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My summer with Stanley Milgram
Stanley Milgram, right, talks with a study participant during his shock experiment in the 1960s.
December 9th, 2011
12:10 PM ET

My summer with Stanley Milgram

Editor's note: Alan Elms was the research assistant of social psychologist Stanley Milgram during Milgram's famous shock experiment in the 1960s, which tested participant's obedience to authority.

During my first several weeks as Stanley Milgram’s research assistant, I did the sorts of things that research assistants often do.

I transcribed Milgram’s dictations and drafts of research procedures into neatly typed pages. I began to keep files of research volunteers: Their age, educational background, occupation, address and phone number. I helped Milgram audition amateur actors for the important role of “experimenter” and the nearly-as-important role of “learner,” the research confederate whom we started to call the “victim.”

The real volunteers would be playing the role of “teacher” in what appeared to be an experiment where electric shocks were used to speed the learning of simple word pairs. As you probably know by now, 50 years later, the victim only pretended to be shocked and the experiment really measured obedience to authority.
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