10 Outrageous Experiments Conducted on Humans


Milgram Shock Experiments

A portrait of Stanley Milgram © Jan Rieckhoff/ullstein bild via Getty Images
A portrait of Stanley Milgram © Jan Rieckhoff/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Ghostbuster Peter Venkman, who is seen in the fictional film conducting ESP/electro-shock experiments on college students, was likely inspired by social psychologist Stanley Milgram's famous series of shock experiments conducted in the early 1960s. During Milgram's experiments "teachers" — Americans recruited for a Yale study they thought was about memory and learning — were told to read lists of words to "learners" (actors, although the teachers didn't know that). Each person in the teacher role was instructed to press a lever that would deliver a shock to their "learner" every time he made a mistake on word-matching quizzes. Teachers believed the voltage of shocks increased with each mistake, and ranged from 15 to 450 possible volts; roughly two-thirds of teachers shocked learners to the highest voltage, continuing to deliver jolts at the instruction of the experimenter.

In reality, this wasn't an experiment about memory and learning; rather, it was about how obedient we are to authority. No shocks were actually given.

Today, Milgram's shock experiments continue to be controversial; while they're criticized for their lack of realism, others point to the results as important to how humans behave when under duress. In 2010 the results of Milgram's study were repeated — with about 70 percent of teachers obediently administering what they believed to be the highest voltage shocks to their learners.