Theories of Obedience

Obedience is the tendency to comply with the commands of those in authority. Obedience occurs when someone acts in a way that they may not normally act as a result of someone in a position of authority ordering them to do so.

Milgam's Agency Theory (1973)

Milgram proposed two states; autonomous and agentic. In an autonomous state, a human acts according to their own free will. However, when given instructions by a legitimate authority figure the human mind switches to an agentic state, where they act as an agent to the authority figure.

People may show moral strain when they are asked to do something that they are uncomfortable with doing. This may result in them feeling anxiety and/or distress. Defence mechanisms may be used to help people deal with the consequences of their actions such as denial and avoidance.

The shift into the agentic state relieves moral strain as the individual displaces the responsibility of the situation of the authority figure…


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