profile: Stanley Milgram - Social Psychology

30-Second Psychology: The 50 Most Thought-provoking Psychology Theories, Each Explained in Half a Minute - Christian Jarrett 2011

profile: Stanley Milgram
Social Psychology

Few psychology experiments have caught the public imagination as much as the obedience tests Stanley Milgram carried out in the 1960s. The so-called ’Milgram experiment’ has featured in documentaries, movies, pop songs and, in France, formed the basis of a TV series in 2010. Yet Milgram didn’t plan a career in psychology, and his application to study the subject was initially rejected. Milgram was born in the Bronx, New York, to Jewish parents — his Romanian mother had come to New York when she was four years old and his father had emigrated from Hungary after World War I. Because of his limited financial means, he took a B.A. in Political Science at Queens College, where tuition was free. He applied to study Social Psychology at Harvard, but was turned down on the basis that he had no background in the subject — having failed to take a single course in psychology at Queens. Undaunted, he spent the summer of 1954 accumulating psychology credits and was eventually accepted via Harvard’s Office of Special Students.

Success came early with his obedience experiments, which were first published as ’Behavioural Study of Obedience’ in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology in 1963. Frustratingly, it wasn’t just the test results that brought almost immediate worldwide attention, but the techniques Milgram used to achieve them, with critics accusing him of subjecting participants to excessive stress. His application to the American Psychological Association was delayed while his methods were investigated. After completing his Ph.D., at Harvard, he accepted the position of assistant professor at Yale University. Three years later he was invited back to Harvard as an assistant professor. In 1967 he took up a position as professor at City University of New York, where he would remain for the rest of his life. Although he was best known for his obedience experiments, Milgram also conducted influential experiments in the ’small world phenomenon’ (or ’six degrees of separation’) and the psychological effects of urban environments.


Born, New York


Ph.D. at Harvard


Assistant professor at Yale University


Marries Alexandra Menkin


Assistant professor at Harvard


Publishes ’Behavioural study of Obedience’


Professor at City University of New York (CUNY)


Publishes Obedience to Authority


Obedience to Authority wins National Book Award


Distinguished Professor, CUNY


Dies, New York