking at its most potent, and controversial. Interested in the degree to which an “authority figure” could encourage people to commit acts against their sense of right and wrong, Milgram tricked volunteers for a “learning experiment” into believing that they were inflicting painful electric shocks on a person in another room. Able to hear convincing sounds of pain and pleas to stop, the volunteers were told by an authority figure – the “scientist” – that they should continue regardless. Contrary to his own predictions, Milgram discovered that, depending on the exact set up, as many as 65% of people would continue right up to the point of “killing” the victim.
The experiment showed, he believed, that ordinary people can, and will, do terrible things under the right circumstances, simply through obedience. As infamous and controversial as it was creatively inspired, the “Milgram experiment” shows just how radically creative thinking can shake our most fundamental assumptions.
Table of Contents
Ways in to the text
Who was Stanley Milgram?
What does Obedience to Authority say?
Why does Obedience to Authority matter?
Section 1: Influences
Module 1: The Author and the Historical Context
Module 2: Academic Context
Module 3: The Problem
Module 4: The Author's Contribution
Section 2: Ideas
Module 5: Main Ideas
Module 6: Secondary Ideas
Module 7: Achievement
Module 8: Place in the Author's Work
Section 3: Impact
Module 9: The First Responses
Module 10: The Evolving Debate
Module 11: Impact and Influence Today
Module 12: Where Next?
Glossary of Terms
People Mentioned in the Text
Dr Mark Gridley teaches psychology at Heidelberg University, Ohio. His research interests include social psychology and the history and psychology of music.
Dr Bill Jenkins holds a PhD in psychology from the University of Michigan. He is currently co-chair of the Department of Psychology at Mercer University.