1 Obedience to
authority has a
positive and a
1.1 On the positive
side, people obey
laws of society,
(E.g. Police etc),
and orders or
1.1.1 Obedience in this context is essential
to the smooth running of society, and
if people did not obey, chaos and
disorder would quickly develop.
1.2 On the
and result in
1.2.1 There are plenty of examples
from history where one group of
people has killed another group
as a result of obedience to orders
given by high-ranking army
officers or government officials.
184.108.40.206 E.g. Nazi Germany,
The Bosnians and the
Serbs in Eastern
Europe and the Hutus
and Tutsis in Rwanda.
2 Explanations of Obedience.
2.1 Kelman and Hamilton
(1989) suggest 3 main
facotors to explain
obedience, and destructive
obedience in particular.
2.1.1 Legitimacy of the System.
220.127.116.11 This concerns the extent to which a government, army, religious group or even
family is a legitimate source of authority. Where one or more of these is seen by
the individual to be a legitimate source of authority, obedience to the system
will be high. When the system is not seen as legitimate, obedience will be low.
18.104.22.168.1 E.g. If a car driver does not
believe the law penalising
drivers for using a mobile
phone while driving is right
or legitimate, that driver may
risk the penalty and use the
mobile phone while driving.
22.214.171.124.2 In Milgrams experiment, as it was
carried out at the highly prestigious
psychology department at Yale
University, it is most likely that the
participants saw the setting as legitimate
and believed that, in the university, harm
to another would not take place.
2.1.2 Legitimacy of Authority Within the System.
126.96.36.199 This is the power individuals
hold to give orders because
of their position in the system.
188.8.131.52.1 E.g. The prime minister in government or a general
in the army would have a high degree of legitimacy.
184.108.40.206.2 Where someone attempts to give orders
but is not seen to be in a position to do
so, obedience to the orders will be low.
220.127.116.11.2.1 In the Milgram study, the
experimenters wore white
coats to make them look like
scientists. This gave them
legitimacy of authority in the
eyes of the participants.
2.1.3 Legitimacy of Demands or Orders Given.
18.104.22.168 This refers to the
extent to which the
order is perceived to
be a legitimate area
for the authority figure.
22.214.171.124.1 E.g. If the prime minister tried
to order people not to eat meat
because he was a vegetarian,
you would be unlikely to
regard the order as legitimate.
126.96.36.199.2 In the Milgram study, the participant in the role
of the teacher was repeatedly asked and told
to continue in the name of science, and that
the experiment demanded that they continue.
Hence, the order to continue, even when the
participant wanted to stop, can be seen as
legitimate because of the setting and the belief
we have in the legitimacy of science.
2.2 Also, the Milgram study physically
separated the participant (teacher) from
the learner. While participants heard the
learner express sounds of distress, this
was not actually seen by the participant.
2.2.1 When the
participant is in
close proximity to
3 Situational Factors Affecting Obedience.
3.1 Milgram (1974) investigated
various situational factors
affecting obedience in his classic
These include legitimacy of
authority, proximity of the learner,
proximity of the experimenter,
conflicting orders and gender
differences. In all, Milgram
conducted 18 experiments using
the basic teacher-learner set-up.
3.1.1 The legitimacy of the system
and authority was varied by
conducting the experiment
in a run-down office in a less
respectable part of town.
188.8.131.52 This 'low legitimacy'
experiment resulted in
lower levels of
obedience. Just 48% of
the maximum shock.
3.1.2 The legitimacy of the authority figure,
the experimenter, was varied by
allowing another casually dressed
participant to give orders to the teacher
to carry on, rather than the experimenter
dressed in a white laboratory coat.
184.108.40.206 Here, obedience
dropped to just
20% giving the
3.1.3 The proximity of the
learner was varied by
placing the teacher and the
learner in the same room.
220.127.116.11 Here, obedience
dropped to 40% giving
the maximum shock.
18.104.22.168 When the teacher had to
put the hand of the learner
on a metal place to deliver
the electric shock,
obedience dropped to 30%.
22.214.171.124 In another experiment, the
experimenter left the room after
giving the teacher instructions
on what to do. Here, obedience
dropped to 20%.
126.96.36.199 Where 2 experimenters
were present with the
teacher and one instructed
the participant to continue
and the other to stop,
dramatically, with no one
giving the maximum shock.
3.1.4 The proximity of the
authority figure or
experimenter also affected
levels of obedience.
188.8.131.52 When the experimenter
was not in the same
room as the participant,
but gave orders over
obedience was reduced
to about 20%.
184.108.40.206 When the experimenter did not
order the participant to continue
but made it clear that the
participant could leave at any
time, only 2.5% continued to give
the highest level of shock.
4 Dispositional Factors Affecting Obedience.
4.1 In considering dispositional factors that
may explain why people obey authority,
we are concerned with the question of
whether or not particular personality
types are associated with high and low
levels of obedience.
4.2 The authoritarian personality
is most commonly associated
with obedience to authority.
4.2.1 Adorno and his
colleagues (1950) put
forward the idea of an
220.127.116.11 They described it as a
person who submits to the
authority of those in a
higher position (this may be
due to status or power) and
is authoritarian with those
of lower status or power.
18.104.22.168.1 Someone with an authoritarian
personality is characterised
by excessive and blind
obedience to authority.
22.214.171.124 Adorno was originally
concerned with constructing
a questionnaire to measure
developed an attitude
questionnaire which became
known as the F-Scale ('F'
standing for fascist).
126.96.36.199.1 This measures different
aspects of personality -
such as conventionalism,
preoccupation with power,
puritanical sexual attitudes
and superstition - which
were all thought to be
different components of the
4.2.2 It offers an obvious
explanation of obedience
to authority since you
would expect people with
personality both to obey
the orders they are given,
and to expect others to
4.3 A more recent attempt to
link personality and
obedience to authority is
the idea of social
dominance, put forward by
Sidanius and Pratto (1999).
4.3.1 A person is said to have
high social dominance
when he or she wants their
own group to be better and
more dominant than
another group or groups.
188.8.131.52 People with high
will therefore tend to
reject the views of
others and want their
own view to prevail.
184.108.40.206.1 In the Milgram study,
seeing yourself as a
member of a scientific
group or a member of a
sub-cultural group would
mean that you are most
likely to obey orders
from people you see as
belonging to that group.
5 Defiance of Authority.
5.1 Some variations to
resulted in low
levels of obedience.
5.1.1 E.g. Shabby
experimenter not in the
physically in same
room as the participant
5.2 When individuals are
reminded that they are
responsible for the
consequences of what they
do and of the harm that may
be caused, research has
shown significant reductions
in obedience (Hamilton 1978).
5.3 Research has also shown
that if participants in a study
of obedience watch another
person acting disobediently,
then levels of obedience will
be low (Rochat and
5.4 The idea of informational
social influence may be
used to explain
conditions under which
people might defy
authority or resist
5.4.1 When a person is not
sure of what to do in
a social situation, the
influence of another
person may be great.
220.127.116.11 In the Milgram study, the participant
is in the role of the teacher. This is a
highly unusual situation for most
people and therefore one in which
they would tend not to be confident
about how to behave in an
appropriate way. Hence the
experimenter, as an authority figure
giving the orders provides strong
social information about what to do.
18.104.22.168.1 Where the credibility of the
authority figure is in doubt,
informational social influence is
less and the participant relies
more on his or her own moral
judgement about whether or
not it is right to continue.
22.214.171.124.1.1 In circumstances
social influence is low,
obedience to authority
is also likely to be low.
also be applied
126.96.36.199 Where the experimenter
and the setting for the
experiment are seen to be
wears white coat and the
setting is in a university),
normative pressures to
obey authority will be high.
188.8.131.52.1 Normative pressures are
low where legitimacy is
dressed experimenter and
shabby building/bad area),
resulting in low levels of
obedience to authority.
5.5 Research Study:
Feldman and Scheibe
6 Milgram's Classic Study of Obedience.
6.1 Milgram conducted a series of highly
controversial studies in the 1960s (Milgram
1963, 1965, 1974), investigating obedience
to authority. The studies explored the effect
of a range of factors on levels of obedience.
6.1.1 Milgram recruited
participants by placing
advertisements in local
newspapers, asking for
volunteers to take part in
an experiment on learning.
184.108.40.206 1). Volunteers were told that the
experiment required one person to act
as a 'teacher' and another person to act
as a 'learner'. Participants each drew a
piece of paper from a hat to assign the
role of teacher and learner. In reality,
this was fixed so that the true volunteer,
or participant, was always assigned to
the role of teacher, and the other
person, who was a confederate of
Milgram's, to the role of learner.
6.2 2). It was explained to the teacher
that they had to read a series of word
pairs (such as 'blue-girl', 'fat-neck') to
the learner. Subsequently, the
teacher had to read the first word of
the pair and the learner had to
choose the correct second word of
the pair from a list of a few words.
6.2.1 3). The teacher was told that, if the
learner responded with the wrong word,
the teacher had to give the learner an
electric shock. This continued over
many sets of word pairs, and each time
the learner gave a wrong answer, the
teacher was told they had to give an
electric shock of increasing intensity.
6.3 4). A sophisticated piece of
equipment, with a long line of
switches and lights, was place in
front of the teacher, allowing them to
see what the next level of electric
shock should be. On the front panel
of the equipment was a voltage scale
running from 150 to 450 volts, with an
indication of the severity of shock.
6.4 5). Prior to beginning the
experiment, the teacher was given a
sample shock of 45 volts (quite
painful). The learner (a confederate
of Milgram's) did not actually receive
any shocks during the experiment,
but the teacher did not know this.
6.4.1 The teacher would see the
learner being 'wired up' and
would be told that he had
complained of a weak heart.
Milgram would encourage
the teacher to shock by
saying 'Please Go On' or
'The Experiment Requires
That You Continue' or 'You
Have No Other Choice, You
Must Go On'.
6.5 Before conducting the
series of experiments,
and middle-class adults
the shock level at which
they thought the teachers
would refuse to go on.
6.5.1 All said they would
195-240 volts. 80%