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While both are forms of social influence, we most often tend to conform to our peers, whereas we obey those in positions of authority.
The experimenter explained that the goal of the research was to study the effects of punishment on learning. In sum, almost two-thirds of the men who participated had, as far as they knew, shocked another person to death, all as part of a supposed experiment on learning.
After the participant and the confederate both consented to participate in the study, the researcher explained that one of them would be randomly assigned to be the teacher and the other the learner. Studies similar to Milgram’s findings have since been conducted all over the world (Blass, 1999), with obedience rates ranging from a high of 90% in Spain and the Netherlands (Meeus & Raaijmakers, 1986) to a low of 16% among Australian women (Kilham & Mann, 1974).
(Fiske, 1993; Keltner, Gruenfeld, & Anderson, 2003).
Bosses have power over their workers, parents have power over their children, and, more generally, we can say that those in authority have power over their subordinates.
While the research participant (now the teacher) looked on, the learner was taken into the adjoining shock room and strapped to an electrode that was to deliver the punishment. In this replication of the Milgram experiment, 65% of the men and 73% of the women agreed to administer increasingly painful electric shocks when they were ordered to by an authority figure (Burger, 2009). Presidential style: Personality, biography and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55, 928–936.
The experimenter explained that the teacher’s job would be to sit in the control room and to read a list of word pairs to the learner. In the replication, however, the participants were not allowed to go beyond the 150 volt shock switch. In short, power refers to the process of social influence itself—those who have power are those who are most able to influence others. Before Milgram conducted his study, he described the procedure to three groups—college students, middle-class adults, and psychiatrists—asking each of them if they thought they would shock a participant who made sufficient errors at the highest end of the scale (450 volts). The powerful ability of those in authority to control others was demonstrated in a remarkable set of studies performed by Stanley Milgram (1963). One hundred percent of all three groups thought they would not do so. Milgram was interested in understanding the factors that lead people to obey the orders given by people in authority. He then asked them what percentage of “other people” would be likely to use the highest end of the shock scale, at which point the three groups demonstrated remarkable consistency by all producing (rather optimistic) estimates of around 1% to 2%. (Eds.), International handbook of personality and intelligence. He designed a study in which he could observe the extent to which a person who presented himself as an authority would be able to produce obedience, even to the extent of leading people to cause harm to others. The results of the actual experiments were themselves quite shocking. Milgram used newspaper ads to recruit men (and in one study, women) from a wide variety of backgrounds to participate in his research. Still others, however, continued to present the questions, and to administer the shocks, under the pressure of the experimenter, who demanded that they continue. When the research participant arrived at the lab, he or she was introduced to a man who the participant believed was another research participant but who was actually an experimental confederate. In the end, 65% of the participants continued giving the shock to the learner all the way up to the 450 volts maximum, even though that shock was marked as “danger: severe shock,” and there had been no response heard from the participant for several trials. After the experimenter gave the “teacher” a sample shock (which was said to be at 45 volts) to demonstrate that the shocks really were painful, the experiment began. To demonstrate this, Milgram conducted research that explored a number of variations on his original procedure, each of which demonstrated that changes in the situation could dramatically influence the amount of obedience. This figure presents the percentage of participants in Stanley Milgram’s (1974) studies on obedience who were maximally obedient (that is, who gave all 450 volts of shock) in some of the variations that he conducted. The research participant first read the list of words to the learner and then began testing him on his learning. In the initial study, the authority’s status and power was maximized—the experimenter had been introduced as a respected scientist at a respected university. As you can see in Table 6.1,”The Confederate’s Schedule of Protest in the Milgram Experiments,” the teacher heard the learner say “ugh! After the next few mistakes, when the shock level reached 150 volts, the learner was heard to exclaim “Get me out of here, please. And when the experimenter left the room and had another student (actually a confederate) give the instructions for him, obedience was also reduced to 20%. In addition to the role of authority, Milgram’s studies also confirmed the role of unanimity in producing obedience.