SST / PSY 251


Stuart Levine

M         3:00pm-6:00pm






Cross-listed: Human Rights; Social Studies   It has now been more than fifty years since the original work of Stanley Milgram demonstrated the remarkable and very widely unpredicted and unexpected finding that large numbers of individuals in multiple samples of American men and women studied were willing to "punish" another person when ordered to do so by an experimenter; this in the stated but false context of a psychology experiment on learning and memory.  The prominence of the initial work and the continued salience of such study and accumulated findings in the domain of social psychology cannot be over-stated.   And it very much has not reached the stage of dormancy as the publication of studies, literature reviews and conferences on the topic of obedience to authority continue to appear in unabated fashion.  It is even the case that as recently as six years ago a replication of the original study, with  slight modifications, and with concordant results was published (J. Burger, January 2009).  Further revealing of prominence is that fact that a relatively new full-length movie version of the original study (a biopic) appeared this year.  In addition, a diligent search of current psychology or cross-disciplinary archives uncovers further studies that provide evidence that obedience and indeed destructive obedience is very much prevalent in our society and in many others as well and in a myriad of contexts.  The domain of the "Milgram study” is especially worthy of continuing interest.  This because of the vastness of both criticism and praise of the original work but also because of historical and significant events in the intervening years between 1960s and stretching to our current time.   The continuing study of obedience is vital for the betterment of institutions, even in a democratic society.  Social scientists should and must find a way to safely and ethically investigate the conditions that promote destructive obedience and thereby begin to learn the rudiments of how such can be minimized.  This is a college seminar.  It is not limited to psychology or social studies or for that matter majors in any particular discipline.  The two criteria for membership are a willingness to read with care and then with conviction share with others the results of such reading and study.  Over the course of the semester a sizable portion of the work contained in the body of the obedience literature is reviewed.  Admission by permission of the instructor. Class size: 10