Obedience Psychology Essay On Memory

People tend to obey others if they recognise their authority as morally right and / or legally based (i.e. legitimate). This response to legitimate authority is learned in a variety of situations, for example in the family, school and workplace.

With regard to Milgram' study the experimenter is seen as having legitimate authority as he has scientific status.

Situational Factors

The Milgram experiment was carried out many times whereby Milgram varied the basic procedure (changed the IV). By doing this Milgram could identify which situational factors affected obedience (the DV).

Obedience was measured by how many participants shocked to the maximum 450 volts (65% in the original study).

Authority Figure Wearing a Uniform

Milgram’s experimenter (Mr. Williams) wore a laboratory coat (a symbol of scientific expertise) which gave him a high status. But when the experimenter dressed in everyday clothes obedience was very low. The uniform of the authority figure can give them status.

Status of Location

Milgram's obedience experiment was conducted at Yale, a prestigious university in America. The high status of the university gave the study credibility and respect in the eyes of the participants, thus making them more likely to obey.

When Milgram moved his experiment to a set of run down offices rather than the impressive Yale University obedience dropped to 47.5%. This suggests that status of location effects obedience.

Proximity of Authority Figure

People are more likely be obey an authority figure who is in close proximity (i.e. nearby). In Milgram's study the experimenter was in the same room as the participant (i.e. teacher).

If the authority figure is distant it is easier to resistant their orders. When the experimenter instructed and prompted the teacher by telephone from another room, obedience fell to 20.5%. Many participants cheated and missed out shocks or gave less voltage than ordered to by the experimenter.

Dispositional Explanation: Authoritarian Personality

Adorno felt that personality (i.e. dispositional) factors rather than situational (i.e. environmental) factors could explain obedience. He proposed that there was such a thing as an authoritarian personality, i.e. a person who favours an authoritarian social system and in particular admires obedience to authority figures.

One of the various characteristics of the authoritarian personality was that the individual is hostile to those who are of inferior status, but obedient of people with high status.

Resistance to Social Influence

Independent behavior is a term that psychologists use to describe behavior that seems not be influenced by other people. This happens when a person resists the pressures to conform or obey.

Social Support

In one of Asch’s variation he showed that the presence of a dissident (a confederate who did not conform) led to a decrease in the conformity levels in true participants – this is thought to be because the presence of a dissident gave the true participant social support and made them feel more confident in their own decision and more confident in rejecting the majority position.

Social support also decreases obedience to authority. In a variation of Milgram' study two other participants (confederates) were also teachers but refused to obey. Confederate 1 stopped at 150 volts and confederate 2 stopped at 210 volts. The presence of others who are seen to disobey the authority figure reduced the level of obedience to 10%.

Locus of Control

The term ‘Locus of control’ refers to how much control a person feels they have in their own behavior. A person can either have an internal locus of control or an external locus of control.

People with a high internal locus of control perceive (see) themselves as having a great deal of personal control over their behavior and are therefore more likely to take responsibility for the way they behave. For example I did well on the exams because I revised extremely hard.

In contrast a person with a high external locus of control perceive their behaviors as being a result of external influences or luck – e.g. I did well on the test because it was easy.

Research has shown that people with an internal locus of control tend to be less conforming and less obedient (i.e. more independent). Rotter proposes that people with internal locus of control are better at resisting social pressure to conform or obey, perhaps because they feel responsible for their actions.

Minority influence occurs when a small group (minority) influences the opinion of a much larger group (majority). This can happen when the minority behaves in the following ways.


Moscovici stated that being consistent and unchanging in a view is more likely to influence the majority than if a minority is inconsistent and chops and changes their mind.

A distinction can be made between two forms of consistency:

(a) Diachronic Consistency – i.e. consistency over time – the majority sticks to its guns, doesn’t modify its views.

(b) Synchronic Consistency – i.e. consistency between its members – all members agree and back each other up.

Consistency may be important because:

1. Confronted with a consistent opposition, members of the majority will sit up, take notice, and rethink their position (i.e. the minority focuses attention on itself).

2. A consistent minority disrupts established norms and creates uncertainty, doubt and conflict. This can lead to the majority taking the minority view seriously. The majority will therefore be more likely to question their own views.


When the majority is confronted with someone with self-confidence and dedication to take a popular stand and refuses to back own, they may assume that he or she has a point.


A number of researchers have questioned whether consistency alone is sufficient for a minority to influence a majority. They argue that the key is how the majority interprets consistency. If the consistent minority are seen as inflexible, rigid, uncompromising and dogmatic, they will be unlikely to change the views of the majority. However, if they appear flexible and compromising, they are likely to be seen as less extreme, as more moderate, cooperative and reasonable. As a result, they will have a better chance of changing majority views.

Some researchers have gone further and suggested that it is not just the appearance of flexibility and compromise which is important but actual flexibility and compromise. This possibility was investigated by Nemeth.

Their experiment was based on a mock jury in which groups of three participants and one confederate had to decide on the amount of compensation to be given to the victim of a ski-lift accident. When the consistent minority (the confederate) argued for a very low amount and refused to change his position, he had no effect on the majority. However, when he compromised and moved some way towards the majority position, the majority also compromised and changed their view.

This experiment questions the importance of consistency. The minority position changed, it was not consistent, and it was this change that apparently resulted in minority influence.

Social change occurs when a whole society adopts a new belief or behavior which then becomes widely accepted as the ‘norm’. Social influence processes involved in social change include minority influence, internal locus of control and disobedience to authority.

Social change is usually a result of minority influence. This is when a small group of people (the minority) manage to persuade the majority to adopt their point of view.

This also links to independent behavior, because the minority resists pressures to conform and/or obey. Usually the minority have an internal locus of control.

Moscovici found that consistency is the most important factor in deciding whether the minority are influential or not. This means that the minority must be clear on what they are asking for and not change their minds, or disagree amongst themselves. This creates uncertainty amongst the majority.

It has been found that once the minority begin to persuade people round to their way of thinking, a snowball effect begins to happen. This means that more and more people adopt the minority opinion, until gradually the minority becomes the majority. At this point, the people who have not changed their opinion are the minority, and they will often conform to the majority view as a result of group pressures.

The majority opinion then becomes law, and people have to obey this law. Once this happens, the minority opinion has become the dominant position in society, and people do often not even remember where the opinion originated from. This is a process known as crypto amnesia.

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Paper 1: Introductory Topics Social InfluenceMemoryAttachmentPsychopathology

Paper 2: Psychology in Context ApproachesBiopsychologyResearch Methods

Procedure: Moscovici conducted an experiment in which female participants were shown 36 blue slides of different intensity and asked to report the colors. There were two confederates (the minority) and four participants (the majority).

In the first part of the experiment the two confederates answered green for each of the 36 slides. They were totally consistent in their responses. In the second part of the experiment they answered green 24 times and blue 12 times. In this case they were inconsistent in their answers. A control group was also used consisting of participants only – no confederates.

Findings: When the confederates were consistent in their answers about 8% of participants said the slides were green. When the confederates answered inconsistently about 1% of participants Said the slides were green.

There are a number of sources, appropriate for different audiences, that provide overviews of the literature. Cialdini 2001 would be useful for not only students but also those with nonacademic backgrounds who have an interest in social influence. In contrast, Cialdini and Griskevicius 2010 and Cialdini and Trost 1998 are geared more toward graduate students, scholars, and researchers. Forgas and Williams 2001 is a collection of chapters written by various experts in the field of social influence. Hogg 2010 provides a scholarly overview of social influence literature.

  • Cialdini, R. B. 2001. Influence: Science and practice. 4th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

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    This book is among the most popular in any area of social psychology. It remains a popular text for classes on social influence but is sufficiently engaging with its effective use of real-world examples that it is appealing to readers outside the academic context.

  • Cialdini, R. B., and V. Griskevicius. 2010. Social influence. In Advanced social psychology: The state of the science. Edited by R. Baumeister and E. Finkel, 385–418. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    An academic review of social influence research. In contrast to Cialdini 2001, this book is best suited for a scholarly audience and would be a useful resource for senior undergraduate and graduate students.

  • Cialdini, R. B., and M. R. Trost. 1998. Social influence: Social norms, conformity, and compliance. In The handbook of social psychology. 4th ed. Vol. 2. Edited by D. T. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske, and G. Lindzey, 151–192. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    E-mail Citation »

    This chapter is a comprehensive, scholarly review of psychological research on social influence. It provides a detailed summary of research on norms, conformity, and compliance.

  • Forgas, J. P., and K. D. Williams, eds. 2001. Social influence: Direct and indirect processes. Philadelphia: Psychology Press.

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    The chapters in this book were a product of the Sydney Symposium of Social Psychology held at the University of New South Wales, and they provide thoughtful insights into both theoretical and practical social influence issues. This book is best suited for senior students, scholars, and researchers.

  • Hogg, M. A. 2010. “Influence and leadership.” In The handbook of social psychology. 5th ed. Vol. 2. Edited by S. T. Fiske, D. T. Gilbert, and G. Lindzey, 1166–1206. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

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    This chapter provides a scholarly overview of social influence literature. This chapter is best suited for graduate students, scholars, and researchers. It provides distinctions between compliance, conformity, and obedience literature.

  • Vallacher, R. R., A. Nowak, and M. E. Miller. 2003. Social influence and group dynamics. In Handbook of psychology. Vol. 5, Personality and social psychology. Edited by T. Millon and M. J. Lerner, 383–417. New York: Wiley.

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    A chapter that provides an exploration of social influence processes within group contexts. This chapter is best suited for graduate students, scholars, and researchers.

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