Obedience is classified as the most direct form of Social Influence, Obedience is basically yielding to direct orders from another person.( The main thing to remember is that the connotation about obedience is that one need not believe in what one in fact does, but merely that one feels compelled to obey)

Milgram(1963) studied obedience, Milgram wanted to discover if participants would inflict harm simply because they are ordered to do so. He studied participants who were representative of the general population in his controversial(unethical) series of experiments.

For each experiment 40 male participants(all were recruited via newspaper adverts) were used, each participant was paid $4.50 for volunteering. All the participants were informed that they were going to be participating in a study on the role of punishment in learning and memory. The experimenter wore a grey laboratory coat( why do you think the experimenter wore a grey laboratory coat - to enhance his authority), each participant in turn was introduced to the experimenter and also to another participant - the participants were asked to draw lots to find out who would be the 'teacher' and who would be the 'learner' in the experiment.(The drawing of lots was always fixed so that the real participant was always the teacher and the other participant(accomplice of the researcher) was always the learner)

The learner(accomplice of the experimenter) was strapped into an 'electric chair' in a room next door to where the teacher sat.

The teacher's (naive participants) role was to administer an electric shock(electric shock not real but naive participant not aware of this task-in fact the only electric shocks that were given in the whole experiment were to the naive participants if they for some reason doubted that the electrical shocks received by learners were real) everytime the learner made a mistake on a simple learning task(word Pairs) The apparatus used to give the electric shocks contained 30 numbered switches with the first labelled 15 volts, the second labelled 30 volts and so on upto 450 volts. Everytime the learner made a mistake the teacher was instructed to increase the strength of the electric shock(this basically meant that if the learner kept on making mistakes they would soon be receiving big electrical shocks)

During the session the learner (following instructions from the experimenter) made lots of mistakes. This resulted in a lot of teachers(participants) being faced by a serious dilemma, should they continue punishing the learner with increasingly painful shocks? Or should they refuse to continue ? If the teacher hesitated the experimenter pressurised them to continue with a series of graded 'Prods' one after the other. These were 'Please Continue' , 'The experiment requires that you continue' , 'It is absolutely essential that you continue' , 'You have no other choice you must go on.'

You would probably think that most participants would not continue with the high doses of electric shocks

What percentage of teachers(Participants) continued giving shocks to the maximum of the 450 volt Level ?

The actual amount of participants who continued through the entire series to the 450 volt level was 65%.(26 out of 40 participants) 5 participants stopped at 300 volts, 4 participants stopped at 315 volts, 2 at 330 volts and one each at 345 volts, 360 volts and 375 volts.

It was noted that many of the participants displayed signs of severe stress and discomfort during the experiment and showed a great deal of relief when it was over.

Milgram argued that there were several factors that could explain the obedience

What do you think these might be write down 3 factors each(5-10mins)

1. Credibility and respect, the experiment took place at the prestigious Yale University

2. Worthy purpose, the participants believed that the experiment was for a worthy purpose i.e advancing knowledge of learning processes.

3. Volunteering Victims, the participants believed that the victims had volunteered and therefore had an obligation to take part even if the procedures became unpleasant.

4. The participants also felt obligated to take part as planned

5. Being Paid increased the sense of obligation

6. Fair lot drawing, so the learner couldn't feel aggrieved at being the one who was punished.

7. Participants were naive about experimental conditions, therefore the situation was novel to them.

8. Long-Term scientific gain, participants were assured of the fact that the shocks were painful(in the short-term) but not dangerous, this was balanced with the possibility of Long-Term scientific gain.

9. Willingness of learners to take part upto 300 volts.



Variations on Milgram's original study

1) If the learner and the teacher were in the same room, the number continuing to 450 volts dropped to 40%

2) If the participant(learner) had to force the learners hand on a metal shock plate in order to receive the shock, 30% went upto 450 volts.

3) When the experiment was completed in a run down office in Bridgeport rather than the prestigious Yale University. 50% went upto 450 volts.

4) When women were used in the experiment the results were identical (65%-obeyed,450 volts)

5) When the participant was only required to read the word pair and another teacher(a confederate-accomplice of the experimenter) administered the shock. 95% of participants went upto 450 volts

6) If the experimenter left the room after giving initial instructions, giving all further instructions by telephone. The obedience rate dropped to 20%.


Evaluation of Milgram Obedience Experiment

Baumrind(1964) criticised Milgram on Ethical grounds, he argued that Milgram did not take adequate measures to protect his participants from the stress and emotional conflict they experienced.

In response Milgram sent a questionnaire to every participant, 84% reported that they had been pleased to be involved,only 1.3% reported negative feelings about the experience.

Orne and Holland(1968) argued that Milgram's studies lacked in both experimental realism(the extent to which the situation forces participants to take the study seriously) and mundane realism(ecological validity the extent to which the study relates to real life). They argued that participants did not believe they were really giving electrical shocks and they were not really distressed, just pretending in order to please the experimenter and to continue to play their role in the study.

Hofling et al(1966) conducted a study with nurses. They arranged for a nurse(participant) to receive a phone call from an unknown Doctor, who then asked her to administer 20 Milligrams of a drug called Astrogen to a patient so that it would have taken effect before he arrived. If the Nurse had obeyed she would be breaking several hospital rules, 1- Giving twice the maximum dose allowable for this drug, 2- Administering a drug not on the ward stock list for that day, 3- Taking a telephone instruction from an unfamiliar person, 4- Acting without a signed order from a Doctor.

Despite this 95% of the nurses(participants) started to give the medication(Placebo) until they were stopped by another nurse strategically placed nearby.


Zimbardo et al (1973) A study of prisoners and guards in a simulated prison

Zimbardo et al.(1995) define conformity as a 'tendency for people to adopt the behaviour, attitudes and values of other members of a reference group'.

The experiment set out to investigate the effects of playing the role of 'guard' and 'prisoner' in the context of a simulated prison.

Zimbardo et al (1973) wanted to find out if alleged brutality by prison guards was caused by an inevitable outcome of the role or due to personal characteristics of the prison guards. 24 male volunteers were randomly assigned the role of prisoner or guard in a simulated prison in the Stanford University Psychology department. The 'prisoners' were arrested, searched, given ID numbers, issued with uniforms and ankle chain. Guards had uniforms, clubs, handcuffs and reflective sunglasses. Zimbardo intended the study to last 2 weeks but the increasing malice of the guards and depression levels of the prisoners forced it to be abandoned after 6 days. The guards woke prisoners in the night, locked them in closets and got them to clean the toilet with their bare hands. This prisoners also demonstrated different behaviour, one went on hunger strike, and the prisoners who broke down asked to be paroled and not simply to quit the experiment. This study demonstrates the strong pressures which are in existence which make people comply with social norms and roles.


Student Exercise - Write 300 words describing conformity, compliance and obedience. Also point out the main differences between them.


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