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Between 1960 and 1962, Stanley Milgram, an assistant professor and psychologist at Yale University, conducted some of the most dramatic, influential, and controversial landmark studies in modern social psychology—the “obedience to authority” experiments. Milgram was seeking to explain why, and under what circumstances, people will obey orders to do that which they believe is immoral or which counters their personal conscience.

His research was prompted by questions concerning the nature of evil and, in particular, the horrors of the Holocaust of World War II, in which Jews and other innocent minority peoples—“enemies” of the state—were persecuted and exterminated by Nazis who were following orders. In his research, Milgram set out to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he ...

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