Resisting Pressure to Obey.

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Gamson et al wished to set up a situation in which participants were encouraged to rebel against an unjust authority. The researchers placed an advert in the local papers in a town in Michigan, asking for volunteers to take part in a paid group discussion on 'standards of behaviour in the community'. Those who responded were asked to attend a group discussion in a local Holiday Inn.

When they arrived, they were put into groups of 9 and met by a consultant from a fictional human relations company called Manufacturers Human Relations Consultants. The young man explained that MHRC was conducting research for an oil company, which was taking legal action against a petrol station manager. They argued that the manager had been sacked because his lifestyle was offensive to the local community. In contrast, the manager argued that he had been sacked for speaking out on local TV against high petrol prices.

Participants were asked to take part in a group discussion about the sacking, and this was filmed. As the discussion unfolded, it became clear that the participants own views were irrelevant and that the HR Company wanted them to argue in favour of the sacking. At a number of points, the camera man stopped filming and instructed different members of the group to argue in favour of the oil company's decision to sack the manager. Finally, the participants were asked to sign a consent form allowing the film to be shown in a court case.


  • Of the 33 groups tested by Gamson, 32 rebelled in some way during the group discussion.
  • In 25 out of the 33 groups, the majority of the group members refused to sign the consent form.
  • 9 groups even threatened to take legal actions against the MHRC.

These findings show the power of a situation because there was support from other people within the groups,all in the same situation, the participants felt more able to not obey.



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