Explanations as to why we obey.

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  • Created by: _Josh
  • Created on: 22-04-14 14:15

Legitimate Social Authority

Legitimate Social Authority: we obey those with authority because we assume they know what they are doing.

(If someone has legitimate authority, they have a role that is defined by society that gives them a right to exert their control over others e.g. a teacher)

How this can be seen in Milgram's study:

  • Person in labcoat - presents himself as authority figure
  • Obedience drops when study is completed in seedy offices downtown (less legitimate)
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Buffers: any aspects of a situation that prevent us from seeking the consequences of our obedience.

(The larger the buffer, the more likely the obedience)

How this can be seen in Milgram's studies:

  • Obedience rate dropped when they were in the same room, and dropped again when the participant had to force the learner's hand onto the switch
  • Being in a diffeent room blocked them from the learner which made them feel less involved
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Gradual Commitment

Gradual Commitment: if people begin to obey fairly small, harmless requests and are then asked to obey steadily larger and more harmful requests, they find it hard to refuse the more harmful requests.

(This is known as the foot in the door effect)

How this can be seen in Milgram's studies:

  • Voltage gradually increases and becomes more dangerous
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The Agentic Shift

The Agentic Shift: Milgram's agency theory states that people operate on two levels:

1) As autonomous individuals where they behave voluntarily and are aware of the consequences of their actions

2) On the agentic level where they see themselves as agents of higher authority and so are not responsible for their actions

The agentic shift occurs when we move to the agentic level: we shift responsibility for our actions on to someone else. People often deny their responsibility, saying "I was only carrying out orders" hence, they're in the agentic state.

Why the agentic shift happens:

  • Milgram argued that socialisation (particularly when young children) encourages obedience to authority, so we eventually learn to accept authority unquestioningly.
  • Once we are in the agentic state we stay in it because we fear appearing rude by disrupting a social situation we had previously accepted and we fear increasing our own anxiety levels by challenging the authority figure.
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