[LINK] Behind the Shock Machine: book reexamining Milgram obedience experiments

by DanArmak 6y13th Sep 20131 min read14 comments

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There's a book called Behind the Shock Machine by psychologist Gina Perry, published just a week ago, which investigates the original Milgram obedience experiments. I haven't read it, but I've read a summary / editorial published in the Pacific Standard.

Of course, the editorial is in some measure designed to provoke outrage, generate click-throughs, and leave readers biased against Milgram. I don't trust the editorial to report unbiased truth. If anyone has read the book, what do you think about it?

Key quote from the editorial:

Perry also caught Milgram cooking his data. In his articles, Milgram stressed the uniformity of his procedures, hoping to appear as scientific as possible. By his account, each time a subject protested or expressed doubt about continuing, the experimenter would employ a set series of four counter-prompts. If, after the fourth prompt (“You have no other choice, teacher; you must go on”), the subject still refused to continue, the experiment would be called to a halt, and the subject counted as “disobedient.” But on the audiotapes in the Yale archives, Perry heard Milgram’s experimenter improvising, roaming further and further off script, coaxing or, depending on your point of view, coercing participants into continuing. Inconsistency in the standards meant that the line between obedience and disobedience was shifting from subject to subject, and from variation to variation—and that the famous 65 percent compliance rate had less to do with human nature than with arbitrary semantic distinctions.

The wrinkles in Milgram’s research kept revealing themselves. Perhaps most damningly, after Perry tracked down one of Milgram’s research analysts, she found reason to believe that most of his subjects had actually seen through the deception. They knew, in other words, that they were taking part in a low-stakes charade.