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A fresh look at psychology’s most shocking experiment

You would inflict terrible pain on someone else simply because you were told to do so by an authority figure.  Shocking isn’t it?  However, that’s exactly what social psychologist Stanley Milgram discovered in his landmark, and highly controversial, 1961 experiments.

Milgram found that most ordinary people obeyed instructions and gave what they believed were dangerous and perhaps even fatal electric shocks to a stranger they’d just met.  

Milgram’s shocking results and what many saw as his unethical methods created immediate and lasting controversy.  It’s a controversy that continues today.

Now, 50 years after they were first published, the legacy of social psychology’s most famous and controversial experiment is the topic of a conference, the first of its kind, and it’s attracting Milgram experts from around the globe.

Nipissing University will host Obedience to Authority: Milgram’s Experiments 50 Years On, at its Muskoka campus in Bracebridge near Toronto from August 6-8.

The program features Milgram experts and delegates from Russia, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, New Zealand, the Netherlands, and the United States as well as Canada, who will gather to reappraise the value and meaning of psychology’s most famous research.

Academic interest in the research has continued unabated since its first publication 50 years ago and has been given fresh impetus by the recent public availability of Milgram’s papers and recordings at Yale where researchers have been able to examine original data that sheds new light on Milgram’s findings.

As a result, fresh controversy will fan debate at the conference. Does Milgram’s research deserve its reputation as the most important  psychological research of the 20th century, or was it a form of scientific theatre with little relevance beyond the laboratory walls? Did Milgram capture an enduring truth about human nature or simply a transient moment in history?

“The amount of interest the conference has generated and the range of people presenting is outstanding,” said conference convener Dr. Nestar Russell of Nipissing University. “We’ve got political scientists, ethicists, social psychologists, historians, sociologists, environmentalists; it’s going to make for fantastic discussion.”

Leading experts on Milgram attending the conference include Professor Thomas Blass, Milgram’s biographer; Emeritus Professor Arthur Miller, author of the first academic textbook about the obedience experiments; and Australian author Gina Perry whose book on the experiments and their effect on Milgram’s subjects will be published in the US and Canada in August.

Highlights of the program include Professor Clifford Stott’s presentation on his replication of the experiment for Britain’s BBC television, Professor Alex Voronov’s account of the influence of Milgram’s research in Russia, and Dr. Kenneth Worthy’s talk on the Obedience experiments and climate catastrophe.

For full details of the program and speaker biographical details go to 

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