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Obedience, in human behavior, is a form of "
social influence Social influence comprises the ways in which individuals change their behavior Behavior (American English American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng, en-US), sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of varieties o ...
in which a person yields to explicit instructions or orders from an authority figure". Obedience is generally distinguished from
compliance Compliance can mean: Healthcare * Compliance (medicine) In medicine, patient compliance (also adherence, capacitance) describes the degree to which a patient correctly follows medical advice. Most commonly, it refers to medication or drug compli ...
, which is behavior influenced by peers, and from
conformity Conformity is the act of matching attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to group A group is a number A number is a mathematical object used to counting, count, measurement, measure, and nominal number, label. The original examples are the natura ...

conformity
, which is behavior intended to match that of the majority. Depending on context, obedience can be seen as
moral A moral (from Latin ''morālis'') is a message that is conveyed or a lesson to be learned from a narrative, story or wikt:event, event. The moral may be left to the hearer, reader, or viewer to determine for themselves, or may be explicitly enca ...

moral
,
immoral Immorality is the violation of moral A moral (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as L ...
, or amoral. Humans have been shown to be obedient in the presence of perceived legitimate
authority In the fields of sociology Sociology is the study of society, human social behaviour, patterns of social relationships, social interaction, and culture that surrounds everyday life. It is a social science that uses various methods of Empiric ...

authority
figures, as shown by the
Milgram experiment The Milgram experiment(s) on obedience to authority figures was a series of social psychology Social psychology is the Science, scientific study of how the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of individuals are influenced by the actual, ima ...
in the 1960s, which was carried out by Stanley Milgram to find out how the
Nazis Nazism (), officially National Socialism (german: Nationalsozialismus; ), is the ideology and practices associated with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party (german: link=no, Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, NSDAP, or National Socia ...

Nazis
managed to get ordinary people to take part in the mass murders of the
Holocaust The Holocaust, also known as the Shoah, was the genocide Genocide is the intentional action to destroy a people—usually defined as an ethnic, national, racial, or religious Religion is a social system, social-cultural syst ...

Holocaust
. The experiment showed that obedience to authority was the norm, not the exception. Regarding obedience, Milgram said that "Obedience is as basic an element in the structure of social life as one can point to. Some system of authority is a requirement of all communal living, and it is only the man dwelling in isolation who is not forced to respond, through defiance or submission, to the commands of others." A similar conclusion was reached in the
Stanford prison experiment The Stanford prison experiment (SPE) was a social psychology Social psychology is the Science, scientific study of how the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined, and implied presence of oth ...
.


Experimental studies


Classical methods and results

Although other fields have studied obedience, social psychology has been primarily responsible for the advancement of research on obedience. It has been studied experimentally in several different ways.


Milgram's experiment

In one classical study, Stanley Milgram (as part of the
Milgram experiment The Milgram experiment(s) on obedience to authority figures was a series of social psychology Social psychology is the Science, scientific study of how the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of individuals are influenced by the actual, ima ...
) created a highly controversial yet often replicated study. Like many other experiments in psychology, Milgram's setup involved
deception Deception or falsehood is an act or statement which misleads, hides the truth, or promotes a belief, concept, or idea that is not true. It is often done for personal gain or advantage. Deception can involve dissimulation, propaganda and sleight ...
of the participants. In the experiment, subjects were told they were going to take part in a study of the effects of punishment on learning. In reality, the experiment focuses on people's willingness to obey malevolent authority. Each subject served as a teacher of associations between arbitrary pairs of words. After meeting the "teacher" at the beginning of the experiment, the "learner" (an accomplice of the experimenter) sat in another room and could be heard, but not seen. Teachers were told to give the "learner" electric shocks of increasing severity for each wrong answer. If subjects questioned the procedure, the "researcher" (again, an accomplice of Milgram) would encourage them to continue. Subjects were told to ignore the agonized screams of the learner, his desire to be untied and stop the experiment, and his pleas that his life was at risk and that he suffered from a heart condition. The experiment, the "researcher" insisted, had to go on. The
dependent variable Dependent and Independent variables are variables in mathematical modeling, statistical modeling and experimental sciences. Dependent variables receive this name because, in an experiment, their values are studied under the supposition or demand ...
in this experiment was the voltage amount of shocks administered.


Zimbardo's experiment

The other classical study on obedience was conducted at
Stanford University Stanford University, officially Leland Stanford Junior University, is a private Private or privates may refer to: Music * "In Private "In Private" was the third single in a row to be a charting success for United Kingdom, British singer Du ...

Stanford University
during the 1970s.
Phillip Zimbardo Philip George Zimbardo (; born March 23, 1933) is an American psychologist and a professor emeritus at Stanford University. He became known for his 1971 Stanford prison experiment, which was later severely criticised for both ethical and scientif ...
was the main psychologist responsible for the experiment. In the
Stanford Prison Experiment The Stanford prison experiment (SPE) was a social psychology Social psychology is the Science, scientific study of how the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined, and implied presence of oth ...
, college age students were put into a pseudo prison environment in order to study the impacts of "social forces" on participants behavior. Unlike the Milgram study in which each participant underwent the same experimental conditions, here using
random assignment Random assignment or random placement is an experiment An experiment is a procedure carried out to support, refute, or validate a hypothesis. Experiments provide insight into Causality, cause-and-effect by demonstrating what outcome occurs wh ...
half the participants were prison guards and the other half were prisoners. The experimental setting was made to physically resemble a prison while simultaneously inducing "a psychological state of imprisonment".


Results

The Milgram study found that most participants would obey orders even when obedience posed severe harm to others. With encouragement from a perceived authority figure, about two-thirds of the participants were willing to administer the highest level of shock to the learner. This result was surprising to Milgram because he thought that "subjects have learned from childhood that it is a fundamental breach of moral conduct to hurt another person against his will". Milgram attempted to explain how ordinary people were capable of performing potentially lethal acts against other human beings by suggesting that participants may have entered into an agentic state, where they allowed the authority figure to take responsibility for their own actions. Another unanticipated discovery was the tension that the procedure caused. Subjects expressed signs of tension and emotional strain especially after administering the powerful shocks. 3 of the subjects had full-blown uncontrollable seizures, and on one occasion the experiment was stopped. Zimbardo obtained similar results as the guards in the study obeyed orders and turned aggressive. Prisoners likewise were hostile to and resented their guards. The cruelty of the "guards" and the consequent stress of the "prisoners," forced Zimbardo to terminate the experiment prematurely, after 6 days.


Modern methods and results

The previous two studies greatly influenced how modern psychologists think about obedience. Milgram's study in particular generated a large response from the psychology community. In a modern study, Jerry Burger replicated Milgram's method with a few alterations. Burger's method was identical to Milgram's except when the shocks reached 150 volts, participants decided whether or not they wanted to continue and then the experiment ended (base condition). To ensure the safety of the participants, Burger added a two-step screening process; this was to rule out any participants that may react negatively to the experiment. In the modeled refusal condition, two confederates were used, where one confederate acted as the learner and the other was the teacher. The teacher stopped after going up to 90 volts, and the participant was asked to continue where the confederate left off. This methodology was considered more ethical because many of the adverse psychological effects seen in previous studies' participants occurred after moving past 150 volts. Additionally, since Milgram's study only used men, Burger tried to determine if there were differences between genders in his study and randomly assigned equal numbers of men and women to the experimental conditions. Using data from his previous study, Burger probed participant's thoughts about obedience. Participants' comments from the previous study were coded for the number of times they mentioned "personal responsibility and the learner's well being". The number of prods the participants used in the first experiment were also measured. Another study that used a partial replication of Milgram's work changed the experimental setting. In one of the Utrecht University studies on obedience, participants were instructed to make a confederate who was taking an employment test feel uncomfortable. Participants were told to make all of the instructed stress remarks to the confederate that ultimately made him fail in the experimental condition, but in the control condition they were not told to make stressful remarks. The dependent measurements were whether or not the participant made all of the stress remarks (measuring absolute obedience) and the number of stress remarks (relative obedience). Following the Utrecht studies, another study used the stress remarks method to see how long participants would obey authority. The dependent measures for this experiment were the number of stress remarks made and a separate measure of personality designed to measure individual differences.


Results

Burger's first study had results similar to the ones found in Milgram's previous study. The rates of obedience were very similar to those found in the Milgram study, showing that participants' tendency to obey has not declined over time. Additionally, Burger found that both genders exhibited similar behavior, suggesting that obedience will occur in participants independent of gender. In Burger's follow-up study, he found that participants that worried about the well-being of the learner were more hesitant to continue the study. He also found that the more the experimenter prodded the participant to continue, the more likely they were to stop the experiment. The Utrecht University study also replicated Milgram's results. They found that although participants indicated they did not enjoy the task, over 90% of them completed the experiment. The Bocchiaro and Zimbardo study had similar levels of obedience compared to the Milgram and Utrecht studies. They also found that participants would either stop the experiment at the first sign of the learner's pleas or would continue until the end of the experiment (called "the foot in the door scenario"). In addition to the above studies, additional research using participants from different cultures (including Spain, Australia, and Jordan) also found participants to be obedient.


Implications

One of the major assumptions of obedience research is that the effect is caused only by the experimental conditions, and
Thomas Blass Thomas Blass is an American social psychologist, Holocaust survivor, and professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He is known for his work regarding Stanley Milgram and the Milgram experiment. Early life and ...
' research contests this point, as in some cases participant factors involving personality could potentially influence the results. In one of Blass' reviews on obedience, he found that participant's personalities can impact how they respond to authority, as people that were high in authoritarian submission were more likely to obey. He replicated this finding in his own research, as in one of his experiments, he found that when watching portions of the original Milgram studies on film, participants placed less responsibility on those punishing the learner when they scored high on measures of authoritarianism. In addition to personality factors, participants who are resistant to obeying authority had high levels of
social intelligence Social intelligence is the capacity to know oneself and to know others. Social Intelligence develops from experience with people and learning from success and failures in social settings. It is more commonly referred to as "tact", "common sense ...
.


Other research

Obedience can also be studied outside of the Milgram paradigm in fields such as economics or political science. One economics study that compared obedience to a tax authority in the lab versus at home found that participants were much more likely to pay participation tax when confronted in the lab. This finding implies that even outside of experimental settings, people will forgo potential financial gain to obey authority. Another study involving political science measured public opinion before and after a
Supreme Court A supreme court is the highest court A court is any person or institution, often as a government institution, with the authority to Adjudication, adjudicate legal disputes between Party (law), parties and carry out the administration of just ...

Supreme Court
case debating whether or not states can legalize physician assisted suicide. They found that participants' tendency to obey authorities was not as important to public opinion polling numbers as religious and moral beliefs. Although prior research has demonstrated that the tendency to obey persists across settings, this finding suggests that at personal factors like religion and morality can limit how much people obey authority.


Other experiments


The Hofling hospital experiment

Both the Milgram and Stanford experiments were conducted in research settings. In 1966, psychiatrist Charles K. Hofling published the results of a
field experiment Field experiments are experiments carried out outside of laboratory settings. They randomization, randomly assign subjects (or other sampling units) to either treatment or control groups in order to test claims of causality, causal relationships ...
on obedience in the nurse–physician relationship in its natural hospital setting. Nurses, unaware they were taking part in an experiment, were ordered by unknown doctors to administer dangerous doses of a (fictional) drug to their patients. Although several hospital rules disallowed administering the drug under the circumstances, 21 out of the 22 nurses would have given the patient an overdose.


Cultural attitudes

Many traditional cultures regard obedience as a virtue; historically, societies have expected children to obey their elders (compare
patriarchy Patriarchy is a social system In , social system is the patterned network of relationships constituting a coherent whole that exist between individuals, groups, and institutions. It is the formal of role and status that can form in a smal ...

patriarchy
or
matriarchy Matriarchy is a in which hold the primary power positions in roles of political leadership, , and control of property. While those definitions apply in general English, definitions specific to the disciplines of and differ in some respect ...
), slaves their owners, serfs their lords in
feudal society Feudalism, also known as the feudal system, was a combination of the legal, economic, military, and cultural customs that flourished in Medieval Europe between the 9th and 15th centuries. Broadly defined, it was a way of structuring society arou ...
, lords their king, and everyone God. Even long after slavery ended in the United States, the Black codes required black people to obey and submit to whites, on pain of
lynching Lynching is an extrajudicial killing An extrajudicial killing (also known as extrajudicial execution or extralegal killing) is the homicide, killing of a person by governmental authorities without the sanction of any Judiciary, judicial proc ...

lynching
. Compare the religious ideal of
surrender Surrender may refer to: * Surrender (law)In common law, surrender is the term describing a situation where a leasehold estate, tenant gives up possession of property held under a tenancy as a result of which the tenancy ends. A surrender differs f ...
and its importance in Islam (the word ''Islam'' can literally mean "surrender"). In some Christian weddings, obedience was formally included along with honor and love as part of the bride's (but not the bridegroom's) marriage vow. This came under attack with
women's suffrage Women's suffrage is the right of women to vote in elections. Beginning in the mid-19th century, aside from the work being done by women for broad-based economic and political equality and for social reforms, women sought to change voting law ...
and the
feminist Feminism is a range of social movement A social movement is a loosely organized effort by a large group of people to achieve a particular goal, typically a or one. This may be to carry out, resist or undo a . It is a type of and may ...

feminist
movement. the inclusion of this promise to obey has become optional in some
denomination Denomination may refer to: * Religious denomination, such as a: ** Christian denomination ** Jewish denomination ** Islamic denomination ** Hindu denominations ** Schools of Buddhism, Buddhist denomination * Denomination (currency) * Denomination ( ...
s. Some animals can easily be trained to be obedient by employing
operant conditioning Operant conditioning (also called instrumental conditioning) is a type of associative learning process through which the strength of a behavior is modified by reinforcement or punishment. It is also a procedure that is used to bring about such lea ...
, for example
obedience school An obedience school is an institution that trains pets (particularly dogs) how to behave properly. When puppies are young and in the first stages of training, they are often taken by their owners to obedience schools. Training usually takes place in ...
s exist to condition dogs to obey the orders of human owners. Learning to obey adult rules is a major part of the
socialization In sociology Sociology is a social science Social science is the branch The branches and leaves of a tree. A branch ( or , ) or tree branch (sometimes referred to in botany Botany, also called , plant biology or phyto ...
process in childhood, and many techniques are used by adults to modify the behavior of children. Additionally, extensive training is given in armies to make soldiers capable of obeying orders in situations where an untrained person would not be willing to follow orders. Soldiers are initially ordered to do seemingly trivial things, such as picking up the sergeant's hat off the floor, marching in just the right position, or marching and standing in formation. The orders gradually become more demanding, until an order to the soldiers to place themselves into the midst of gunfire gets an instinctively obedient response.


Factors affecting obedience


Embodiment of prestige or power

When the Milgram experimenters were interviewing potential volunteers, the participant selection process itself revealed several factors that affected obedience, outside of the actual experiment. Interviews for eligibility were conducted in an abandoned complex in
Bridgeport Bridgeport is a historic seaport File:PorticcioloCedas.jpg, The Porticciolo del Cedas port in Barcola near Trieste, a small local port A port is a maritime law, maritime facility which may comprise one or more Wharf, wharves where ...

Bridgeport
,
Connecticut Connecticut () is the southernmost state in the New England region of the United States. As of the 2010 United States census, 2010 Census, it has the highest per-capita income, second-highest level of List of U.S. states and territories by H ...
. Despite the dilapidated state of the building, the researchers found that the presence of a Yale professor as stipulated in the advertisement affected the number of people who obeyed. This was not further researched to test obedience without a Yale professor because Milgram had not intentionally staged the interviews to discover factors that affected obedience. A similar conclusion was reached in the
Stanford prison experiment The Stanford prison experiment (SPE) was a social psychology Social psychology is the Science, scientific study of how the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined, and implied presence of oth ...
. In the actual experiment, prestige or the appearance of power was a direct factor in obedience—particularly the presence of men dressed in gray laboratory coats, which gave the impression of scholarship and achievement and was thought to be the main reason why people complied with administering what they thought was a painful or dangerous shock. A similar conclusion was reached in the Stanford prison experiment.
Raj Persaud Rajendra 'Raj' Persaud FRCPsych (born 13 May 1963) is an English consultant psychiatrist A psychiatrist is a physician A physician (American English), medical practitioner (English in the Commonwealth of Nations, Commonwealth English) ...
, in an article in the BMJ, comments on Milgram's attention to detail in his experiment: Despite the fact that prestige is often thought of as a separate factor, it is, in fact, merely a subset of power as a factor. Thus, the prestige conveyed by a Yale professor in a laboratory coat is only a manifestation of the experience and status associated with it and/or the social status afforded by such an image.


Agentic state and other factors

According to Milgram, "the essence of obedience consists in the fact that a person comes to view himself as the instrument for carrying out another person's wishes, and he therefore no longer sees himself as responsible for his actions. Once this critical shift of viewpoint has occurred in the person, all of the essential features of obedience follow." Thus, "the major problem for the subject is to recapture control of his own regnant processes once he has committed them to the purposes of the experimenter." Besides this hypothetical agentic state, Milgram proposed the existence of other factors accounting for the subject's obedience: politeness, awkwardness of withdrawal, absorption in the technical aspects of the task, the tendency to attribute impersonal quality to forces that are essentially human, a belief that the experiment served a desirable end, the sequential nature of the action, and anxiety.


Belief perseverance

Another explanation of Milgram's results invokes
belief perseverance Belief perseverance (also known as conceptual conservatism) is maintaining a belief despite new information that firmly contradicts it. Such beliefs may even be strengthened when others attempt to present evidence debunking them, a phenomenon know ...
as the underlying cause. What "people cannot be counted on is to realize that a seemingly benevolent authority is in fact malevolent, even when they are faced with overwhelming evidence which suggests that this authority is indeed malevolent. Hence, the underlying cause for the subjects' striking conduct could well be conceptual, and not the alleged 'capacity of man to abandon his humanity ... as he merges his unique personality into larger institutional structures."'


See also

In humans: In animals: *
Animal training Animal training is the act of teaching animal Animals (also called Metazoa) are multicellular A multicellular organism is an organism In biology, an organism () is any organic, life, living system that functions as an individ ...
*
Obedience training Dog training is the application of behavior analysis which uses the environmental events of antecedents (trigger for a behavior) and consequences to modify the dog behavior Dog behavior is the internally coordinated responses of individuals or gro ...
(for dogs) *
Horse breaking Horse training refers to a variety of practices that teach horse The horse (''Equus ferus caballus'') is a domesticated odd-toed ungulate mammal. It belongs to the taxonomic family Equidae and is one of two Extant taxon, extant subspecies of w ...


References


External links


Science Aid: Obedience
High school level Psychology * ''Catholic Encyclopedia'


"Obedience, Consumerism, and Climate Change"
by Yosef Brody, Ph.D. {{DEFAULTSORT:Obedience (Human Behavior) Authority Human behavior Conformity Influence (social and political) Virtue