CEVI-WP 08-05

Now That You Know, How Do You Feel? The Milgram Experiment and Psychologization
Jan De Vos


The Milgram experiment is probably one of the most well known experiments of the psy-sciences. Rightly so as the novelist Doris Lessing would have it, for according to her the human race has all this “hard information about ourselves” remaining unused to improve our institutions and therefore our life (Lessing, 1986: 50). The idea that it is to the benefit of everybody to spread the psy-theories is held by many psychologists themselves. George Miller, the cognitive psychologist, pleaded in his presidential address to the American Psychological Association in 1969 to “give psychology away”, claiming this is the royal road towards a “psychology as a means of promoting human welfare” (Miller, 1969). Later, Miller described Milgram’s experiments together with Zimbardo’s Prison Experiment, as “being ideal for public consumption of psychological research” (cited in Blass, 2002: 208). And indeed, Milgram’s studies, as Zimbardo’s, are clearly meant to be spread to a broad audience, the didactic and prophylactic objectives permeating the entire experiments from their very outset. In this paper, I will explore how the Milgram experiment in this way is caught up in the broader processes of psychologization.

This working paper is now published in: Annual Review of Critical Psychology (2009) 7: 223-246

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