Bard News & Events

Press Release


Darren O'Sullivan
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.—On Monday, April 11, Dr. Thomas Blass, professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, will deliver the 2005 Andrew Jay Bernstein Memorial Lecture at Bard College. Blass will discuss his research on obedience studies and the work of the social psychologist Stanley Milgram. Blass’s lecture, “The Man Who Shocked the World: The Life and Legacy of Stanley Milgram,” takes place at 7 p.m. in the Preston Theater on the Bard College Campus. It is free and open to the public. It has been nearly 50 years since controversial obedience studies were conducted by Stanley Milgram at Yale University. These now-classic studies revealed that normal, everyday people, in the name of obedience, had the capacity to inflict pain and suffering on innocent human beings. While these studies did much to focus attention on the power of social situations to govern behavior, the world is still struggling with understanding the darker side of human nature. How could a human being inflict such pain and suffering on another human being? What social factors caused this brutal behavior? Blass, a holocaust survivor and author of Milgram’s biography, will discuss these and other questions about Milgram’s life and work. In Milgram’s experiments, subjects believed that they were performing an experiment on human learning. The subjects operated a control panel and thought that they were administering a series of electric shocks to a “learner” when incorrect answers were provided (no shocks were actually administered). The subject was told by the experimenter to administer increasingly more dangerous levels of shock until the experiment was completed or until the subject refused to continue. Milgram found that a surprising number of subjects, 65 percent, would obey the experimenter even though they thought they were inflicting extreme pain and suffering on the learner. The experiments have fueled controversy for many years because of the questionable ethics of conducting such studies. More importantly, the research has contributed to our understanding of atrocities that took place during the Holocaust as well as more recent acts of torture and humiliation. Dr. Blass is an internationally acclaimed social psychologist and recognized expert on obedience to authority as well as the research and legacy of Stanley Milgram. A Holocaust survivor born in Budapest during World War II, Dr. Blass was a child when the Nazis occupied his country in 1944 and murdered 550,000 of his fellow Hungarian Jews. Although many of his relatives were deported to, and killed in, Auschwitz and elsewhere, Dr. Blass survived the war. Subsequently, he left Hungary with his mother. After spending several years in a displaced persons camp near Salzburg, Austria, they emigrated to Toronto, where Dr. Blass spent part of his childhood. He relocated to the United States for his secondary and higher education and made it his permanent home. He has a variety of research interests, but for the last 15 years, he has focused primarily on in-depth research on the life and work of Stanley Milgram, resulting in over 20 publications and an equal number of papers presented at professional conferences. He has created and taught, since 1987, a course on the social psychology of Milgram. He is the author of the first and only biography about Milgram, The Man Who Shocked the World: The Life and Legacy of Stanley Milgram, and he was awarded the 1998-1999 J. R. Kantor Fellowship by the Archives of the History of American Psychology for his research on the biography. At its annual convention in 2001, the American Psychological Association honored him for his work on Milgram by asking him to give the prestigious annual G. Stanley Hall lecture. He received his B.A. in mathematics and Ph.D. in social psychology from Yeshiva University in New York and then held research positions at the University of Maryland Psychiatric Institute, Sheppard-Pratt Hospital, and Downstate Medical Center. For most of his career he has been at the Department of Psychology, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where he is currently a professor of psychology. The annual Andrew J. Bernstein ’68 Memorial Lecture Series is generously supported through an endowment from Sybil Bernstein. For information call 845-758-6822. # # # (4.01.05)

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This event was last updated on 04-12-2005