Factors Affecting Obedience

Obedience means changing behaviour because of a direct order from a legitimate authority figure. We are all affected by obedience, and often do not question what makes the individual giving the order the authority to make demands that we are to respond to. There are many factors which affect our level of obedience.


If there is someone in society who is perceived to be superior to us, we are more likely to obey them unquestioningly, for example a policeman or less officially, our parents. For example, in a classroom environment, if one of your classmates told you to be quiet you would be more likely to ignore the command than if the request came from a teacher, a person of more power and authority. This theory is further proved by the Bickman (1974) experiment in which people dressed in normal clothes, as a milkman or as a security guard asked passers by to pick up litter. The experiment found that passers by were least likely to pick up litter when asked to by a person in normal clothes and were most likely to pick up the litter when asked to by the actor dressed as a security guard.


Obedience is also strongly affected by personality. For example, in a classroom environment, most people will simply accept what the teacher is saying whereas a few others may question the opinions and information that they are being confronted with. Two studies which contradict each other on the link between personality and obedience are the Zimbardo et al. (1974) experiment and the Milgram (1963) experiment. In Zimabardo et al. (1974) students volunteers were placed into the roles of prisoners and guards and psychologists watched as the guards became increasingly brutal This suggests that the situation has a larger role in obedience than our personalities. However, in the Milgram experiment, some people showed willpower in their refusal to distribute ‘shocks’ to the actor whereas others simply complied with orders.


4 thoughts on “Factors Affecting Obedience

  1. This is very good Amy. The first point is well illustrated with a real life example and generally you have used research evidence to back up your points, which is great to see. Would be good to see more examples from your own experience – how much do these things play a role in everyday life? Good subheadings – add an image next time 🙂


  2. Good additional examples plus understanding of the real-world implications of the Milgram, Bickman and Zimbardo studies. Be careful, because although you are right about individual differences in the Milgram study, the main conclusion was that people were surprisingly easily influenced by the social situation. So it doesn’t entirely contradict Zimbardo’s work. In fact, both really go against the views of people like Freud who state that personality governs behavior and is fixed from an early age.
    This fulfils the requirements of the following internal assessment standard for the Social Behaviour unit: “1.3 Applying understanding of social psychology to everyday behaviour”.


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