Obedience to Authority

Obedience is an essential part of everyday life of members of modern society. This word has become a synonym of good work and quality performance in the work place. People who are obedient are more likely to be accepted by the society and comforted by it, because disobedience usually means severe consequences especially when an order or a request comes from someone in direct authority to the object. In today’s world people are becoming more and more distanced from their own understanding of things happening around them and thus are easily involved in matters that might be highly unpleasant for them. This happens because the major responsibility is taken by someone, a usually unseen and remote person who is in charge. The comprehension of the whole matter does not occur to the obedient object and thus for both parties, those who order and those who perform, it is much easier now to do things that would not be done if complete responsibility was taken by a single person.

Stanley Milgram’s experiment is well known as an experiment of human willingness to obey the orders of authority, even if there is no real authority and no necessity to follow the orders. The whole experiment was based on the ‘teachers’ and ‘learners’ functions, one of them being asked questions and the other answered. The ‘learner’ was an actor who pretended to experience pain from shocks that were given to him by the ‘teacher’ in case of a wrong or no answer. The experiment has revealed numerous interesting observations which were not evident about human nature prior to its start. It became clear that people no matter what profession they held, or if they were employed at all were eager to please an authority figure, who in this situation was the experimenter, professor in a white coat. The evidence of a serious experiment proved by the appropriate environment, as in a real scientific laboratory, made ‘teachers’ behave in a determined way and imposed a meaning of high significance of what they were doing. Moreover the presence of the professor made them ‘punish’ a wrong answer severer than when he was talking to them over the phone. It shows that people are more likely to follow orders when the authority figure is in their obvious proximity.

Another side of the experiment carried a social meaning to the ‘teachers’ and even when the person in the electric chair started screaming as if from pain, 65% of them continued increasing the voltage as they were told so by the professor. They were eager to please the authority and also did not want to look impolite or unreliable. This feeling of higher power over them ordering what to do and realization of the importance of the experiment strengthened by white walls of the lab unified into desire to continue obeying.

A few people in the course of the experiment requested to stop it and refused to continue when the screaming from the nest room began. Those people explained their behavior by not willing to be responsible for the lives or health of those under shock. It is clear that those people understood and took consequences of this experiment as their own personal responsibility and were not ready to take it. From that one can make a conclusion that when people feel the weight of the consequences in the future for what they do now, they are not likely to follow orders that can lead to bed results, personally for them. They are thinking from the perspective of their individual life not from the perspective of doing harm and causing pain for others, although that also could be one of the factors.

An interesting notion of people’s self imagine is also an important factor that has to be taken into consideration when investigation obedience to authority. When a person is used to see a certain image of himself/herself it is difficult to make them believe different. Thus when something is ordered that contradicts with their usual self image, people tend to disregard the experience or interpret it in a way that would suit their life. In the Milgram’s experiment ‘teachers’ viewed themselves and what they were doing as an important discovery in the scientific world rather than a pain causing trial. It follows that humans are most likely to obey when they believe in the good and important side of the matter and when they are assured in their goodness. Basically the combination of the authoritative command, respect for the authority, willingness to be a good member of the team, and a feeling of self importance typically contributes to obedience.

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