Why Do We Obey Authority Figures?

Reasons as to why people obey authority figures.

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  • Why do we obey?
    • Legitimate Authority
      • We think that their authority status gives them the right to exert control over us.
      • The authority figures role could be defined by society or the situation. e.g. doctor in a hospital or scientist in a lab.
      • We feel obligated to obey those in power because they respect their credentials and assume they know what they're doing.
    • Buffers
      • Something that offers some sort of protection from consequences.
      • Milgram suggests that buffers act as mechanism to help people reduce the strain of acting in an immoral way and therefore increases obedience.
      • A buffer could maybe be when you cannot see the consequences of your actions. e.g. dispatching a cruise missile- they are protected (buffered) from seeing the consequences.
    • The Agentic State
      • A person becomes the 'agent' of another persons wishes (those of the authority figure)
      • This state allows people to feel like they are not responsible for their own actions.
      • People then can place responsibility for their actions upon the authority figure who gave the order. this increases obedience.
    • Gradual Commitment
      • Once someone complies with a trivial, seemingly harmless request they find it hard to refuse  to carry out more serious, escalating requests.
      • Each request is a small step further than the last so people may feel like it's 'not a big deal'
      • They become committed and move from doing reasonable requests to things that are completely unacceptable without noticing.
    • The Authoritarian Personality
      • People who have strict parents who used harsh, physical punishments often grow up to be obedient (Adorno).
      • They develop an authoritarian personality which means that they have an extreme respect for authority and feel hostility  to those of a lower rank.
      • Authoritarian personality is measured using the 'F scale'.
  • The authority figures role could be defined by society or the situation. e.g. doctor in a hospital or scientist in a lab.

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