What makes a person a perpetrator? The intellectual, moral, and methodological arguments for revisiting Milgram's research on the influence of authority

S.D. Reicher, S.A. Haslam, A.G. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


In this article, we outline the rationale for reexamining Milgram's explanation of how ordinary people can become perpetrators of atrocity. We argue, first, that any consideration of these issues cannot ignore the impact of Milgram's ideas in psychology, in other disciplines such as history, and in society at large. Second, we outline recent research in both psychology and historywhich challenges Milgram's perspective-specifically his "agentic state" account. Third, we identify the moral dangers as well as the analytic weaknesses of his work. Fourth, we point to recent methodological developments that make it ethically possible to revisit Milgram's studies. Combining all four elements we argue that there is a compelling and timely case for reexamining Milgram's legacy and developing our understanding of perpetrator behavior. We then outline how the various articles in this special issue contribute to such a project.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)393-408
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Social Issues
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014

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