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Q & A: Milgram revisited

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Most recent answer: 10/22/2007
Q:
I am attempting to re-create Stanley Milgram’s experiments on human obedience for a final project. For one of the steps, I need to shcok a participant with a safe amount of voltage that can create pain but not enough to really "hurt" someone in a way that will last. How do you connect 9 volt batteries to increase voltage amount, and convert it to electricity that can be felt on contact with a wire or a piece of metal? Any help you could give me would be greatly appreciated, and please respond at your earliest convenience. Danke sehr! (Thank you!)
- Alyxandria (age 15)
LaBrae High School, Ohio
A:
For readers unfamiliar with Milgram's experiments, they showed that, depending a little on detailed circumstances, many or most American subjects would administer what they thought was likely to be a lethal shock to a stranger, at the command of an authority about whom they knew very little. They only had to be told 'the experiment requires that you continue.' They thought the experiment was on the use of punishments in teaching. The results are among the most depressing in social science.

Even if there were no issue of physical risk or discomfort, I don't believe that it is legally possible to recreate Milgram's brilliant experiments in the U.S. There are now human subject rules for experiments performed by at least most institutions, requiring that experimental subjects be fully informed about the experiment. Of course, Milgram's subjects could not have been informed what the experiments were about without ruining the experiments.

Shortly before the human subjects rules were adopted, a friend of mine did some experiments to try to find out under what circumstances people would rebel against unjust authority. It was thought that these experiments might provide a silver lining to the Milgram results. Nothing very dramatic emerged until the subjects found out that all the stories they had been told about their participation were false. They then rebelled and smashed the video cameras. My friend ended up in a different line of work.

Mike W.

Milgram started his experiments in 1961 and published them in 1963. Back then, people had much more confidence in scientists conducting experiments on human subjects. As modern laws attest, there is now a presumption of enormous suspicion on such experiments. Nonetheless, evidence even from last week suggests that people will still conduct ethically questionable or even horrible experiments on human subjects when asked to do so by some authority. This is somewhat incomplete about the details of the study, now canceled due to ethical complaints, to investigate the effects of pesticides on children. That the study had originally gotten started indicates that people would be willing to participate as data gatherers in the study, which follows Milgram's results.

Tom

(published on 10/22/2007)

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