The Milgram Lost Card Experiment

The Milgram Lost Card Experiment

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Imagine that you walk down the street, near your home and find a sealed envelope forgotten on the floor. You will probably pick it up to send it to its destination, since we have learned that this is the right way to act. However, when you read who is the recipient of the letter, you realize that it is directed towards an organization renowned for its high degree of corruption and criminality, what would you do with the letter? Would you follow your usual protocol and send it or get rid of it?


  • 1 Who was Milgram?
  • 2 The Lost Card Experiment
  • 3 Results of the experiment
  • 4 Conclusions of the lost card experiment

Who was Milgram?

Stanley Milgram he was a well-known psychologist for having carried out controversial and provocative experiments in which he tried to investigate moral behavior In social contexts. Born in 1933 and being a professor at Yale University, one of his most popular experiments was Yale's obedience experiment.

After the Nazi regime in Germany and the crimes committed, Milgram, of Jewish origin, was very interested in studying the morality of people and their nature, as well as study ethics as a free choice or as an intrinsic characteristic of human beingor, especially when morality is opposed to the orders that a given context dictates. In the obedience experiment, Milgram tried to prove to what extent people were able to harm others by simply following certain orders. Milgram continued to do different studies, many of them with one point in common: the study of the nature of morality in society.

The Lost Card Experiment

In the lost card experiment, Milgram tried to understand people's different attitudes and their obedience to norms when it came to helping groups that are undesirable. For this, the psychologist and his colleagues carried out a curious social experiments in which they left 400 letters in different places of their locality located in the United States of America, places such as telephone booths, shops, or under the windshield wiper of the car. In each letter, one of these four recipients could be read: "Medical Research Association", "Friends of the Nazi Party", "Friends of the Communist Party" or an anonymous individual.

Milgram's intention was check how the responses of individuals varied depending on the concept they had of the recipients, being able to resend the letters, ignore them or destroy them.

Results of the experiment

To check the results, Milgram always gave the same address to each recipient: their own study. So, he could see how many letters were forwarded first hand. Of all the letters received, those that were directed towards the two parties did not obtain more than 25% of the total of each one. Of all the letters addressed to the medical association, 72% were returned, as well as 71% were forwarded to anonymous recipients.

A curious fact that Milgram noticed, was that among those letters returned, a large percentage of them arrived open. Specifically 40% of those addressed to the communist party, 32% percent of those of the Nazi party, 25% of the letters of the medical association and 10% of those addressed to individuals.

Conclusions of the lost card experiment

For a person to feel responsible for their actions, they must feel that the behavior has arisen from the self”Stanley Milgram

As Milgram suspected, prejudices between social groups conditioned people's actions. In addition, through this method Milgram was able to study behavior in normal situations, since none of the anonymous participants knew that their performance was being studied. A technique that has been used on subsequent occasions to study behavior naturally and without pressure by evaluation.

One of these occasions is the investigation that Milgram himself conducted to try to predict the outcome of the elections for the presidency of the United States in different electoral districts. The researcher "abandoned" several letters in strategic places, where it could be read if they were going to the committee to elect a president and defeat the other and vice versa. Milgram was able to predict who was the winning candidate in each district according to the acts of return of the letters, beyond any survey. A new way of proving that free choice and affinity with certain causes makes us feel the need to act or to avoid any help.

Links of interest

The 10 most curious social studies. // blog / 10-studies-psychological-and-social-more-curious /

Social Group Prejudice. //

Lost Letter Technique. //