May 01, 2003

And Why Do You Want a Ph.D. in Sociology, Dr. Frankenstein?

In the comments on Edwardian Manor House, sociologist Kieran Healy... mourns[?] (it's not quite clear)... the passing of the days when sociologists were allowed to run "experiments" that would have made Dr. Frankenstein blush:

>>In many ways, the Manor House series is a recreation of Milgram's famous "prison" experiment<<

You mean Zimbardo's prison experiment. Milgram is the electrocution guy. Oh for the days before Human Subjects Review boards.

Posted by DeLong at May 1, 2003 11:51 AM | TrackBack

Comments

Phillip Zimbardo gave a really interesting talk yesterday at Stanford University about "The Rational and Social Paths to Creating Madness in Normal People."

Also there is a website about the Stanford Prison Experiment:
http://www.prisonexp.org/

Posted by: Brian Good on May 1, 2003 01:52 PM

For a summary account of the Milgram electrocution experiment yielding a horrifying insight into how much "pain" subjects were willing to inflict on victims to punish incorrect answers to questions in a learning exercise, try: http://www.new-life.net/milgram.htm

Posted by: Bob Briant on May 1, 2003 02:12 PM

I also wanted to add that Zimbardo himself acknowledges the Stanford Prison Experiment was a bad thing. It was stopped after 6 days when it was clear it was getting out of hand. He was able to take what he learned and recover a lot of useful insights into topics like shyness, social control, madness and time perspective that have helped a lot of people.

Posted by: Brian Good on May 1, 2003 02:18 PM

But wasn't Milgram a psychologist??? An even scarier brand of creature. Us political scientists are far gentler people, although Gene Wolfe had a wonderful short story riffing on Zimbardo, "When I was Ming the Merciless," where a pol-sci major starts to run amok in a closed-society experiment.

Posted by: Henry Farrell on May 1, 2003 04:48 PM

But wasn't Milgram a psychologist??? An even scarier brand of creature. Us political scientists are far gentler people, although Gene Wolfe had a wonderful short story riffing on Zimbardo, "When I was Ming the Merciless," where a pol-sci major starts to run amok in a closed-society experiment.

Posted by: Henry Farrell on May 1, 2003 04:48 PM

But wasn't Milgram a psychologist??? An even scarier brand of creature. Us political scientists are far gentler people, although Gene Wolfe had a wonderful short story riffing on Zimbardo, "When I was Ming the Merciless," where a pol-sci major starts to run amok in a closed-society experiment.

Posted by: Henry Farrell on May 1, 2003 04:49 PM

But wasn't Milgram a psychologist??? An even scarier brand of creature. Us political scientists are far gentler people, although Gene Wolfe had a wonderful short story riffing on Zimbardo, "When I was Ming the Merciless," where a pol-sci major starts to run amok in a closed-society experiment.

Posted by: Henry Farrell on May 1, 2003 04:49 PM

But wasn't Milgram a psychologist??? An even scarier brand of creature. Us political scientists are far gentler people, although Gene Wolfe had a wonderful short story riffing on Zimbardo, "When I was Ming the Merciless," where a pol-sci major starts to run amok in a closed-society experiment.

Posted by: Henry Farrell on May 1, 2003 04:50 PM

But wasn't Milgram a psychologist??? An even scarier brand of creature. Us political scientists are far gentler people, although Gene Wolfe had a wonderful short story riffing on Zimbardo, "When I was Ming the Merciless," where a pol-sci major starts to run amok in a closed-society experiment.

Posted by: Henry Farrell on May 1, 2003 04:50 PM

But wasn't Milgram a psychologist??? An even scarier brand of creature. Us political scientists are far gentler people, although Gene Wolfe had a wonderful short story riffing on Zimbardo, "When I was Ming the Merciless," where a pol-sci major starts to run amok in a closed-society experiment.

Posted by: Henry Farrell on May 1, 2003 04:51 PM

But wasn't Milgram a psychologist??? An even scarier brand of creature. Us political scientists are far gentler people, although Gene Wolfe had a wonderful short story riffing on Zimbardo, "When I was Ming the Merciless," where a pol-sci major starts to run amok in a closed-society experiment.

Posted by: Henry Farrell on May 1, 2003 04:51 PM

But wasn't Milgram a psychologist??? An even scarier brand of creature. Us political scientists are far gentler people, although Gene Wolfe had a wonderful short story riffing on Zimbardo, "When I was Ming the Merciless," where a pol-sci major starts to run amok in a closed-society experiment.

Posted by: Henry Farrell on May 1, 2003 04:52 PM

But wasn't Milgram a psychologist??? An even scarier brand of creature. Us political scientists are far gentler people, although Gene Wolfe had a wonderful short story riffing on Zimbardo, "When I was Ming the Merciless," where a pol-sci major starts to run amok in a closed-society experiment.

Posted by: Henry Farrell on May 1, 2003 04:52 PM

Wasn't Milgram a psychologist? A much scarier proposition of a social scientist if you ask me. Us political scientists are much gentler creatures. Although Gene Wolfe has a great short story that riffs on Zimbardo, "When I was Ming the Merciless," in which a pol-sci major runs amok in a closed-society experiment.

Posted by: Henry Farrell on May 1, 2003 05:07 PM

Yes, Milgram was a psychologist.

Were you one of those kids who would ask a question of their parents and if they didn't get an answer at once would ask again and again and again?

Posted by: Alan B. on May 1, 2003 05:43 PM

But wasn't Milgram a psychologist??? An even scarier brand of creature. Us political scientists are far gentler people, although Gene Wolfe had a wonderful short story riffing on Zimbardo, "When I was Ming the Merciless," where a pol-sci major starts to run amok in a closed-society experiment.

Posted by: Henry Farrell on May 1, 2003 05:57 PM

Oh god - apologies - my firewall and Mozilla sometimes combine to do strange things ...

Posted by: Herny Farrell on May 1, 2003 06:01 PM

This is some kind of experiment, isn't it Henry?

Posted by: Kieran Healy on May 1, 2003 11:28 PM

Didn't Hirshman once write that economists were the unique among the social scientists in their absense of concern for the individual subjects of their analysis?

Posted by: Ben Hyde on May 2, 2003 05:16 AM

But wasn't Milgram a psychologist??? An even scarier brand of creature. Us political scientists are far gentler people, although Gene Wolfe had a wonderful short story riffing on Zimbardo, "When I was Ming the Merciless," where a pol-sci major starts to run amok in a closed-society experiment.

Posted by: Europundit on May 2, 2003 08:49 AM

Bob Briant's link is a good short summary of the experiment. For longer excerpts from Milgram's work "The Perils of Obedience" (1974), see http://www.usemod.com/cgi-bin/mb.pl?MilgramExperiment (from the Meatball wiki site). This page also includes a link to discussions of Zimbardo's "experiment".

Here is Milgram's introduction to his experiment:

[...] I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects' strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects' ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.

Posted by: Clifford A. Adams on May 2, 2003 10:40 AM

No matter how many times you press the button, Henry, the computer's not going to give you a food pellet.

Milgrom can explain it to you. He's a psychologist you know.

Posted by: Bernard Yomtov on May 2, 2003 04:50 PM

>The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.

That many in the course of the experiments were evidently willing to defer to authority and inflict apparently massive electric shocks on others by way of incentives to expedite learning provides a horrifying and topical insight into the prevelant use of torture by some governing regimes.

By way of macabre light relief allow me to recount (a favourite) story with some instructive economics content about the good ol' days, meaning the medieval period in England when the death penalty was the routine sentence for many crimes, very likely for the persuasive reason that it was less costly to the public purse than maintaining the infrastructure required for enforcing custodial sentences.

Frequent application of the death penalty inevitably raised a challenging incentives problem about what more effective punishment might be applied for those duly convicted of really serious crimes, such as treasonable conspiracy against the person of the monarch. With such eventualities, on conviction the sentence by tradition could be hanging, drawing and quartering, appropriately conducted for public display. By reports these events would attract large gatherings at Tyburn, located close to where Marble Arch now stands in London. Indeed these occasions seem to have been regarded as an opportunity for popular family entertainment.

I will be sparse on the graphic detail but it evidently happened in 1447 at Tyburn that five men had been through the hanging phase of the proceedings, duly cut down and stripped ready for the next when a royal pardon of the accused and condemned belately arrived. However, the executioner refused to relinquish possession of the garments of his subjects as these were a legitimate perk of his job at the time and a contract is a contract, in this case one which apparently did not cover the contingency where condemned prisoners were pardoned part way through proceedings. By the account [in the estimable: London Encyclopaedia (1993)], the pardoned prisoners were therefore obliged to walk home naked.

Whether these features of a judicial system are necessarily located on the critical path of the history of a nation that was to become in due course a global hegemon is difficult to assess without replicating the experiment.

Posted by: Bob Briant on May 2, 2003 05:16 PM

Prescriptive guvimint regulation to promote development of personal skills for the public good? Absolutely nothing new, although I mention with some trepidation the following example for fear of inciting the usual deluge of messaging by second amendment enthusiasts.

An Act of Parliament of 1369 provided that "everyone of the said City of London strong in body, on leisure and holydays, use in their recreation bows and arrows . ." Handball and football were prohibited on pain of imprisonment in order to encourage archery practice [source: the London Encyclopaedia, again].

Some of the messaging in places on whether economics is a science seems to me to be missing the plot. At least since Hammurabi's Code of Laws from ancient Mesopotamia in the 18th century BC as here: http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/MESO/CODE.HTM governments have legislated, regulated, taxed and spent and monitored market behaviour.

In passing, we can note that Hammurabi's code, in addition to defining and protecting certain property rights, contained elements of a statutory prices and incomes policy. Under-pinning all this and its like downstream were implict models of social behaviour, including the functioning of markets, with and without the proposed government intervention. Inevitable questions arise as to whether proposed government action would achieve intended objectives and as to whether the objectives, if achieved, would indeed be socially beneficial according to some criteria to be agreed. The questions have perennial significance regardless of whether economics is dubbed a science or not.

Posted by: Bob Briant on May 3, 2003 04:00 AM

Hats of to the marvellous Milgram but Zimbardo's experiment was terrible. For example, did you know that he, the experimenter, acted as the 'prison governor' (prison chief)?

Rubbish experiment, telling us very little indeed. That he managed to build a successful career amazes me.

Posted by: David on May 3, 2003 12:11 PM
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