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ENGL 391 Argumentative essay No human social organization can function without some degree of obedience to authority, as the

alternative would be anarchy leading to total chaos. Therefore, there are rules and norms that one must obey in societies where certain individuals exercise authority over others. According to Monroe & Reeder (2008) almost everyone will agree that some degree of authority in certain individuals or groups (and their obedience by other groups) is desirable for the proper functioning of a society. The problem arises when the obedience to authority is taken to extremes to harm or act in aggressive and unethical behavior towards others. Unfortunately, this type of obedience happens often in prison, schools, households and experiments among others. The conflict between compliance with the demands of those in authority and individuals, which have private and sometimes different views, has been a subject of debate since ancient times in religion and philosophy. For example, in the story of Abraham and Isaac, Abraham was commanded by God to offer his son up as a sacrifice in the land of Moriah. Many psychologists have thought about, discussed and conducted experiments to understand this human uncommon characteristic. The psychology experiments conducted by Stanley Milgram to study obedience to authority among ordinary individuals are, perhaps, the most significant and startling. According to Milgram (1963) his experiment consisted of selection of teachers from ordinary people who were asked to participate in a study on the effects of punishment on learning in which the teacher was to ask certain simple questions from a learner who was a confederate. The participants were told to assign electric shocks each time the learner got the question wrong. Each time they got the questions wrong the volts would increase by fifteen volts (from 15 to 450 volts). Milgram wanted to see how long participants would keep giving shots if requested by the experimenter. Undoubtedly, this experiment has been criticized because Milgram manipulated the participants and gave stress to them, but without this method, it was impossible to get a real reaction from people towards authorities. However, 84% of the participants were happy about being 1

involved in the experiment which changed their way of thinking towards authority figures (Milgram, 1963). Another experiment called Stanford Prison Experiment constructed by Philip G. Zimbardo was set up in order to study the ability of individuals to resist authoritarian or obedient roles, if social setting requires these roles (Zimbardo, 1973, p.389). Twenty one emotionally and physically healthy males were involved in an experiment and the participants were randomly assigned to take on roles of either the prisoner or prison guards. In the results of experiment the participants who played the role of the prison guards showed sadistic roles. The guards became quite abusive and aggressive towards their prisoners whereas the prisoners became passive and slowly loss all sense of identity, so the planned two-week experiment was aborted after only six days and nights (Zimbardo, 1973, para.54). The study showed that participants were not protected from harm. Furthermore, the participants were deceived as they were not told about the hypothesis of the experiment. However, if Zimbardo would not deceived the participants about the nature of the research then the result of the experiment would had lack of realism as the participants would have known what they were getting into. Zimbardo demonstrated how society has come to perceive the actions of those with an authority role and most worryingly the capabilities that humans have in their treatment to one another when they believe to be backed by an authority. In the 1950s the social psychologist Solomon Asch conducted a one more famous experiment that highlighted the weakness of the person in a mass society when he is confronted with the differing opinion of a majority, and the tendency to conform even if this means to go against the person's basic perceptions. The basic design of Aschs study consisted of groups of seven to nine young male college students seated in a classroom for a psychological experiment in visual judgment. The experimenter informs them that they will be comparing the length of lines (Asch, 1955, para.9) on two white cards. The card on the left was the standard line to be judged and the card on the right shows the three comparison lines. There was only one participant in each group and the rest were confederates of the experimenters. The real participant sat one from the end 2

of a row, so all but one of the confederates gave answers before them. On certain pre-arranged trails the confederates were told to give the same incorrect answers. Asch was interested to find out the response of the one participant to this majority opinion. Each scenario had 18 trials, and on 12 of these, the bulk of the participants gave common incorrect answers. On these 12 consistent incorrect trials around 75% of the 123 participants went along with the greater number at least once. Under the pressure of the group, the participants accepted the ruling of the agreed on nearly 37% of the trials (Asch, 1955). According that Asch proved that individuals can be very easily swayed by the opinions of others and how easily we are influenced by our close friends in this study and in this experiment was not inflicted any harm to the participants, unlike the previous two. In conclusion, both Zimbardos prison experiment and Milgrams experiment on obedience face a great deal of ethical issues. Nevertheless if they would have not deceived the participants they would have never achieve such remarkable valid results. The obedience to authority has always existed and will continue to exist, there is nothing to do, but these experiments teach us how to deal with it, in order to ensure a better existence. One has to learn to make choices in a way to be less obedient and to be ready sometimes to do things against his better judgment, because obedience will always continue to meddle into human life.

Reference list

1. Reeder G.D., Monroe A.E. (2008). Impressions of Milgrams Obedient Teachers: Situational Cues Inform Inferences about Motives and Traits. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, #95, (pp.1-17). 2. Zimbardo P.G. (1973). The Stanford Prison Experiment. In L. Behrens & L. J. Rosen, Writing and reading across the curriculum (pp.389-400). 3. Milgram S. (1963). The Perils of Obedience. In L. Behrens & L. J. Rosen, Writing and reading across the curriculum (pp.358-370). 4. Baumrind D. (1963). Review of Stanley Milgrams Experiment on Obedience. In L. Behrens & L. J. Rosen, Writing and reading across the curriculum (pp.371-376). 5. Asch S.E. (1955). Opinions and Social Pressure. In L. Behrens & L. J. Rosen, Writing and reading across the curriculum (pp.351-357).