Penn State Media Sales Blog

Who made the most impact on society, Harlow, Milgram or Zimbardo?

By Denise Maceyko Hartman Tue Jan 25 2011 15:42:51 GMT-0500 (EST)

As a mother, I find Harlow's study to be very important because it was done at a time when experts were telling American parents that they would hurt their baby if they cuddled too much with him or her.  Harlow's work told us that if we don't cuddle with our babies they could grow up with serious psychological problems.  It was a revolutionary idea at the time and changed for the better how parents raised their children.

 I think Milgram and Zimbardo's work helped us to understand society and the power of authority and group conformity.  Milgram's study explained how some of the world's greatest human atrocities could be carried out by people who were average ordinary people.  It gave us a glimpse of how the atrocities of the Holocaust could have taken place.  The study is still cited today.  Most recently after  Abu Ghraib. 

 Zimbardo showed us how people will not question their roles even when they are being hurt emotionally.  In the film Quiet Rage: The Stanford Prison Study, Zimbardo comments that no one stopped the study even when they were under emotional duress.  All they had to say was I want out and walk out.  No one walked out.  Zimbardo ended the study early.

My conclusion is that I can't pick the study that had the most impact on society.  I know I'm taking the coward's way out.  They all made an impact in their own way.  What I do know is that because of the ground breaking work of these three scientists, we are a better society.  We now know that picking up a crying baby is not only okay but the right thing to do.It's okay to question authority and if it doesn't feel right then it's probably time to leave the situation.

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(Denise Maceyko Hartman is the director of Penn State Media Sales. She lives in State College with her family and three cats; she marvels every day that Penn State allows her to manage such an incredible film collection.)