Importance of Obedience

Why did the Nazi’s obey Adolf Hitler’s orders? Why are people
more likely to disobey or obey others? Researching obedience can provide
answers. Milgram (1963) stated obedience is the psychological mechanism, that
binds a person’s actions to political purpose. It is crucial to evaluate these
findings, as other explanations can replace obedience. People are taught as
children to obey the law, authority and parents as negative consequences can
arise, e.g. punishment for disobeying the police. Obedience is important for
political systems to run effectively, but can be damaging when wrong people
have authority.

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Milgram (1963) conducted a controlled experiment, to test
whether participants would obey orders to shock someone, even when knowing it
was wrong. Participants thought they were taking part in a study about effects
of punishment on learning, not obedience. They taught a learner (Confederate)
word pairs and administered increasing shocks if they gave the wrong answer.
The learner’s responses and reactions to the fake shocks were standardised. The
shock generator was fake, nevertheless, participants believed it was real, as
it looked convincing. Most participants, 65%, administered the highest shock,
even when very uncomfortable. Some trembled, others had seizures under pressure
from the experimenter’s orders and prods. The dependent variable in this study
was, the last shock the participant administered, before refusing to continue.

Obedience or engaged
followership?

It is hard to distinguish between obedience and engaged
followership. Milgram’s participants might not have been following orders, but
believed their actions would benefit science. (Haslam, Reicher, Millard and
McDonald, 2015). They could have been co-operative with the experimenter for science.
Burger (2009) found the more prods resembled orders, the less likely
participants were to obey. Most participants refused after Milgram’s (1963)
prod, “you have no other choice you must go on.” (p.374), this shows they were
not responding to orders. Milgram (1963) stated obedience occurs in a situation
where the subject interprets it as significant and meaningful. However, this
situation is not very meaningful for their personal lives, but are contributing
to scientific research. They are not being obedient and following orders, but
being co-operative showing engaged followership. Therefore, if they were not
being obedient, Milgram did not test obedience. Future studies should test the
difference between engaged followership, which seems to be cognitive, and
obedience which is behavioural. Milgram’s (1963) prod, “The experiment requires
that you continue.” (p.374), places emphasis on needing their participation in
the study, explaining why they continued, confounding the results (Haslam,
Reicher and Birney, 2014). However, as they were being paid, and at a
prestigious university, this could have created pressure to continue.

Individual Differences

An aspect which Milgram did not investigate in this study,
knowing it affected obedience; personality. Milgram chose a variety of
participants from different job backgrounds, which could have confounded the
results. A person with a job which requires them to follow orders constantly,
and has a shy personality, is more likely to obey authority. A shy person is
more likely to obey, as they do not want the negative consequences of
disobeying e.g. attention drawn towards them. Therefore, a questionnaire
testing personality before the experiment would be useful (Bègue et al. 2014).
Regarding the five personality traits, Bègue et al. (2014) found agreeableness
and conscientiousness, associated with higher levels of obedience. Therefore,
if Milgram’s participants had these traits, this would have confounded the
results, as it is their disposition to obey and not the situation. Also, as a
newspaper advertisement, only people with certain personalities would have
responded, and those who do not read newspapers may be different.

Lacking internal
validity?

Milgram’s study lacks internal validity because the
participants believed as an experiment, no one would suffer. Orne and Holland
(1968) stated Milgram’s study lacks realism, and the participants did not
believe the shocks were real. However, the reactions which Milgram reported,
ranging from trembling to uncontrollable seizures shows different. Their strong
reactions to the experiment and the feeling of guilt they had after, shows they
believed they were administering real shocks, therefore, it did not lack
realism or internal validity.

To conclude, although Milgram stated his participants were
obedient, other explanations show different. Personality is an important
factor, which affects obedience especially the traits agreeableness and
conscientiousness (Bègue et al. 2014). Milgram controlled the study well and
set up the experiment and shock generator well and made it believable to the
participants. This, therefore, increases internal validity. It is unclear if
Milgram’s participants showed obedience or engaged followership, therefore,
future studies should investigate the differences.