This Essay will discuss the factors influencing the behaviour of Mark, in relation to conformity and obedience. Should he comply and obey with his officer’s strict instructions to work alone, or will he stop to help a fellow trainee. Mark is a soldier on training in the Brecon Beacons, he is under order to work alone and not to stop to help anyone. Mark is working well and is on track with about 5 other soldiers who he already knows.
Whilst running through the country, Mark hears a colleague (whom he has not met before) shouting for help. Conformity is a type of social influence involving a change in behaviour, attitude or belief in order to fit in, these changes are in response to either real or imagined group pressure, such as the fear of rejection from a group, lack of information, belief that others are right or not wanting to upset others within the group, this occurs in situations, whereby individuals or small groups are exposed to a majority view.
Obedience is not a social influence or response to group pressure, but a following of instruction usually by someone we see as higher authoritative status than ourselves, obedience is deeply implemented from an early age, when we are taught to obey parents, teachers and elders ( Pennington and Mcloughlin, 2008)
Through looking at studies and experiments of conformity and obedience it is plausible to suggest that in this case Mark will obey the orders of his officer and not stop to help the trainee. Mark will adapt to the expectations of his role, and continue without stopping this is known as identification Kelman(1958). There is no need for Mark to agree as he is simply playing to his role.
Another influential factor on Marks decision will be, he is alongside a small group of friends in which he will not want to be seen to go against the group, for fear of rejection or ridicule and will also wish to gain the approval of his commanding officer, this is Normative conformity in which we are driven by the need or desire to gain approval and acceptance, Man (1969) as demonstrated in Solomon Asch’s conformity experiment, Mark may publicly accept but privately disagree with the decision to continue. (Mcleod, 2007) In Asch’s experiment, students were told that they were participating in a ‘vision test.’
Lines were presented onto a screen and the students were asked to answer which line out of three possibilities matched the target line. The students were unaware that the rest of the group in the experiment were fake (confederates) and had been asked prior to the experiment to give wrong answers and agreed on which answers to give. At first the confederates answered the questions correctly, but eventually began to give wrong answers, when the pre-planned incorrect answers were given over 70% of participants conformed to the group’s majority false views at least once (Heroic Imagination Project, 2013).
During the debrief at the end of the test, students were asked why they had given a wrong answer, when the correct answer was clear, the majority of students stated that although they knew the answers were in fact wrong they did not want to risk ridicule from the rest of the group, whist others actually thought there answers were correct. This evidence supports that Mark will conform as he will want to be accepted and not upset his fellow colleagues and also avoid rejection ( Pennington and Mcloughlin, 2008).
Asch’s experiment may be criticised as the individuals may have been more inclined to give wrong answers to avoid conflict rather than fit in. Another criticism of the experiment is that it was conducted in a laboratory and did not replicate a real life situation; however, some expert opinions support these results stating that although real life situations may not be as clear cut as the laboratory environment, real life social pressure is far greater, resulting in increased conformity (Cherry, 2013).
This can be supported by the social impact theory which predicts that conformity will increase in the presence of three influential factors, first being strength, the strength of the person giving the order, as the order came from his officer, Marks view will be as he is more experienced he is also more knowledgeable, numbers, refers to the number of social forces present, as there are only around 5 other trainees at the same pace as Mark, conformity will be higher making him more likely to conform to the behaviour of his colleagues, immediacy refers to the closeness of the other soldiers as Mark works with them regular he will view them as close friends and therefore conform to the majority to keep harmony within the group. (University, 2012)
As Mark is a trainee he will be unclear of how to react in this situation, he may question if this is actually a test and be confused on what he should do, he will look to see how his fellow trainees react and follow, by doing this Mark will show informational conformity, as studied in an autokinetic effect experiment by Muzafer Sheriff (1963). Sheriff conducted a visual illusion experiment to demonstrate the level of conformity when a person is put in an ambiguous situation, when tested on an individual basis, participants answers varied considerably. Sheriff then placed the participants in groups of three (two of the participants had previously given similar estimates, this differed significantly to the remaining participant) each person had to state there answer aloud to the group, over several trials the results showed that the person who’s estimate differed conformed to the group majority (Mcleod, 2007).
Mark will also want to display obedience, as these orders came directly from an officer of higher authority than himself. He will continue and not stop; this can be supported by looking at Milgrams agent theory, Milgram believes we operate on two levels, as autonomous individuals we are conscious and aware of our behaviour and the consequences of our actions. Secondly as agentic individuals, were by we see ourselves as “puppets” of others and no longer responsible for our actions. Generally we see ourselves as autonomous individuals, however in some circumstances we shift to agentic level, we are then only responsible to the person giving orders and our responsibilities to others disappears.
This theory supports the suggestion of Mark to continue, he will detach himself from the injured trainee as he believes he is not responsible for his own actions. Milgram believes this shift takes place due to us being conditioned from an early age to obey orders without question, once in an agentic state there are two binding factors which keep us there as demonstrated on Milgrams experiment; these factors are fear of being rude or disrespectful and the fear of increasing anxiety by disobeying. (waring, 2006) In the 1960’s Milgram designed an experiment to test obedience to authority, he wanted to know if the Germans had a particular personality which made them carry out the brutal acts in world war two, or could an “ordinary person” also behave the same.
Participants were asked to administer shocks each time a subject gave a wrong answer, the shocks ranged from 15 volts (mild shock) to 450 volts (danger severe shock), whilst administering shocks participants were continually prompted by an authoritive figure in a white laboratory coat. The participants could not see the subjects but could hear the effects of the apparent shocks, in which the subjects acted accordingly, throughout this experiment no real shocks were ever given. During the experiment many participants showed signs of tension, three participants actually had seizures and although most felt uncomfortable a huge 65% of participants administered shocks to the full 450 voltage, and every participant admitted to administering shocks above the level that they personally felt was ethical. (Heroic Imagination Project, 2013)
This experiment raised several ethical issues; no measures were taken to protect participants from physical or psychological harm, The right to withdraw was not made clear as participants were continually prompted to continue with phrases such as “you have no choice you must go on”. Deception was used as the participants believed the shocks were real, Other criticisms of Milgrams experiment are that all the participants were men and the experiment was set in an important setting (Yale university) thus not replicating real life situations also all of the participants were paid in advance of the experiment giving them an imagined obligation to carry on, all the participants were self-selected as they had replied to a newspaper ad, some may argue this is a particular type of personality. (Volunteer personality)
Milgram strongly defended these criticisms, stating the results were unexpected as in a survey carried out prior to the experiment, asking the opinion of professionals, most believed the participant would stop when the learner protested, Milgrams main defence centres around the debrief, during which all participants were reassured about their behaviour and given reports of the findings on the experiment. They were assured no shocks were ever given, in a questionnaire filled in by 92% of participants only 2% regretted taking part, a massive 84% were happy to have taken part and 74% said they had learnt a lesson of self-importance. One year after the experiment all the participants were interviewed by a psychiatrist who confirmed none of them had suffered any long term harm.
It is this study that largely contributed to the introduction of the ethical guidelines and codes of conduct and significantly contributed to the psychological understanding of obedience, demonstrating, how easily human beings can hurt each other even against their own morals and judgments and with no motivation of personal gain or even malice towards the other person, when in the presence of an authority figure (Bradley, 2002). Milgrams experiment has been replicated around the world with very similar findings of high obedience to authority figures, apart from Australia were the obedience levels fell to 16% however this was a woman giving a shock to other women. Zimbardos, Stanford prison experiment is a perfect example of how situational factors effect a person, Mark has been assigned the role of a soldier and will obey to the expectations of that role, as did the students given the role or prisoners in Zimbardos experiment, they immediately became submissive and obedient towards the guards.
Five prisoners actually began to experience severe negative thoughts and emotions and had to be released from the experiment and when questioned could not believe their own levels of obedience towards the guards (Cherry, K, 2013) Taking in to account these results and the effects of social influence and situational factors on a person’s behaviour, it is the conclusion that Mark will definitely continue his training and not stop. As an individual being given orders by someone he sees as a legitimate source of authority figure such as his officer, obedience to the system will be high, this is known as legitimacy of the system ( Pennington and Mcloughlin, 2008).
Mark will show obedience to his officer, and conform to what his fellow soldiers are doing; he will also adapt to his role and therefore detach himself from the responsibility of the injured soldier and carry out his training as instructed. It would not be possible for these experiments to be conducted today, due to not meeting the requirements of BPS ethical guidelines, which sets out the code of ethics researchers must follow when conducting experiments. All of the studies mentioned in this essay breach at least two of these ethical issues, The most prominent and criticized being, informed consent and deception, however had these guidelines been in place it would not have been possible to achieve such informative findings on human behavior.
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