Milgram, Stanley

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Stanley Milgram was born in New York City on August 15, 1933. After earning an A.B. degree at Queens College (1954) and a Ph.D. at Harvard University (1960), Milgram served as an assistant professor of psychology at Yale University, where he conducted his well-known experiments on obedience to authority. His later research while teaching at Harvard (1963-1967) and at the City University of New York (1967-1984), in addition to obedience, included studies of human communication, television violence, urban psychology, mental maps, and photography. Milgram died in New York City on December 20, 1984.

Stanley Milgram was born in New York City, on August 15, 1933. He attended James Monroe High School in the Bronx, graduating in 1950. After receiving an A.B. degree from Queens College in 1954, he entered Harvard University's Department of Social Relations as a Ford Foundation fellow in the behavioral sciences.

At Harvard, Milgram studied with Gordon W. Allport and Solomon E. Asch. Milgram served as Asch's teaching assistant at Harvard and later worked as his research assistant at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. From 1957 to 1959 Milgram conducted field research leading to his 1960 Ph.D. dissertation "Conformity in Norway and France." Milgram continued to examine conformity and the effects of group pressure in later experiments at Yale University.

From 1960 to 1963 Milgram was an assistant professor of psychology at Yale. During this time he conducted his innovative and controversial experiments on obedience to authority. Milgram's experiment was designed to examine how far one individual will go in hurting another at the behest of a recognized authority figure. Employing more than twenty variations of the experimental situation, Milgram examined the relation of gender, setting, education, and other factors on an individual's willingness to comply with the experimenter's orders to give electric shocks to another person. The experiments also provoked controversy relating to the ethics of experimenting on human subjects. Milgram's findings appeared in numerous articles. He later described his work in the book Obedience to Authority: an Experimental View (1974).

From 1963 through 1967 Milgram taught psychology at Harvard University and served as the executive director of the Comparative International Program in the Department of Social Research. During this period he investigated communications systems. Using his lost letter technique Milgram developed a method for gauging community attitudes toward political groups and other institutions. By deliberately losing stamped envelopes addressed to various organizations and individuals and comparing the proportions of letters found and mailed to each target, Milgram was able to gauge the prevailing attitude toward the various organizations. In his small world research, Milgram sought a method to determine how many intermediate acquaintance links are needed to connect any two people in the world.

Milgram accepted a professorship in psychology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York in 1967, on whose faculty he would remain until the end of his life. He received a Guggenheim fellowship to study in Paris during the academic year 1972-1973. In 1980 he was made Distinguished Professor of Psychology.

Early in his tenure at CUNY, Milgram designed an experiment to examine the influence of violence in television programming on individual behavior. Milgram was able to get CBS to produce a particular episode of its dramatic series Medical Center with three different endings and he used these three versions in a series of field experiments in which resulting anti-social acts could be observed.

At CUNY Milgram also expanded his interest in the field of urban psychology, studying such concepts as groups and crowds, overload, social intrusion, the familiar stranger, and cognitive maps. In the latter study Milgram analyzed and compared the ability of New Yorkers and Parisians to identify photographs of various locations throughout their cities and to represent their city on a hand-drawn map. While at CUNY Milgram also studied the sociological and psychological effects of the camera and photography as a human activity.

At the very end of his life, Milgram was engaged in a set of experiments in which subjects interviewed an individual who appeared to be conversing normally but who in fact was delivering the responses and comments of a third person. The third person would communicate to him through a tiny radio receiver in the ear. Milgram called this technique "cyranic speech."

In addition to his books and numerous papers, Milgram was an accomplished documentary filmmaker. His films included Obedience, Invitation to Social Psychology, Independence and Conformity, Nonverbal Communication, and Human Aggression . He won a silver medal at the International Film and Television Festival in 1972 for his work on The City and the Self . His films were distributed widely for use in teaching about social psychology.

Milgram was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He died on December 20, 1984.

From the guide to the Stanley Milgram papers, 1927-1993, (Manuscripts and Archives)

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creatorOf Stanley Milgram papers, 1927-1993 Yale University. Department of Manuscripts and Archives
referencedIn Antioch Review mss., 1940-2007 Lilly Library (Indiana University, Bloomington)
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