Santa Monica College Obedience to Authority Conformity and Deviance Essay


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We learn from the Milgram’s experiment that: Most People, regardless of their sex, class, education, or religious backgrounds will perform acts of destructive obedience if they are placed in a situation where it is demanded of them.

Do you think the results are surprising or counter-intuitive? Please quote from the textbook (chapter 6). What percentage of subjects obeyed orders? Why? (6 pts) Can you think of contemporary instances of over-conformity? (2 pts)

Reply to another student whether you agree or disagree or if you have additional thoughts to add on it. (2 pts)

1. “I am not surprised by the findings that most people will perform acts of destructive obedience when they feel the situation demands it. It happens all the time, sometimes in very small and possibly insignificant ways and at other times with very significant consequences.

In the case of Milgram’s experiment, the person who explained the experiment stated he was a psychologist, a member of a professional group that holds a very elevated position of respect in society. The person who was to be the “teacher”(another highly regarded position in society) was also led to believe that many other people would be in the study performing the same tasks as he and as the “learner”(who was also a willing volunteer.) In fact, by giving them those titles, a certain amount of respect was accorded the teacher and an eagerness to be a good student is also easily presumed of the learner. Then there is the fact that the experiment is called a study, one to potentially improve learning, this in and of itself is an important fact as education is a concept held in high regard in society. Both subjects can be presumed to feel inclined to do their best, particularly since it was stated that they received payment in advance, which was theirs to keep.

In the video the “teacher” and “learner” were separated by a wall that had the effect of protecting the “teacher” from being a witness to his torture, particularly when he didn’t hear from the “learner”. This allowed him to distance himself from responsibility. And even though he inquired as to the health and safety of the “learner”, he heeded to the encouragement of the psychiatrist as he felt the person was smarter than he and therefore must know better what was too much torture. The amazing part is that the “teacher” never really looked at the experiment as a form of torture in the beginning even after he himself felt what he thought was a small amount of the pain that he would be delivering. This is a clear indication that “the sociological significance of in-groups…shape our perception of the world, our views of right and wrong, and our behavior”(p 159). The “teacher” clearly considers the psychiatrist to be part of his in-group, a respected member at that. The wall that separates the “teacher” from the “learner” helps distance the “teacher” from the “learner”. Furthermore, the psychiatrist remains in the room with the “teacher” which also helps give the perception that they are in the same group. This experiment is an example of how “dividing the world into “we” and “they” twists people’s perception. The twisting can be so severe that harming others can become viewed as right”(p 159). So even though the “teacher” has only met the psychiatrist, the information he is given such as his elevated status in society due to his education and job allow him to begin to separate from the “learner” who is also a stranger and who is not accorded a professional status. I think it is reasonable to agree that “the type of society we live in is the fundamental reason for why we become who we are” (p 150). In the video, the narrator states that 50% of the “teachers” went on to deliver the highest voltage to the “learners”. Interestingly, in the book, we also see that certain factors effected the number of willing participants. While 65% of the “teachers” who did not hear verbal feedback from the “learner” went on to deliver what they thought was 450 volt shocks, only 40% of those who could see the “learner” would deliver the highest voltage. And most interestingly was the fact that when two “teachers” were in the room and one refused to go along with the experiment, only 5% of the “teachers” delivered what they thought was 450 volts. This shows that an objector within a group, even a very small group, is able to sway the opinion of a member of the group despite authority. This is clearly an example of one person making a difference.

One can easily see the effects of the experiences of a society on a group’s thought process and set of morals by looking at the change that has come as a result of so many people moving around the globe for work. Societies change when they have a large influx of people from elsewhere. Whether that change is positive or negative depends on one’s perspective, but change itself can be observed.

A good example of over-conformity can be seen in workplace dress codes. For example, if you visit a court room, you will see that all attorney’s whether male or female will be dressed in conservatively fitted suits, most of which will be a dark color. The legal profession, historically male dominant, silently mandates their dress code by frowning on color and fashion as a “proof” that women who might attempt to express themselves in their attire are not to be taken serious and are thus not at the same level of competence as their male counter parts. So, despite the fact that women’s suits come in a variety of shades unavailable to men, women continue to wear the three colors most widely available to men, black, blue, and gray.”

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