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Indeed, by the fall of 1963, the results of Milgram's research were making headlines.

Linsly-Chittenden Hall on Yale's old campus is easy to miss—an improbable hybrid of Romanesque and neo-Gothic styles that sits in the shadow of the magnificent clock-arch straddling High Street.

But in July 1961, the building hummed with an unusual amount of activity as people came and went through its doors at hourly intervals.

The name Stanley Milgram may not elicit the kind of instant recognition as, say, Sigmund Freud.

And though he was something of a Renaissance man, making films and writing poetry, Stanley Milgram was no Sigmund Freud: He did not attempt an all-encompassing theory of behavior; no school of thought bears his name.

Each subsequent error led to an increase in the intensity of the shock in 15-volt increments, from 15 to 450 volts.

In actuality, the shock box was a well-crafted prop and the learner an actor who did not actually get shocked.

But what he did do—rather than probe the interior of the human psyche—was to try to expose the external social forces that, though subtle, have surprisingly powerful effects on our behavior.

Milgram's research; like Freud's, did lead to profound revisions in some of the fundamental assumptions about human nature.