5 Horrific Psychological Experiments - #1: The Milgram Experiment

Josh Clark

Back in 1961 at Yale University, a young psychologist named Stanley Milgram devised an ingenious experiment that managed to demonstrate just how utterly lost any hope is for humanity. The Milgram Experiment was above the board in all scientific respects, but as far revealing horror goes, it destroys all comers.

To get to the bottom of how malleable human conscience is in the face of authority, Milgram recruited nice, salt-of-the-earth, God-fearing New Haven, Conn., residents and asked them to serve as "teachers" in what he told them was a study to determine how negative reinforcement improves memory. The negative reinforcement in this case was a nasty little electric shock delivered anytime a "student" got an answer wrong.

The teachers were instructed to ask words from a list the students were to have studied to test their memory. Whenever the student got an answer wrong, the teacher was told to pull a lever that delivered a shock to the student. The levers went from 15 volts (labeled "Slight Shock") to 450 volts ("Danger - Severe Shock"). Each wrong answer led to an increase in voltage the next time.

Milgram went to great lengths to make the experiment appear as real as possible. The students acted as if they were really receiving increasingly life-threatening shocks, and a speaker in the room where the teachers sat before the machine broadcast prerecorded screams of agony.

Here's the rub: Despite plainly believing that their student had lost consciousness (or worse) and was in obvious pain, two-thirds of the teachers continued to pull levers when told the experiment must go on. Simply put, the normal people delivered painful and possibly deadly shocks simply because some guy they didn't know told them to.

Rather than taking the results of his experiment to his grave, Milgram published them so we could all share in the despair.

? LAST ONE: #2 Stanford Prison Experiment

Derren Brown on the Milgram Experiment: