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makes errors. Then (in some variations), the learner stops answering. He canʼt be learn-
ing anything now. Why continue to give shocks? Furthermore, the experimenter clearly
does not care that the victim is no longer learning.
Some observers suggest that because the situation does not really make sense
from the participantʼs perspective, the participant becomes confused (Ross & Nisbett,
1991). The participant acts indecisively, unwilling or unable to challenge authority. Not
knowing what to do, the participant continues, with great anxiety, to act out the role
that the experimenter has prescribed.
This analysis suggests that Milgramʼs experiments were not so much about slavish
obedience to authority as they were about the capacity of situational forces to over-
whelm peopleʼs more positive tendencies. This may, however, be a futile distinction.
Either way, the victim would have been hurt if the shock had been real.
Finally, Milgramʼs research came under ¬re for violating ethical research practices.
Milgram explored the dimensions of obedience in 21 experiments over a 12-year period,
and more than a thousand participants participated in these experimental variations.
Because Milgramʼs participants were engaging in behavior that went against accepted
moral standards, they were put through an “emotional wringer.” Some participants had
very unpleasant experiences. They would “sweat, tremble, stutter, bite their lips, groan,
dig their ¬ngernails into their ¬‚esh” (Milgram, 1963, p. 375). A few had “full-blown
uncontrollable seizures” (p. 375). No one enjoyed it.
Milgramʼs research and its effects on the persons who participated raise an interest-
ing question about the ethics of research. Should we put people through such experi-
ences in the name of science? Was the participantsʼ anguish worth it? Several observers,
including Baumrind (1964), criticized Milgram for continuing the research when he
saw its effect on his participants. After all, the critics argued, the participants agreed to
take part only in an experiment on memory and learning, not on destructive obedience
and the limits of peopleʼs willingness to hurt others.
But Milgram never doubted the value of his work. He believed it was important to
¬nd the conditions that foster destructive obedience. He further believed that his par-
ticipants learned a great deal from their participation; he knew this because they told
him so. Milgram went to great lengths to make sure the teachers knew that Wallace was
not harmed and that he held no hard feelings. He also had a psychiatrist interview the
participants a year or so after the experiment; the psychiatrist reported that no long-term
harm had been done (Aron & Aron, 1989).
The current rules for using participants in psychological experiments would make
it exceedingly dif¬cult for anyone in the United States to carry out an experiment like
Milgramʼs. All universities require that research proposals be evaluated by institutional
review boards (IRBs), which decide if participants might be harmed by the research. A
Chapter 7 Conformity, Compliance, and Obedience 269

researcher must show the IRB that bene¬ts of research to science or humankind outweigh
any adverse effects on the participants. If a researcher were allowed to do an experiment
like Milgramʼs, he or she would be required to ensure that the welfare of the participants
was protected. In all likelihood, however, we will not see such research again.



Disobedience
Although history shows us that obedience can and has become an important norm guiding
human behavior, there are also times when disobedience occurs. In 1955, for example,
a black seamstress named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery,
Alabama, bus to a white passenger. Her action was in violation of a law that existed at
the time. Parks was arrested, convicted, and ¬ned $10 for her refusal.
Parksʼs disobedience served as a catalyst for events that shaped the civil rights move-
ment. Within 2 days of her arrest, lea¬‚ets were distributed in the African American com-
munity calling for a 1-day strike against the bus line. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other
African American leaders took up her cause. The bus strike that was supposed to last only
a day lasted for a year. Eventually, laws requiring African Americans to sit at the back
of a bus, or to surrender a seat to a white passenger, were changed. From Rosa Parksʼs
initial act of disobedience ¬‚owed a social movement, along with major social change.

Breaking with Authority
Milgram (1974) suggested that one factor contributing to the maintenance of obedience
agentic state In the agentic
was that the individual in the obedience situation entered into an agentic state, which
state, an individual becomes
involves a personʼs giving up his or her normal moral and ethical standards in favor of
focused on the source of
those of the authority ¬gure. In short, the individual becomes an agent or instrument of
authority, tuning in to the
the authority ¬gure. Milgram suggested further that in this agentic state, a person could instructions issued.
experience role strain (apprehension about the obedience behavior) that could weaken
role strain The discomfort
the agentic state. In an obedience situation, the limits of the role we play are de¬ned for
one feels in an obedience
us by the authority source. As long as we are comfortable with, or at least can tolerate,
situation that causes a person
that role, obedience continues. However, if we begin to seriously question the legitimacy to question the legitimacy
of that role, we begin to experience what Milgram called role strain. of the authority ¬gure and
In this situation, the individual in the agentic state begins to feel tension, anxiety, and weakens the agentic state.
discomfort over his or her role in the obedience situation. In Milgramʼs (1974) experi-
ment, participants showed considerable signs of role strain in response to the authority
¬gureʼs behavior. As shown in Figure 7.9, very few participants were “not at all tense
and nervous.” Most showed moderate or extreme levels of tension and nervousness.
Milgram suggested that this tension arose from several sources:
• The cries of pain from the victim, which can lead the agent to question his or her
behavior
• The in¬‚icting of harm on another person, which involves violating established
moral and social values
• Potential retaliation from the victim
• Confusion that arises when the learner screams for the teacher to stop while the
authority demands that he or she continue
• Harmful behavior, when this behavior contradicts oneʼs self-image
Social Psychology
270

25




Number of Participants
20


Figure 7.9 Role strain 15
in Milgram™s obedience
experiment. Most 10
participants experienced
moderate to extreme stress, 5
regardless of the fact that
they knew they were not
0
ultimately responsible for
any harm to the learner. Not at all Moderately Extremely
Level of Tension Reported
Adapted from Milglram (1974).




How can the tension be reduced? Participants tried to deny the consequences of their
actions by not paying attention to the victimʼs screams, by dealing only with the task of
¬‚ipping switches. As mentioned earlier, Milgram (1974) called this method of coping
cognitive narrowing. Teachers also tried to cheat by subtly helping the learner”that is,
by reading the correct answer in a louder voice. These techniques allowed teachers to
tolerate doing harm that they wished they did not have to do. Other participants resolved
the role strain by breaking the role, by disobeying. This choice was dif¬cult; people felt
they had ruined the experiment, which they considered legitimate.
Role strain can, of course, eventually lead to disobedience. However, real-world
obedience situations, such as those that occur within military organizations, often involve
signi¬cant pressures to continue obedience. Nazi soldiers who made up the squads that
carried out mass murders (Einsatzgruppen) were socialized into obedience and closely
allied themselves with their authority sources. When role strain is felt by people in this
type of situation, disobedience is dif¬cult, perhaps impossible.
However, this does not necessarily mean that the role strain is ignored. Creative
psychological mechanisms may develop to cope with it. A fair number of members of
the Einsatzgruppen experienced role strain. In his study of Nazi doctors, Robert Lifton
(1986) found that many soldiers who murdered Jews ¬rsthand experienced immediate
psychological reactions, such as physical symptoms and anxiety. For example, General
Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski (one of the Nazisʼ premier Einsatzgruppen generals)
was hospitalized for severe stomach problems, physical exhaustion, and hallucinations
tied to the shooting of Jews (Lifton, 1986). The con¬‚ict soldiers felt was severe: They
couldnʼt disobey, and they couldnʼt continue. As a result, they removed themselves from
the obedience situation by developing psychological problems.

Reassessing the Legitimacy of the Authority
In their book Crimes of Obedience, Kelman and Hamilton (1989) pointed out that author-
ity is more often challenged when the individual considers the authority source illegiti-
mate. Recall that when Milgram conducted his experiment in downtown Bridgeport
instead of at Yale University, he found a decrease in obedience. When an authority
source loses credibility, disobedience becomes possible.
Chapter 7 Conformity, Compliance, and Obedience 271

Kelman and Hamilton suggested that two kinds of psychological factors precede
disobedience. The ¬rst comprise cognitive factors”the way we think about obedience.
In order to disobey, the individual involved in an obedience situation must be aware of
alternatives to obedience. For example, Lt. Calleyʼs men in Vietnam were not aware
that a soldier may disobey what he has good reason to believe is an illegal order, one
that violates the rules of war.
Disobedience is also preceded by motivational factors. An individual in the obe-
dience situation must be willing to buck the existing social order (whether in the real
world or in the laboratory) and accept the consequences. Milgramʼs ¬nding supports the
importance of this motivation to disobey. Participants who saw another person disobey
and suffer no consequences frequently disobeyed.
These same factors could explain the behavior of Lithuanians during the early part
of 1990. The Lithuanians declared independence from the Soviet Union, disrupting the
long-standing social order. They were willing to accept the consequences: sanctions
imposed by the Soviets. Lithuanian disobedience came on the heels of the domino-like
toppling of Communist governments in Eastern Europe. Having seen that those people
suffered no negative consequences, Lithuanians realized that there was an alternative
to being submissive to the Soviets. In this respect, the Lithuanians behaved similarly to
Milgramʼs participants who saw the confederates disobey the experimenter.
According to Kelman and Hamilton (1989), these two psychological factors inter-
act with material resources to produce disobedience. In response, the authority source
undoubtedly will apply pressure to restore obedience. Those who have the funds or
other material resources will be able to withstand that pressure best. Thus, successful
disobedience requires a certain level of resources. As long as individuals perceive that
the authority ¬gure has the greater resources (monetary and military), disobedience is
unlikely to occur.
Consider the events in Tiananmen Square in China during June 1989. Students
occupied the square for several days, demanding more freedom. At ¬rst, it appeared
that the students had gained the upper hand and had spurred an irreversible trend toward
democracy! The government seemed unable to stem the tide of freedom. However, the
governmentʼs inability to deal with the students was an illusion. Once the Chinese gov-
ernment decided to act, it used its vastly superior resources to quickly and ef¬ciently
end the democracy movement. Within hours, Tiananmen Square was cleared. At the
cost of hundreds of lives, “social order” was restored.

Strength in Numbers
In Milgramʼs original experiment, the obedience situation consisted of a one-on-one
relationship between the authority ¬gure and the participant. What would happen if that
single authority source tried to in¬‚uence several participants?
In a study of this question, Gamson and his colleagues recruited participants
and paid them $10 to take part in a group exercise supposedly sponsored by the
Manufacturersʼ Human Resources Consultants (MHRC) (Gamson, Fireman, & Rytina,
1982). Participants arrived at a hotel and were ushered into a room with a U-shaped table
that seated nine persons. In the room were microphones and television cameras. After
some introductory remarks, the session coordinator (the experimenter) explained that
MHRC was collecting information for use in settling lawsuits. The nine participants were
told that the current group would be discussing a case involving the manager of a gas
station (Mr. C). Mr. C had been ¬red by the parent company because he was alleged to
be involved in an illicit sexual relationship. The experimenter explained that the courts
Social Psychology
272

needed information concerning “community standards” on such an issue to help reach
a rational settlement in the case. Participants then signed a “participation agreement,”
which informed them that their discussions would be videotaped.
Next, they were given the particulars of the case and then were asked to consider
the ¬rst question: “Would you be concerned if you learned that the manager of your
local gas station had a lifestyle like Mr. Cʼs?” (Gamson et al., 1982, p. 46). Before
leaving the room, the experimenter conspicuously turned on a videotape recorder to
record the groupʼs discussions. A few minutes later, the experimenter came back into
the room, turned off the video recorder, and gave the group a second question to con-
sider: “Would you be reluctant to do business with a person like Mr. C because of his
lifestyle?” (p. 46). Simultaneously, the experimenter designated certain members of
the group to adopt a position against Mr. C, because people were only taking the side
of the gas station manager.
He then turned the video recorder back on and left the room. This process was
repeated for a third question. Finally, the experimenter came back into the room and
asked each person to sign an af¬davit stating that the tapes made could be used as evi-
dence in court. The experimenter again left the room, apparently to get his notary public
stamp so that the af¬davits could be notarized. The measure of obedience was each
personʼs willingness to sign the af¬davit.
Letʼs consider what happened in this study up to this point. Imagine that you are
a participant in this study. You are seen on videotape arguing a given position (against
Mr. C) that you were told to take. However, because the experimenter turned off the video
recorder each time he came into the room, his instructions to adopt your position are
not shown. A naive observer”for example, a judge or a juror in a court in which these
tapes would be used” would assume that what you say on the tape re¬‚ects your actual
views. The question for you to evaluate is whether you would sign the af¬davit.
Surprisingly, in 16 of the 33 nine-person groups all participants refused to sign.
These groups staged what might be considered outright rebellion against the experi-
menter. Some members even schemed to smuggle the af¬davit out of the room so that
they would have evidence for future legal action against Mr. C. Disobedience was
not a spur-of-the-moment decision, though. Some groups showed signs of reluctance
even before the ¬nal request was made, such as during break periods between tapings.
When the video recorder was off, members of these groups expressed concern about
the behavior of the experimenter.
Furthermore, there were nine groups that the researchers termed factional successes.
In these groups, most participants refused to sign, although some agreed to sign. Four
other groups, called ¬zzlers, included a majority of members who showed signs of rebel-
lion during the early stages of the experiment. However, when it came time to sign the
af¬davits, these majority members signed them anyway. Finally, four groups, called
tractables, never showed signs of having a majority of rebellious members. Therefore,
in all but four groups, there was a tendency to disobey the experimenter.
What differences are there between the Gamson and Milgram studies? The most
important difference is that Gamsonʼs participants were groups and Milgramʼs were
individuals. The groups could talk, compare interpretations, and agree that this author-
ity was illegitimate. Milgramʼs participants may have thought the same, but they had
no way of con¬rming their opinions. One important lesson may be that rebellion is a
group phenomenon. According to Gamson, people need to work together for disobedi-
ence to be effective.
The development of an organized front against authority may occur slowly. A core
of committed individuals may mount the resistance, with others falling in later in a
Chapter 7 Conformity, Compliance, and Obedience 273

bandwagon effect. The Chinese student uprising in 1989 is an example. The protest
began with a relatively small number of individuals. As events unfolded, more people
joined in, until there were hundreds of thousands of protesters.
A second factor is the social climate. Disobedience”often in the form of social
movements”occurs within social climates that allow such challenges to authority.
Milgramʼs studies, for example, were conducted mainly between 1963 and 1968. By
the time Gamson and his colleagues did theirs, in 1982, the social climate had changed
dramatically. Trust in government had fallen sharply after Watergate and the Vietnam
War. Furthermore, Gamsonʼs situation involved a large oil company. By 1982, peopleʼs
trust in the honesty of oil companies had reached a very low level.
Many nonlaboratory examples illustrate the role of social climate in rebellion.
Communist governments in Eastern Europe, for example, were overthrown only after

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