Agency theory

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  • Created by: debbieoxt
  • Created on: 13-05-18 16:05
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  • Agency theory
    • Autonomy - acting on one's own free will.
    • Agency - when one acts as an agent for another.
    • Moral strain - experiencing anxiety, usually because you are asked to do something that goes against your moral judgement.
    • Autonomous state - we act according to our own free will and direct our own behaviour, taking responsibility for the results.
    • Agentic state - we allow someone else to direct our behaviour, and assume that responsibility passes to that person.
    • When given instructions by an authority figure, we shift from an autonomous state to an agentic state of mind, and see ourselves as agents for the authority figure.
    • Milgram observed many pps in his obedience study experience moral strain when ordered to harm someone. Moral strain occurs when people are asked to do something that they would not choose to do themselves, and they feel immoral or unjust.
    • Moral strain results in an individual feeling very uncomfortable in the situation and show anxiety and distress. This anxiety is felt as the individual contemplates dissent and considers behaving in a way that contradicts what they have been socialised to do.
    • The shift into an agentic state of mind relieves moral strain as the individual displaces the responsibility of the situation onto the authority figure, thereby absolving them of the consequences of their actions. This is not to say that displacement of responsibility is the only way to relieve moral strain. In fact, dissent to authority can also produce relief once an individual has removed themselves from the situation.
    • Milgram suggested that two things must be in place in order for a person to enter the agentic state. The person giving the orders is perceived as a legitimate authority figure and the person being ordered about is able to believe that the authority will accept responsibility for what happens. These binding factors reduce our moral strain by reassuring us it is not our responsibility.


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