Explanations for obedience: agentic state and legitimacy of authority

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Agentic State:

Milgram`s initial interest in obedience was sparked by the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961 for war crimes – he had been in charge of the Nazi death camps and had pleaded he was only obeying orders. This led Milgram to conclude that obedience to destructive authority occurs because a person is not taking responsibility for their actions – rather they believe that they are acting on the authority of someone else (as an “agent”). An agent is a person that acts in place of / for another. Autonomous State: this is the opposite to being in an agentic state as autonomy means to be independent / free. When a person is in this state they can act according to their own principles and feel a sense of responsibility for their actions. The shift from autonomy to agency is known as the “agentic shift”. Milgram suggested in 1974 that this occurs when someone else is seen as an authority figure (they are at a higher place in the social hierarchy). This is seen in most social groups – one person is viewed as the leader and the others defer to them. Binding Factors: These are factors within a situation (for example during Milgram`s experiment) that allow a person to reduce the moral strain they are feeling as a result of their actions. There are many ways of doing this – for example shifting the blame to the volunteer (“he was foolish to volunteer”) or denying the damage they were doing to the victims. Binding factors allow people to remain in the stressful / negative situation.

A limited explanation:
The agentic shift fails to explain why some people did not obey in Milgram`s study, or the results of Hofling et al`s study – the agentic shift


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