What Was the Milgram Experiment?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Sara Z. Potter
  • Last Modified Date: 18 January 2020
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The Milgram Experiment was a series of psychological experiments conducted at Yale University beginning in 1961. Stanley Milgram, creator of the experiment, was inspired by the recent Nazi war trials to test the extent to which people would follow the instructions of an authority figure, even when the instructions were morally dubious. Milgram published the results of the Milgram Experiment in a 1963 article, and later in more depth in his 1974 book, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View.

Participants in the Milgram Experiment were told that it was for a study on the nature of learning. The test subjects were men between the ages of 20 and 50 with a variety of educational backgrounds. Both the person conducting the experiment and one of the two participants in each test were actors. The volunteer was told that he was randomly selected as the "teacher," while the other participant, actually an actor, was the "learner."

The volunteer was then instructed to ask the "learner" questions and to respond to each incorrect response by administering an electrical shock that increased in voltage each time. The "learner" was not actually shocked, but responded as if he was in serious pain and complained that he had a heart condition. If the volunteer expressed hesitation or concern for the "learner," the conductor of the experiment strongly urged him to continue. If the volunteer continued the experiment, it was ceased after he or she administered the maximum voltage of 450 volts three times.


The results of the Milgram Experiment surprised Milgram and his colleagues, who had hypothesized that very few people would continue through to the end. In fact, 65% administered the maximum shock, and no one stopped before the 300-volt mark, though participants were told that they would receive payment whether or not the experiment was completed. On the other hand, every single participant in the Milgram Experiment expressed reservations at some point, and many became very uncomfortable.

The Milgram Experiment was controversial, first because some felt that it sought to apologize for the actions of the Nazis, and second because of the experiment's methods. Many of the participants in the Milgram Experiment were traumatized, and they were not fully briefed on their experience. Exit interviews suggest that many of the participants did not ever understand the true purpose of the experiment. Eighty-four percent of participants later reported that they were "glad" or "very glad" to have participated, and some wrote Milgram wrote personal letters of thanks, but this did not allay the concerns of those who felt that the Milgram Experiment subjects had been exploited and exposed to undue stress.


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Post 1

I believe because of Stanley Milgram's experiment on obedience, it showed people that Americans weren't what everyone expected them to be. It showed a darker side because it proved that, not only can the Germans do something dark and crazy like this, but also Americans can.

Do not get me wrong: this experiment was not nearly as dark as the holocaust, but still... Some of the voltage levels that they went to were strong enough to kill someone! It's crazy to see the darker side of Americans!

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