Obedience is compliance with commands given by an authority figure. In the 1960s, the social psychologist Stanley Milgram did a famous research study called the obedience study. It showed that people have a strong tendency to comply with authority figures. Milgram’s Obedience Study
Milgram told his forty male volunteer research subjects that they were participating in a study about the effects of punishment on learning. He assigned each of the subjects to the role of teacher. Each subject was told that his task was to help another subject like himself learn a list of word pairs. Each time the learner made a mistake, the teacher was to give the learner an electric shock by flipping a switch. The teacher was told to increase the shock level each time the learner made a mistake, until a dangerous shock level was reached. Throughout the course of the experiment, the experimenter firmly commanded the teachers to follow the instructions they had been given. In reality, the learner was not an experiment subject but Milgram’s accomplice, and he never actually received an electric shock. However, he pretended to be in pain when shocks were administered. Prior to the study, forty psychiatrists that Milgram consulted told him that fewer than 1 percent of subjects would administer what they thought were dangerous shocks to the learner. However, Milgram found that two-thirds of the teachers did administer even the highest level of shock, despite believing that the learner was suffering great pain and distress. Milgram believed that the teachers had acted in this way because they were pressured to do so by an authority figure. Factors That Increase Obedience
Milgram found that subjects were more likely to obey in some circumstances than others. Obedience was highest when: Commands were given by an authority figure rather than another volunteer The experiments were done at a prestigious institution
The authority figure was present in the room with the subject The learner was in another room
The subject did not see other subjects disobeying commands
In everyday situations, people obey orders because they want to get rewards, because they want to avoid the negative consequences of disobeying, and because they believe an authority is legitimate. In more extreme situations, people obey even when they are required to violate their own values or commit crimes. Researchers think several factors cause people to carry obedience to extremes: People justify their behavior by assigning responsibility to the authority rather than themselves. People define the behavior that’s expected of them as routine. People don’t want to be rude or offend the authority.
People obey easy commands first and then feel compelled to obey more and more difficult commands. This process is called entrapment, and it illustrates the foot-in-the-door phenomenon. Obedience, in human behavior, is a form of social influence. It occurs when a person yields to explicit instructions or orders from an authority figure. Obedience is generally distinguished from compliance (behavior influenced by peers) and conformity (behavior intended to match that of the majority). Research on obedience became emphasized in the years after World War II to gain insight as to why so many ordinary people obeyed the Nazi party in taking part in the Holocaust. Research on Obedience
The Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures was a series of social psychology experiments conducted by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgam. These experiments measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience. The experiments involved three individuals: the experimenter, the participant of the experiment, and a confederate who pretended to be a volunteer. A confederate is someone who is a part of the experiment, but who pretends to be a participant in the study. The experimenter took on the authoritative role, the participant took on a role intended to obey the orders of the experimenter, and the confederate took on the role of the recipient of stimulus (Figure 1). The participant believed his role was randomly assigned. The participant was told he would need to teach word pairs to the confederate. With every incorrect response, the participant would have to shock the confederate with increasingly higher voltages of electricity, although unknown to the participant, the confederate was not actually being shocked. After a number of voltage increases, the confederate would act in ways that would indicate he was in extreme physical pain, such an banging on the wall and complaining of heart pain, or displaying seizure-like behavior. At this point, many participants indicated their desire to stop the experiment and check on the confederate. Most continued after being assured they would not be held responsible. If at any time the participant indicated his desire to halt the experiment, he was given a succession of verbal prods by the experimenter. If the participant still wished to stop after all verbal prods, the experiment ended. Otherwise, it was only halted after the participant had given the maximum 450-volt shock three times in succession. Prior to the experiment it was estimated that only a very small fraction of participants (1%) would inflect maximum voltage. In Milgram's first set of experiments, 65% of participants administered the full 450-volt shock, even though most were very uncomfortable doing so. Most participants paused and questioned the experiment at some point, but 26 out of 40 still administered the full shock, even after the confederate ceased to respond. These results demonstrate that participants were willing to obey an authority figure and administer high levels of shocks to another individual, even when they believed the other individual was being harmed by the shock. Zimbardo (1971) - The Stanford Prison Experiment
The Stanford prison experiment was a study of the psychological effects of becoming a prisoner or prison guard and was conducted by Philip Zimbardo at Stanford University in 1971. Twenty-four males students were selected to take on randomly assigned roles of prisoner or guard in a mock prison situated in the basement of the Stanford psychology building. The participants adapted to their roles beyond the experimenter's expectations. The guards enforced authoritarian measures and ultimately subjected some of the "prisoners" to psychological and physical torture. Many of the prisoners passively accepted abuse and, at the request of the guards, readily harassed other prisoners who attempted to prevent it. The experiment even affected Zimbardo himself, who, in his role as the superintendent, permitted the abuse to continue. A fraction of the way through the duration of the study, Zimbardo announced an end to the experiment. The results of the experiment have been argued to demonstrate the impressionability and obedience of people when provided with a legitimizing ideology, and social as well as institutional support. The results indicate that environmental factors have a significant affect on behavior. In addition to environmental factors, Zimbardo attributesmany of the "guards'" actions to deindividuation afforded by the authority position and even the anonymity of the uniforms. The Abu Ghraib prison scandal has been interpreted based on the results of this study suggesting that deindividuation may also have impacted the guards' behavior in that situation. Factors Associated with Obedience
After running these experiments, Milgram and Zimbardo concluded that the following factors affect obedience: Proximity to the authority figure: the closer the authority figure was, the more obedience was demonstrated Prestige of the experimenter: something as simple as wearing a lab coat or not wearing a lab coat affected levels of obedience; authority figures with more prestige elicited more obedience; both researchers further suggested that the prestige associated with Yale and Stanford respectively may have influenced obedience Expertise: a subject who has neither the ability nor expertise to make decisions, especially in a crisis, will leave decision making to the group and its hierarchy Deindividuation: the essence of obedience consists in the fact a person comes to view themselves, not as an individual, but as an instrument for carrying out another's wishes and no longer see themselves as responsible for their actions. Social influence is a major topic in social psychology and looks at how individual thoughts, actions and feelings are influenced by social groups. Learn more about various types of social influence including peer pressure, obedience, leadership, conformity and persuasion. 1. Leadership (10)
What Is Persuasion?
When you think about persuasion, what comes to mind? Learn more about how experts define persuasion and how contemporary persuasion differs from the past. Persuasion Techniques
Every day we are faced with persuasion, especially in the form of advertisements. Learn more about persuasion techniques that have been identified by social psychologists. The Milgram Obedience Experiment
Milgram's obedience experiment has become one of the most famous studies in psychology's history. Learn more about this classic study on obedience. Researchers Replicate Classic Milgram Obedience Experiment
Learn more about a recent study that replicated Milgram's famous experiment with some modifications to address the ethical concerns. The Asch Conformity Experiments
Researchers have long been interested in the degree to which people follow or rebel against social norms. During the 1950s, psychologist Solomon Asch conducted a series of experiments designed to demonstrate the powers of conformity in groups Stanley Milgram: Compliance
In the early 1960's, researcher Stanley Milgram shocked the world with his study on obedience, demonstrating the majority of participants would deliver harmful electric shocks to another person despite protests and pleading from the victim. Learn more about Milgram, his groundbreaking research, and the social psychology of obedience. What Is Diffusion of Responsibility?
Diffusion of responsibility is a psychological phenomenon in which people are less likely to take action or feel a sense of responsibility in the presence of a large group of people... The Stanford Prison Experiment
The Stanford Prison Experiment is one of the most famous experiments in psychology's history. Learn more about the experiment and the results. What Is Compliance?
Have you ever done something simply because someone asked you to? In psychology, this is known as compliance. Learn more about the psychology behind compliance, including some of the techniques people use to get people to comply with their wishes.