The Man Who Shocked the World: The Life and Legacy of Stanley MilgramBMJ 2005; 331 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.331.7512.356 (Published 04 August 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:356
- Raj Persaud, Gresham professor for public understanding of psychiatry and consultant psychiatrist
- Maudsley Hospital, London
The late Stanley Milgram fairly lays claim to be one of the greatest behavioural scientists of the 20th century. He derives his renown from of a series of experiments on obedience to authority, which he conducted at Yale University in 1961-2. Milgram found, surprisingly, that 65% of his subjects, ordinary residents of New Haven, were willing to give apparently harmful electric shocks—up to 450 volts—to a pitifully protesting victim, simply because a scientific, lab coated authority commanded them to, and despite the fact that the victim did nothing to deserve such punishment. The victim was, in reality, a good actor who did not actually receive shocks, a fact that was revealed to the subjects at the end of the experiment.
Milgram's interest in the study of obedience partly emerged out of a deep concern with the suffering of fellow Jews at the hands of the Nazis and an attempt to fathom how the Holocaust …