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What are the situation variables that affect obedience?

- proximity
- uniform
Milgram varied the basic procedure to demonstrate how these factors affected the rate of obedience


Explain the effect of proximity on obedience

- in Milgram’s original study, the teacher and learner were in the adjoining room, so the teacher could hear the learner but not see him
- in the proximity variation, they were in the same room and the obedience rate dropped from 65% to 40%
- in the touch proximity variation, the teacher had to force the learner’s hand onto an ‘electroshock’ plate and the obedience rate dropped to 30%
- in a third ‘remote-instruction’ proximity variation, the experimenter left the room and gave instructions by telephone- obedience rates dropped again to 20%. The participants also frequently pretended to give shocks or gave weaker ones when they were ordered to


Explain the effect of location on obedience

- Milgram changed location of the obedience study in a further variation to a run-down building rather than a prestigious university setting where it was originally conducted (Yale university)
- obedience in this setting fell to 47% which is still quite a high level of obedience but is less than the 65% in the original baseline study indicating that the experimenter had less authority in this setting


Explain the effect of uniform on obedience

- in original baseline study, the experimenter wore a grey lab coat as a symbol of his authority (a kind of uniform)
- Milgram carried out a variation in which the experimenter was called away because of an inconvenient telephone call right at the start of the procedure
- the role of the experimenter was taken over by an ‘ordinary member of the public’ in everyday clothes rather than a lab coat
- obedience rates fell to 20% (lowest of the variations) suggesting that uniform does act as a strong visual authority symbol and a cue to behave in an obedient manner


The power of location and uniform in influencing obedience can be used to illustrate

Legitimacy of authority explanation of obedience


What are the evaluation points for situational variables on obedience?

✅ other studies have provided research support for the influence of situational variables on obedience (Bickman)
❌ variations of Milgram’s original study may have lower internal validity
✅ replicated in other cultures
✅ control of variables
❌ Milgram’s conclusions have been criticised as providing an ‘obedience alibi’


Explain how other studies have provided research support for the influence of situational variables on obedience

- in a field experiment, Bickman had a confederate dress in 3 different outfits: jacket and tie, a milkman’s outfit and a security guard’s outfit
- the confederate stood in the street and asked passers-by to perform tasks such as picking up litter, or giving the confederate a coin for the parking meter
- people were twice as likely to obey assistant dressed as a security guard than the one dressed in jacket and a tie
- this supports Milgram’s conclusion that a uniform conveys the authority of its wearer and is a situational factor likely to produce obedience


Explain how variations of Milgram’s original study may have lower internal validity

- Orne and Holland’s criticism of Milgram’s original research was that many of the participants worked out that the procedure was faked
- it is even more likely that the participants in Milgram’s variations realised this because of extra manipulation
- a good example is where the experimenter was replaced by a ‘member of the public’; even Milgram recognised that this situation was so contrived that some participants may have worked out the truth
- this is a significant limitation of all Milgram’s studies because it is unclear whether the results are genuinely due to the operation of obedience or because participants detected the deception and ‘play acted’ (demand characteristics)


Explain how a strength of Milgram’s research including his variations, is that they have been replicated in other cultures

- the findings of cross-cultural research have generally been supportive of Milgram
- for example, Miranda et al found an obedience rate of over 90% amongst Spanish students, suggesting that the results are not limited to American males
- HOWEVER, most replications have occurred in Western, developed societies such as Spain which are not that culturally different to the USA
- as such, it would be premature to conclude that Milgram’s findings regarding proximity, location and uniform are prevalent globally, especially in varying cultures e.g. individualistic vs collectivist


Explain how control of variables is a strength of Milgram’s situation research

- Milgram systematically altered one variable at a time (I.e. proximity, location and uniform independently) to see what effect it would have on the level of obedience
- all the other procedures and variables were kept constant as the study was replicated over and over again with more than 1000 participants in total
- this level of control is a clear strength as it means we can be more certain that the change in obedience levels was caused by the single variable which was manipulated
- as such it is easier to establish cause and effect relationships between the manipulated variable and the obedience rates


Explain how Milgram’s conclusions have been have been criticised as providing an ‘obedience alibi’

- the proximity of the experimenter, teacher and learner, the location of the study and the presence of uniform were all factors within the situation that influence obedience
- this perspective however has been criticised for offering an excuse or ‘alibi’ for evil behaviour
- for example, it is offensive to survivors of the Holocaust to suggest that the Nazis were simply obeying orders and were themselves victims of situation factors beyond their control
- it could therefore be argued that Milgram’s situational perspective is dangerous because it ignores the roles that discrimination, prejudice and racism played in the Holocaust for example