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PSY530 Southern New Hampshire Variables of Obedience Discussion

PSY530 Southern New Hampshire Variables of Obedience Discussion

After completing the readings (ATTACHED) and video(LINK BELOW) of the studies by Milgram, Zimbardo, and Asch, answer the following questions: What are the key variables that increase or decrease obedience?

If you were a researcher interested in exploring these variables, what ethical considerations would you need to address? How do these variables impact social welfare or lead to restrict social change?

Use research from the Shapiro Library to support your claims.

To complete this assignment, review the Graduate Discussion Rubric document.



Obedience is seen as complying with an order or request by someone in authority. We often see it in the form of laws and rules. I believe that obedience has such power because of the consequences that follow. This week we looked at 3 classic studies where obedience play a role in the experiment .

The first study was the Stanford Prison Experiment study ran by Phillip Zimbardo. The study was done in the basement of the psychology department at Stanford University. Out of the 75 men who answered the ad in the paper, 24 were psychologically fit for the purpose of the study. The prupose of the study was to examine the behavior of the subjects through role play of a guard or prisoner in a functional simulated prison. The key variables that increased obedience was from the prisoners who began to loss their identity as an individuals and take that of being an actual prisoner conforming to the identity given by the guards. For some of the prisoners, decrease in obedience occured when they felt their psychological and physical well-being was threaten causing them to disobey direct orders from the guards.

The Milgram study focused on the obedience people would have at the expense of harming another. In this study, there were roles of the teacher, the experimenter, and the victim. The role of the teacher was played by the subject while the other 2 were played by those who were apart of the experiment. All three individuals met before the experiment started to give the teacher a sense of who he was working with. Instructions of the study were explained that shocks of increasing voltage would be the consequence to incorrect answers. The key variable in the increase of obedience came by authority when the subjects continue to administer shocks even though they heard the distress of the victims because they were told to by the experimenter. They were told before hand that the shocks would not cause any harmful damage, but just a little pain. Could this be the reason they continued or was it because of obedience?

The last study was the Solomon Asch experiment that examined obedience through conformity. Participants were asked to look at a series of slides that had a standard line and 3 others on the page. The participants job was to choose the line that matched the standard line, simple right? The subject was placed in a room with others who were confederates sitting the subject 4 to 5 people after him. The key variable was the condition of independence or lack of independence. The pressure of the group caused the subject to give an incorrect answer although he knew the right one. The decrease of obedience came from within the subject who did not want to seem like an outcast by giving the correct answer.

If I were a researcher exploring these variables, I would make sure that the APA ethics and codes were followed. Unlike the Zimbardo study, informed consent would be clearly established and upheld. He got some of the most profound results, but it came at the expense of harming the participants. As a researcher, ethical concerns should be the forefront to the experiment. There is nothing wrong with having the hypothesis and goals in mind, but it can not come to the harm of others. When these concerns are ignored, the validity can be challenged. These variables impact social welfare by showing the value we hold for another’s life. Two of the three studies revealed how people will succumb to obedience from authority regardless the consequence.

Asch, S. E. (1956). Studies of independence and conformity: I. a minority of one against a unanimous majority. Psychological Monographs: General and Applied, 70(9), 1-70

Haney, C., Banks, C., & Zimbardo, P. (1973). Interpersonal dynamics in a simulated prison. International Journal of Criminology and Penology, 1, 69-97.

Milgram, S. (1963). Behavioral study of obedience. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67(4), 371–378.


To begin this discussion, the term obedience is defined as a form of social influence. To be obedient, a person usually will respond to a direct order from another person, who usually is in an authoritative role. Without a direct order from someone thought to be an authority figure, the person would probably not have normally acted the way that was asked. There are key variables that can increase or decrease obedience. In our readings and videos this week, we learned about and reviewed different psychological experiments that involve obedience and conformity. Each one showed different variables that played a factor in how people performed in the experiments.

In the Milgram experiment, participants had to administer shocks to another individual when they got an answer wrong. The participants in the teacher role did not know that the individual in the learning role was part of the experiment and knew what was going on and was not actually being shocked but pretended to be. The key variable in this experiment that increased and decreased obedience was authority. Some of the “teacher” participants continued to administer the shocks, even after they yelled out and asked them to stop and told them about their heart condition. The “teacher” looked for direction from the experimenter, and when they told them that it was important that the experiment must go on, they continued. Milgram (1963), mentions that people have learned from childhood that it is morally wrong to hurt another person against his will. However, 26 subjects went against their moral upbringing and followed the instructions of the experimenter who had no special powers to enforce his commands. The university itself also played a factor in the obedience of the participants because it is considered a prestigious university. This would be seen as institutional authority. Yale University is well respected, and you wouldn’t expect a place like this to give harmful commands, therefore people are more likely to obey the directions given by the staff running the experiment.

In the Stanford experiment, participants volunteered to act as guards and prisoners in an experiment to understand the development of norms. This experiment was more open to interpretation for the participants. Those in the role of guards did not have any direction on how to control the prisoners. They united as a group to show authority over the prisoners. The prisoners however rebelled and tried to take control. Obedience is more likely to happen when there are no models of defiance. I would imagine that it only took one prisoner to speak up and give their opinion and then the others followed. Another key variable that increases obedience is physical proximity. The guards and the prisoners where in close proximity with each other, which could enhance the obedience of the prisoners. I think this is true even in our everyday lives. Children are more obedient in a classroom when the teacher is around versus when the teacher is in the hallway or when the students are in the lunchroom.

If I were a researcher interested in exploring these variables, there are ethical considerations that would need to be addressed. The first and foremost consideration would be the principles and codes of the APA code of ethics. In all of the experiments, I would make sure that I received permission and consent from all of the participants. In the Stanford experiment, the participants did not consent to being arrested at home and Zimbardo did not know exactly what would happen in the experiment, creating a lack of informed consent. In the Milgram study, there was a degree of deception, this would need to be addressed in future research. The experimenters lied about what the study was actually about and the fact that the “learners” were not actually getting shocked. This could cause emotional distress to the participant.

These different variables impact us as a society. I feel that it is important to have authority and obedience as a society. We have a governing body over our country that was created to create rules and laws and to enforce these regulations. Without some sort of authority, there would be no order and it would be chaotic. Of course, there are also issues with authority on our society and this can lead to restrict social change. There are some people that obey everything that is said, no matter what, but then there are others that are less likely to obey authority and don’t conform to the rest of the society. These individualists are people that are in our society trying to evoke change. Sometimes this is a good thing. There are some people in authoritative roles that abuse that power. We see this a lot in politics as well as our modern society and the troubles we have seen with some police officers abusing their power.


Milgram, S. (1963). Behavioral study of obedience. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67(4), 371–378.

Obedience. (2015). retrieved from

Stanford Prison Experiment. (n.d.). retrieved from

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