Tonight at 10pm ET ABC News is planning to air its “Primetime” special that will show the recreation of the famous Milgram Experiment:
In 1961, social psychologist Stanley Milgram asked those same questions. That was the year Nazi Adolf Eichmann, on trial for his war crimes, denied responsibility for his actions by saying he was simply doing what his superiors told him to do.
Contemplating this rationalization, Milgram came up with a famous and controversial experiment to examine what happens when ordinary people are faced with morally questionable orders. What he learned shocked not only him but the entire world.
In the experiment, conducted at Yale University over a period of months in 1961, an authority figure — “the experimenter” — dressed in a white lab coat and instructed participants to administer what they believed were increasingly painful electric shocks to another person.
Although no one was actually receiving shocks, the participants heard a man screaming in pain and protest, eventually pleading to be released from the experiment. When the subjects questioned the experimenter about what was happening, they were told they must continue.
And continue they did: Two-thirds of Milgram’s participants delivered shocks as they heard cries of pain, signs of heart trouble, and then finally — and most frightening — nothing at all.
The response to the experiment was enormous, and in 1975, strict guidelines about regarding psychological experiments on humans shelved any further potential replications. Since then, scientists have been stymied in efforts to replicate Milgram’s study.