Revision notes for Psychology AS Unit 2 – Obedience

Variations of Asch’s experiment

Size of majority – the larger the number of people disagreeing, the more likely the individual is to conform

Task difficulty – the more difficult the task is, the more higher the likelihood of conformity

Unanimity (agreement by all people) – results showed that a break in unanimity, even when the answer is wrong, reduced conformity

Self-esteem – the lower the self-esteem, the greater the likelihood of that person conforming

Anonymity (answering anonymously) – writing down the answer privately showed conformity levels decreasing


Why people obey (variations of Milgram’s experiment/situational factors)

Location – results showed that when the experiment was done in a run-down building, the levels of obedience decreased but when the experiment was done in a prestigious university, the levels of obedience were high

Proximity of the victim/learner – the more direct the experience with the victim, the lower the levels of obedience and the less direct the experience with the victim, the higher the levels of obedience

Proximity of the authority figure – when the experimenter left the room, the levels of obedience dropped

Social support – the levels of obedience fell as more stooges refused to obey


Other reasons why people obey

Personal responsibility – we feel less responsible for our own actions if we are obeying the commands of an authority figure therefore explaining the high levels of obedience (agentic state – feeling under the control of an authority figure). But when the experimenter left the room, the participants felt more responsible for their actions (autonomous state – feeling responsible)

Perception of a legitimate authority – we accept that people who are seen as legitimate or justified authorities have the right to tell us what to do. The experimenter at the university was accepted as legitimate which is why the obedience levels were high

Social norms – the participants had agreed to a social contract and therefore felt that they had to be polite to the authority figure and obey


Dispositional (personality) factors of why people obey to authority

The idea of an authoritarian personality has these characteristics:

Hostility to people perceived to be of lower status

Respect for people perceived to be of higher status

A preoccupation with power

Blind respect for authority


Why people disobey/defiance of authority

Social support – participant was more likely to disobey when they had support from others

Role models – when defiance is modelled by someone who is openly disobeying, others gradually follow and therefore obedience levels fall

Personal experience including education – some participants in Milgram’s study had experienced a concentration camp so refused to give electric shocks

Questioning motives – some people question the motive of the people in authority but Milgram’s study was accepted as being of scientific value at the time

Loss of freedom – some participants feel manipulated and controlled and disobey if they feel that their freedom of choice is being threatened


Feldman and Scheibe study evaluation

  • Low external validity because the study was carried out on students only
  • Deception due to the use of stooges
  • Protection of participant because some of them felt embarrassed to complete the questionnaire
  • They had the right to withdraw but didn’t know that they could

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