Why do people obey?

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According the Oxford dictionary obedience is fulfilment with order, request or law or submission to other’s authority. From a psychological point of view obedience is recognised as part of human behaviour. There has been much research done on this topic. Some popular pieces of research include; Milgram’s study in 1963 and 1983, Hofling’s in 1966. We are socialised to be obedient and that it is therefore easier for us to comply with than to refuse to comply. Obedience mainly takes place when you are told by authority what to do, it involves status, power and people with uniforms.

As a result the person giving the order is in a higher position than the person accepting the order. We learn obedience from primary socialisation to obey the authority starting with the home where we obey our parents. Then secondary socialisation, in the school where we have to obey school rules for the good of order without question in spite of our own beliefs and standards. Also, there is social control where police orders people how to behave in society. It is the belief of society as a whole that obedience to authority allows society to survive and succeed.

Obedience although is essential for society to obey the authority in order for it to remain stable. Obedience is often seen as essential in the society. “Obedience is a form of social influence where an individual acts in response to a direct order from another individual, who is usually an authority figure. It is assumed that without such an order the person would not have acted in this way” (McLeod, S. 2007) When considering obedience, people follow what an authority orders of them.

According to Stanley Milgram’s study in (1963) which he called “obedience study” Milram was interested in finding out why so many Germans were obedient to the Nazi authority figure during the Second World War so he tested the obedience in an American setting. The study aimed to investigate the tendency by people to obey other people who are perceived to be in a position of authority over them. It was also to investigate what level of obedience would be shown when participants were told to control electric shocks to another person.

He also wanted to find out whether people would go against their own moral conscience and obey the authority figure who issued direct orders to cause pain and harm the other person. In his study, Milgram selected 40 male participants in his experiment. He told his forty male volunteer investigate subjects that they were participating in a study about the effects of punishment on learning. He gave each of the subjects the task of teacher. The participants were used in pairs, drawing slips of paper to find out who would become the “learner” and who would become the “teacher”..

The teacher was told by an authority figure to control fake electric shock to another learner. Each time he got the answer wrong, the teacher was to control an electric shock by increasing the shock level every time, with the final level set at 450 volts. Whenever “teachers” were unwilling to go on, the researcher would encourage them to carry on . The researcher was given the standard instruction of four prods. The prods were made in sequence. If prod 1 didn’t succeed he would try prod 2 and so on.

The prods were firmer each time starting with “Please continue”, “the experiment requires you to continue”, “it is absolutely essential that you continue” and finally “you have no choice but to continue”. If one was unsuccessful he would try the second one. The prods used suggested that withdrawal was not an option; therefore the participant should carry on. The level of shock that the participant was willing to deliver was used as the measure of obedience. Before the experiment, Milgram posed a question “how far would they be willing to go?

” to a group of Yale University students. They predicted that no more than 3 out of 100 participants would deliver the maximum shock. In reality, 65% of the participants in Milgram’s study delivered the maximum shocks. The findings of the experiment were that of the 40 participants in the study, 26 delivered the maximum shocks while 14 stopped before reaching the highest levels. Although many of the subjects became extremely agitated, distraught and angry at the experimenter, yet they continued to follow orders all the way to the end. (Gross, R. 2003)

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