Dispositional Explanations for obedience

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  • Dispositional explanations for obedience 
    • Not all psychologists accept that obedience can be fully explained by factors within the situation or the social structure. They argue that there must be at least some role for the personality or disposition of the individual after all not all of Milgram’s P`s obeyed, some rebelled. This explanation highlights the importance of the individual’s personality. There are several dispositional explanations, but the most influential concerns authoritarian personality. 
    • Authoritarian personality
      • Is highly susceptible to obeying people in authority, such individuals are thought to be submissive to those of higher status and dismissive of inferiors. Such individuals have the following characteristics; rigid beliefs in conventional values, general hostility towards other groups, intolerance of ambiguity and submissive attitudes towards authority figures.  
    • Adorno (1950)
      • Aim
        • Adorno like Milgram wanted to understand the anti-Semitism of the Holocaust, however his research led to a very different conclusion. Adorno wanted to find out whether a high level of obedience was a psychological disorder, and tried to locate the cause of it in the personality of the individual.
      • Procedure
        • Adorno looked at their unconscious attitudes towards other racial groups and developed several scales to investigate this such as the potential for fascism scale which is used to measure authoritarian personalities. 
        • Adorno investigated the causes of the obedient personality in a study of more than 2000, middle class, white American’s. 
      • Findings
        • People with authoritarian learnings identified with “strong” people and were generally disapproving of the “weak”. 
        • They were very conscious of their own and others` status, showing excessive respect, deference and servility to those of higher status. 
        • He found that people had a cognitive style where there no “fuzziness” between categories of people, with fixed and distinctive stereotypes about other groups. There was a strong positive correlation between authoritarianism and prejudice. 
      • Authoritarian characteristics
        • People with an authoritarian personality have a tendency to be especially obedient to authority- they have an extreme respect for authority and submissiveness to it. They are likely to show contempt for people they perceive as having inferior social status and have highly conventional attitudes towards sex, race and gender. They believe that society needs strong and powerful leaders to enforce traditional values such as love of country, religion and family therefore everything is either right or wrong- they are very uncomfortable with uncertainty.
      • Evaluation (AO3)
        • Research to support 
          • Milgram and Elms conducted interviews with a sample of 20 of the fully obedient participants and 20 defiant p`s asking them open-ended questions about their relationship with their parents during their childhood and their attitude to the experimenter. They gave them the F scale. The researchers found little difference between the obedient and defiant P`s, however they did find higher levels authoritarianism with those classed as obedient. However, this link is only a correlation between the two measured variables. This makes it impossible to determine whether authoritarian personality causes obedience, it may be a third factor that is involved. It could be that both authoritarian personality and obedience with lower levels of education, for instance and not directly linked with each other at all, because it is a correlation we cannot establish cause effect and therefore cannot conclude that a harsh parenting style caused the authoritarian personality.
        • Explanation is limited 
          • Any explanation of obedience related to personality will find it hard to explain obedient behaviour, for example, pre-war Germany many individuals displayed, obedient, racist and anti- sematic behaviour. This was despite the fact they must have differed in their personalities in all sorts of ways- it is unlikely that they all had authoritarian personalities. Therefore, Adornos theory can be criticised as social identity may be more realistic to explain obedience. The majority of German people identified with the anti-sematic Nazi and scapegoated the out group of Jews.
        • Political bias 
          • The F-scale measures the tendency towards an extreme form of right-wing ideology. Christie and Jahoda argued that this is politically biased interpretation of authoritarian personality due to the reality of left-wing authoritarianism. This is a limitation of Adorno`s theory as it is not a comprehensive dispositional explanation that can account for obedience to authority across the political spectrum. 
        • Methodological flaws 
          • Greenstein argues that the F- scale is a flawed methodology for example every one of the items on the scale are worded in the same direction, this means that it is possible to get a high score for authoritarianism just by ticking the same line of boxes down one side of the page. Jackson further criticised the F-scale by arguing that it was not measuring authoritarian personalities but acquiescence, this is not what we would expect to see if people had authoritarian personalities- they should score low on the reverse questionnaire. There is also researcher bias involved as Adorno interviewed p`s about their childhood experiences but also knew the p`s test scores so knew which of them had authoritarian personalities. Therefore, when using Adorno`s theory we must be careful as it is based on a flawed study. 
      • Origins of the authoritarian personality 
        • Adorno wanted to find the origins of the authoritarian personality type. They concluded that it formed in childhood- due to harsh parenting. There parenting style identified by adorno features extremely strict discipline, an expectation of absolute loyalty, impossibly high standards, and serve criticisms of failing. It is also characterised by conditional love- parents love for their child depends on how they behave. Adorno argued these experiences create resentment and hostility in the child but the child cannot express these feelings to their parents so he fears are displaced onto other who are perceived to be weaker in a process known as scapegoating. This is a psychodynamic explanation


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