Born: 1933 - New York City
Stanley Milgram was a New York City native. He graduated from Queens College and Harvard University. His study of psychology began at Harvard, where he worked towards his Ph.D. with Gordon Allport.
Milgram was highly interested in the reasons why average people would submit to authority when they knew that as a result innocent third persons would be harmed. He gained worldwide recognition through his obedience experiments conducted at Yale University in the early 1960s. He performed a series of studies on obedience to authority. His classic work, Obedience to Authority,was published in 1974.
In his experiments, volunteers were invited to a laboratory under the pretense of participating in a study about the effects of punishment on learning. The "teachers" were instructed to administer an electric shock of increasing intensity every time the "learners," strapped into an electric chair in an adjoining room, made a mistake. The "teachers" were never coerced into applying the shocks; they were simply told that the experiment required them to continue. Each "teacher" could have discontinued the experiment at any time. The "teachers" were fully under the assumption that they were administering discipline to the "learners," however they were never actually doing so. The "learners" were actors who were never actually harmed.
The point of the experiment was to see how many of the "teachers" would go all the way up to the maximum of 450 volts of electricity. Ultimately 65 percent of the "teachers" administered the full shock.
Today this sort of experiment would be considered highly unethical because of the great stress it caused the subjects. But the research yielded some extremely important findings. The theory that only the worst members of society would submit to such cruel experiments was refuted.
Milgram's findings may help to explain how ordinary people can commit the most horrific of crimes if placed under the influence of an authority figure. Milgram's work has been used to help explain the Holocaust and the My Lai massacre which occurred during the Vietnam War.