Stanley Milgram's ad for an experimenter for the New Haven Register, July 1961.

Job vacancy, Yale, 1961: obedience experimenter

Stanley Milgram drafted this ad for a research assistant in mid July 1961.

The ad, like all Milgram’s recruitment materials, is cleverly crafted. It’s an ‘unusual and interesting’ job for an ‘intelligent’ person with an interest in psychology. The hours are ‘unusual’ and the work expected to last for a year or more. Milgram hints that the successful applicant will be running the experiments largely unsupervised, the person must be ‘willing to take on considerable responsibility’. Better still, it required no experience in psychology and all training would be provided.

The ad gives no hint that the research assistant would be directing people to administer electric shocks to another person but instead is described as a chance to meet ‘many people’ in the laboratory.

Eleven men applied for the job and the successful applicant was 31 year old John (‘Jack’) Williams who with a wife and young family was in need of extra money. Milgram would tell Williams to keep the experiments secret and he did – from his wife and family, from his best friends as well as from his work colleagues at the high school where he taught.

Jack Williams kept his promise for years after the experiment was over. He only discussed the experiments with his son Keith when he was about to leave home for college – probably because Williams knew his son was likely to come across photos of the experiment and the experimenter in the course of his studies. By then – the mid 70s – Milgram’s obedience experiments were famous and a staple in social psychology textbooks.

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