Writing: Psychology - OBEDIENCE



    Parts of Chapter ten explored the interesting topic of obedience and factors affecting it. While obedience can be beneficial to the society by avoiding a system of anarchy. Destructive Obedience can cause a great deal of harm. The Video obeying or resisting authority re-explored a modified version of Milgram’s experiment and compared its results to the original experiment. The video also brought into the light another infamous experiment: The Stanford Prison Experiment. Milgram’s experiment was about the influence of authority figures. On the other hand, Stanford Prison Experiment addressed the influence of power of the situation. As I discovered these two experiments, I did experience flashbacks from my early childhood and how I was conditioned to obey to authority figures.

    In the 1960s, Psychologist Stanley Milgram staged an experiment to investigate the possibility for ordinary individuals to take part in destructive obedience. To the participants, the experiment was about the role of punishment in learning. Though Milgram’s goal was to measure participant’s obedience when ordered to dispense electric shocks to unknown individuals. Milgram’s first study (1964) used a random sampling of 40 men from a variety of ages and professions. The participants received monetary compensation for their participation before the experiment started.

    During the experiment, the participants played the role of teachers reading a list of words to learners over the intercom (no visual contact). The learner (an actor) would try to recollect the words from his memory. The experimenter on a lab coat and standing behind the seated teachers would ask the participants to administer a gradual electric shock to the learner every time a mistake is made. The procedure used an apparatus ranging from 15 to 450 volts. The learner (an actor) started experiencing a fictive pain and protested the electric shocks at the 300-volt mark. While the participants expressed a discomfort continually shocking the learners. The experimenter calmly asked the participants to carry on using the expression: “You have no other choice, you must go on” (Milgram, 1963). Above the 315-volt mark, the learner acted as unresponsive and refrained from answering the teachers. The instructor asked the teachers to carry on the electric shock on an unconscious individual. Although preliminary surveys predicted only 1% to 3% of the teachers may continue administering electric shocks up to 450 volts. The results of Milgram’s experiment showed 65% of the teachers continued dispensing shocks up to the 450 volts mark and none disobeyed before the 300 volts mark.

    As the results of Milgram’s experiment unveiled, many were doubtful and questioned the sanity of the participants. Milgram investigated further by replicating the study in 1974 and changing variables such as the location and gender of participants. The obedience level in 1974 experiment was as high as previously stated in the 1964 experiment. Researchers replicated Milgram’s experiment in different environments to find similar results. The most recent modified Milgram’ experiment was led by Psychologist Jerry Burger (2009). Burger wanted to compare the original generation of Baby Boomers in Milgram’s experiment with the Millennials generation. For ethical reasons, Burger selected participants least likely to experience psychological trauma during the experiment. Burger used a random sampling of men/women participants and adjusted the max electric shock administered to 150 volts instead of the original 450 volts. The results showed that 33.3% of men disobeyed in Burger’s experiment while only 17.5% of men disobeyed in the original Milgram’s experiment. While results were not conclusive, researchers may indicate that obedience has decreased in the last five decades. Further investigation is necessary to determine the veracity of the generational obedience decline.

    Two main Factors affected the high obedience level in the original Milgram’s experiment. The presence of an authority figure and the fear of bad consequences disobeying an authority. As the authority figure seemed in charge, the participants distanced themselves from taking ownership of the situation and simply followed orders. Another explanation for high obedience rates was the experimenter’s timing request. “When we do not have time to think things through, we are more susceptible to persuasive attempts” (Pastorino & Doyle Portillo, 2019). Another factor that led to high obedience rates may be explained by the principal of Slippery Slope.” Once, you begin to obey, it is like beginning to slide down the slope. The farther you go, the more momentum you gain, and the harder it is to stop obeying” (Pastorino & Doyle Portillo, 2019). “Another reason affecting obedience was the psychological distance we feel between our actions and the results of those actions” (Pastorino & Doyle Portillo, 2019). While the proximity of an experimenter to teachers increased the level of obedience. The proximity of the learner to teachers decreased the level of obedience without eliminating it. Finally, destructive obedience behavior may be the result of some people nature. “Data suggest that a sense of personal responsibility and concern for others may be traits that serve to reduce our tendency to engage in destructive obedience”. (Pastorino & Doyle Portillo, 2019).

    The film Obeying or resisting authority started with a modified replication of Milgram’s Experiment.  22 women and 18 men were tested to observe their level of obedience. They were asked to electrically shock a learner at the experimenter order. Participants were introduced to the supposed learner who informed them about his hearth condition. 65% of men and 70% of Women participants agreed to administer the highest level of shocks (150 volts). The common pattern between the men and women who went all the way up to the 150 volts mark was the refusal to take responsibility for the learner safety. The justification used by a participant was: “I was just doing my job. I was doing what I was supposed to do”(ABC Productions: Basic Instincts. (2007). Film Obeying or resisting authority: Psychological retrospective [Video]. valenciacollege.edu).

     On the other hand, a third of the participants refused to continue shocking the learner. Two common traits among them were: early resistance to follow the experimenter orders and sense of responsibility towards the learner. To investigate further how to stop participants from obeying authority figure. Milgram’s original experiment found that when using a team of two accomplices who both refused to continue, 90% of the participants followed their example. A replication of this experiment showed that even with the presence of an accomplice. The decrease in obedience toward an authority figure was minor. 63% of the participants continued to electroshock the learner even after the accomplice expressed a discomfort carrying the electroshocks.

    The video sightsaw a real-life event that depicted Milgram’s experiment. April 9th, 2004 at a Local McDonald’s restaurant. The General Manager received a phone call from an alleged police officer. The alleged cop asked the GM to strip search an underaged employee, have the underaged employee do jumping jacks and perform sexual acts with another adult employee. The event was caught on camera and led to a national outcry.

    Finally, the video re-explored the Stanford Prison Experiment. College students were paid $15 a day to role play as prisoners and guards in the psychology department basement set as a prison. Prisoners were identified by given numbers instead of their names, wore loose smacks, no underwear and covered their heads with a tight pantyhose cap. The guards were dressed in khaki uniforms, mirror sunglasses and carry night sticks. This experiment showed how one guard’s behavior influenced the behavior of the entire group. Guards started series of degrading behavior towards prisoners. The prisoner’s resistance was met with punishments and further degrading practices leading to serious psychological sufferance. The experiment was ended a week earlier. While the Milgram’s experience was about the influence of the authority figure. The Stanford Prison Experiment addressed the influence of the power of the situation.

    Upon reading about Milgram’s experiment. I did start questioning the veracity of the events and the possibility that Baby Boomers were a generation accustomed to executing orders. After all, they experienced the second World War, and they were living in the Cold War Era. I was not convinced with the facts presented by Professor Milgram and started critically questioning each aspect of the experiment. My arguments were related to the lack of diversity in the participants pool, the geographic locations and the lab setting that was far from real life. However, as I was reading throughout the chapter about factors effecting obedience. I found them convincing. The presence of an authority figure tends to frighten us. At early age, we were conditioned to obey to different authority figures: parents, teachers, and men in uniforms. The level of our obedience is proportional to the authority figure proximity.

    The video presented a modern version of the Milgram’s experiment. I was stupefied to see how a stranger man on a lab coat directed adults to administer electric chocks to a suffering individual. It blew my mind that the majority continued to administer electric shocks without remorse. Participants were dissociating themselves from the learner by shifting the responsibility toward the experimenter. They were there to execute a task in exchange of money. I am intrigued to try a similar experiment without compensating the participants. Will they continue to follow the experimenter orders, or will they stop earlier? I am also interested on assigning a female experimenter. Would the participants continue to obey? Or would they show a resistance at an early stage? As an individualistic society. Some of us are paid to do a job without questioning the why. We are predisposed to commit horrible acts in the name of higher hierarchy. In this context, reviewing the horrible images from the Abu-Ghreb prison did not surprise me at all. We have seen genocides in Nazi’s concentration camps, Srebrenica, Rwanda, and Myanmar. Its simplistic to assume that perpetrators of genocides were evil. However, they were either soldiers or even peasants following orders. In Rwanda, neighbors who lived in harmony for generations turned into violent mobs carrying machetes and slicing their neighbors’ throat.                                                              

    At a personal level, Milgram’s experiment challenged my cultural and religious background. From early childhood, I was inoculated from obeying to authority figures blindly. My parents taught me to obey the creator not the creatures. However, as a member of the society. I struggled juggling between my inner instinct and the need to fit within the society. Its easier to assume an immunity to Milgram’s experiment. Yet, life may put us under such pressure that we may renounce our principals. I learned to no be judgmental toward others bad choices.

    I do believe that both Milgram’s and the Stanford Prison experiments were important contributions to the understanding of human psychology. I support the idea to explore further the obedience of human race under authority figures. I am also concerned with the possibility of humans obeying machines or programs that may imitate the image and voice of known authority figures. I am an advocate of teaching Milgram’s experiment worldwide as early as elementary school. While the course content may be different at that level comparing to college level. It is important to make the next generation aware when to obey and when its ok to disobey.

    Obedience in general and destructive obedience in particular are delicate subjects rarely discussed among families or in educational institutions. In my opinion, Obedience ED is as important as Sex ED.


 Word Count:  1870



"MLA Formatting and Style Guide." The Purdue OWL Purdue U Writing Lab. Accessed 20 March. 2021.

Ellen Pastorino & Susann Doyle-Portillo. What Is Psychology? Foundations, applications & Integration, 4th Edition, Cengage Learning, 2019.


ABC Productions: Basic Instincts. (2007). Film Obeying or resisting authority: Psychological retrospective [Video]. Film: Obeying or resisting authority: Psychological retrospective: 202120 General Psychology PSY-2012-22168 (valenciacollege.edu).Accessed 20 March. 2021.