Importance of ObedienceWhy did the Nazi’s obey Adolf Hitler’s orders? Why are peoplemore likely to disobey or obey others? Researching obedience can provideanswers. Milgram (1963) stated obedience is the psychological mechanism, thatbinds a person’s actions to political purpose. It is crucial to evaluate thesefindings, as other explanations can replace obedience. People are taught aschildren to obey the law, authority and parents as negative consequences canarise, e.g. punishment for disobeying the police.
Obedience is important forpolitical systems to run effectively, but can be damaging when wrong peoplehave authority.Milgram (1963) conducted a controlled experiment, to testwhether participants would obey orders to shock someone, even when knowing itwas wrong. Participants thought they were taking part in a study about effectsof 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. Theshock generator was fake, nevertheless, participants believed it was real, asit looked convincing. Most participants, 65%, administered the highest shock,even when very uncomfortable. Some trembled, others had seizures under pressurefrom the experimenter’s orders and prods.
The dependent variable in this studywas, the last shock the participant administered, before refusing to continue.Obedience or engagedfollowership? It is hard to distinguish between obedience and engagedfollowership. Milgram’s participants might not have been following orders, butbelieved their actions would benefit science. (Haslam, Reicher, Millard andMcDonald, 2015). They could have been co-operative with the experimenter for science.Burger (2009) found the more prods resembled orders, the less likelyparticipants 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 werenot responding to orders. Milgram (1963) stated obedience occurs in a situationwhere the subject interprets it as significant and meaningful. However, thissituation is not very meaningful for their personal lives, but are contributingto scientific research. They are not being obedient and following orders, butbeing co-operative showing engaged followership.
Therefore, if they were notbeing obedient, Milgram did not test obedience. Future studies should test thedifference between engaged followership, which seems to be cognitive, andobedience which is behavioural. Milgram’s (1963) prod, “The experiment requiresthat you continue.” (p.374), places emphasis on needing their participation inthe study, explaining why they continued, confounding the results (Haslam,Reicher and Birney, 2014). However, as they were being paid, and at aprestigious university, this could have created pressure to continue.
Individual DifferencesAn aspect which Milgram did not investigate in this study,knowing it affected obedience; personality. Milgram chose a variety ofparticipants from different job backgrounds, which could have confounded theresults. 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 ismore likely to obey, as they do not want the negative consequences ofdisobeying e.g. attention drawn towards them. Therefore, a questionnairetesting personality before the experiment would be useful (Bègue et al. 2014).
Regarding the five personality traits, Bègue et al. (2014) found agreeablenessand conscientiousness, associated with higher levels of obedience. Therefore,if Milgram’s participants had these traits, this would have confounded theresults, as it is their disposition to obey and not the situation. Also, as anewspaper advertisement, only people with certain personalities would haveresponded, and those who do not read newspapers may be different.
Lacking internalvalidity?Milgram’s study lacks internal validity because theparticipants believed as an experiment, no one would suffer. Orne and Holland(1968) stated Milgram’s study lacks realism, and the participants did notbelieve the shocks were real. However, the reactions which Milgram reported,ranging from trembling to uncontrollable seizures shows different. Their strongreactions to the experiment and the feeling of guilt they had after, shows theybelieved they were administering real shocks, therefore, it did not lackrealism or internal validity.To conclude, although Milgram stated his participants wereobedient, other explanations show different. Personality is an importantfactor, which affects obedience especially the traits agreeableness andconscientiousness (Bègue et al. 2014).
Milgram controlled the study well andset up the experiment and shock generator well and made it believable to theparticipants. This, therefore, increases internal validity. It is unclear ifMilgram’s participants showed obedience or engaged followership, therefore,future studies should investigate the differences.