Section A - Social Influence
06 Social Essay [12 marks]
Suggested Answer: There are a number of situational variables that have been shown to affect obedience, including proximity and uniform.
In most of Milgram’s variations, the experimenter wore a white lab coat; however, Milgram examined the power of uniform in a variation where the experimenter was called away and replaced by another ‘participant’ in normal clothes, who was, in fact, another confederate. In this variation, the man in ordinary clothes came up with the idea of increasing the voltage every time the learner made a mistake. The percentage of participants who administered the full 450 volts dropped from 65% to 20%, demonstrating the dramatic power that uniform. This tells us that people are less likely to obey when they do not perceive the authority figure as a legitimate source of authority.
There is research support for the role of the uniform as a situational factor affecting obedience. Bickman (1974) conducted a field experiment in New York City where confederates stood on the street and asked members of the public who were passing by to perform a small task such as picking up a piece of litter or providing a coin for the parking meter. The outfit that the confederate was wearing varied from a smart suit jacket and tie, a milkman’s outfit or a security guard’s uniform. It was found that in this final condition that members of the public were twice as likely to obey the order given by the ‘security guard’, which supports Milgram’s idea that a uniform adds to the legitimacy of the authority figure and is a situational variable which increases obedience levels.
In Milgram’s original research the teacher and the learner were in separate rooms. To test the power of proximity, Milgram conducted a variation where the teacher and learner were seated in the same room. In this variation, the percentage of participants who administered the full 450 volts dropped from 65% to 40%. Here obedience levels fell, as the teacher was able to understand the learner’s pain more directly. This tells us that people are less likely to obey when they are in close proximity to the consequences of their actions, as they feel responsible.
However, one of the major issues of Milgram’s research (including his variations) is that his research lacks population validity. This is because Milgram used a biased sample of male American volunteers from a broadly individualistic society. Therefore, we are unable to generalise the results to other populations, particularly collectivist cultures or to explain the behaviour of females since it cannot be concluded that those with other cultural experiences, or female participants, would respond in a similar way to that observed originally by Milgram. As a result, we are unable to conclude whether proximity is a legitimate explanation of obedience in female participants and other cultures and therefore this reason why people obey is limited to a male-only sample.
Please Note: These answers have been produced without the knowledge of the mark scheme and merely reflect my attempt at producing a model answer on the day of the exam.
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