Behavioral Study of Obedience

The behavioral study of obedience is one of the most famous studies conducted in psychology by Stanley Milgram. It was a study conducted to determine how far humans can go concerning obedience. The objective of the study was to determine how much obedience affects human behavior. In this experiment, the researchers were looking to determine whether the people who participated in the genocide had a choice or their being human was going to work against them. It was an experiment that was conducted following the trial of members of the Nazi movement. The research was primarily about finding out what an individual would do in order to follow orders even when it involved activities that would hurt another person. The experiment achieved its objectives because most of the participants got into character and were willing to use up to 300 volts of electricity on the people who refused to comply with the orders they were passing to them (McLeod, 2017). The experiment made it clear that human beings’ obedience towards authority is stronger than their feeling of humanity. Therefore, the conclusion was that members of Hitler’s army were basically following orders and that was how they ended up killing many people on instruction. Most of the Nazi soldiers did not act on their own volition but due to their respect and reverence towards authority.

The ethics in research during this study were violated on various levels. The participants were not given complete disclosure. This is considered a dishonest practice in research because the participants’ rights to full disclosure about the study were violated. “The draw was rigged so that the naïve subject was always the teacher and the accomplice always the learner.” The conditions under which the experiment was conducted may have had adverse negative consequences on the participants. It was difficult for the researcher to predict the aftermath of the experiment on the participants. Exposure to extreme situations in the name of an experiment was not worth the remuneration they were offered for participation. The participants had no space to think for themselves and only those whose mental states were very strong were able to refuse to continue participating in the experiment. Thus, it is evident that they did not have the mental freedom to pull out of the experiment. The participants also did not know why the experiment was being conducted. The research was necessary at the time and it should have been permitted. The people at the time needed answers about what was going on in their society. Today, few cases would require such in-depth kind of research to explain an event or incident.  However, the researcher should have been compelled to provide aftercare for the participants. This would have included the participants being informed about the goals of the experiment, the criteria of how they were chosen to participate, and offered trauma counseling as well. Therefore, this research does not adhere to the present ethical standards of research.

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The best psychological theory that applies in this instance is the obedience theory that was developed during this study. It describes and explains human behavior under authorities. People have a certain fear of authorities. They also have challenges going against authority even when they have differing opinions. Initially, most authority figures begin by preaching their beliefs to their subjects. It was the case with Hitler so that by the time he started demanding that they kill the Jews, he faced no opposition. Opposing authorities in extreme cases like these attracted dire consequences, which left the subjects with no option but to follow orders. This explains why the participants in the study obeyed instructions even when it hurt another person. It is possible that had the experiment gone on for longer, the participants would not have had problems killing the learners on instruction. Obedience towards authorities is a human psychological reaction. Authority has been designed to command respect from people and this goes to show that the participants and the Nazi soldiers were not acting on their own accord. Had they been given a chance, they would definitely have made a different decision altogether.

Obedience to societal norms and expectations are not always necessary. In the event where adhering to the norms makes people suffer, it is unnecessary. Authority in society commands an unspoken power over people. The norms of society automatically demand that the members of society respect it. At home, children are expected to automatically respect their parents and follow their directions. However, times have changed and children today are more outspoken, which may come across as being disobedient sometimes. Yet, parents today can device better methods of ensuring that their children remain disciplined and respectful by being reasonable with them. Young children under the age of ten tend to like pushing their boundaries and if left unchecked, may turn out disobedient and unruly. At the workplace, people generally follow the directions of the person above them in rank. Thus, a manager is likely to use a subordinate employee to commit fraud and when the investigations are conducted, the manager denies any involvement. It is a difficult position for people because if they turned down the order, they may get fired and if they do follow the order, they risk being fired as well.  

In the personal life of an individual, these situations often come up in everyday life. When a child is born differently, they stand out in society. For instance, children born with disorders like ADHD, ADD and those with Autistic Spectrum Disorders are considered difficult to handle or social misfits by people who do not understand their conditions. These children have challenges getting into the school systems and may perform poorly due to discrimination by their early childhood educators. Children in their adolescent ages may be subjected to instances that break down their self-esteem. All these conditions manifest differently as people grow up and an adolescent whose environment is accommodating and understanding, is likely to excel better in their studies and social life. Once grown up, people with good support systems can manage ADD, ADHD, and Autism Spectrum Disorders and fit into the working space. It is all about good management of these conditions rather than branding them deviance to authority.

Decision-making is supposed to be an individual choice. Children make decisions based on what they feel instantly; for instance, when a child is hungry, he/she will cry for food. A grown person will find food and eat. These are two people going through the same experience but making different decisions depending on their cognitive capabilities. A child who can speak will ask for food and not cry for food. When in a group, children may not choose what they want to eat; however, when they are alone, they can get hysterical when they do not get the food they want. The process of decision-making is always dependent on the cognitive capability of the individual. People with strong characters have an influence on the kind of decisions that people make in groups. They often tend to sway the thoughts of the members whose resolve are not strong or those who doubt themselves.


McLeod, S. (2017). The Milgram Shock Experiment. Retrieved from Simply Psychology:

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