Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Behind the Shock Machine

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Stanley Milgram's experiments on "obedience to authority." In 1963, two years after the Nazi Adolf Eichmann had claimed at his trial that he was "only following orders" in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust, Milgram wanted to know how many everyday, good Americans would obey an authority figure when directly ordered to harm another human being... Some people hated the method and others the message, but the Milgram study has never faded from public attention. It has been endlessly retold in schoolrooms, textbooks, TV programs, novels, songs and films. What, then, is left to say about it? According to Gina Perry, an Australian psychologist and journalist, everything. She has investigated every aspect of the research and spoken with seemingly anyone who had a connection to Milgram (1933-84). In "Behind the Shock Machine," Ms. Perry wants to tell a different story about Milgram's 780 participants—who, in her account, had become "a faceless group that is said to represent humanity and to give proof of our troubling tendency to obey orders from an authority figure." By providing their personalities, backgrounds and some real names, she aims to restore their individuality, show how flawed and inconclusive the experiments were, and counteract what she considers Milgram's "bleak view of human nature." In short, she condemns the method and the message. more

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