Support your case with psychological evidence

Discuss the argument that people behave like sheep more often than they would like to admit. Support your case with psychological evidence. In our society the notion that people are not as individual as they like to think is taken as a negative concept. This is why issues of conformity and obedience theory, which illustrates that social and personal interaction, can and often does influence people’s decisions, and these are generally viewed negatively. Individuality is a characteristic which we all process.

As individuals we all make our own choices in our everyday life, but what we say and what we do are affected by social influences. From an early age each individual begins to develop a social identity which is “a self definition that indicates just how we conceptualize and evaluate our self”. (Byrne 2000). Basically from our childhood our social identity is acquired through our daily contacts with those all around us. Therefore such normative social influences play a major part on our lives and although individuals make choices, these choices are made within the boundaries of society’s norms and influences.

Children are taught from a young age to be obedient to their parents, teachers etc, and during adulthood when individuals obey laws of society and generally those who are of in authority roles. In discussing the extent to which people behave like sheep, it is crucial to understand the impact of social influences, conformity and obedience. Conformity is more to do with how an individual is influenced by social norms and settings whereas in contrast obedience is more to do with compliance to direct orders from another individual.

As illustrated by Asch (1951) where he conducted a study where participants were shown a card with different lines on, and then they were asked which line was the same as or longer than another line, he then had one individual in the group giving a blatant obvious incorrect answer. His findings were dramatic, as summarized by Van Avermaet (1996). “The results reveal the tremendous impact of an “obviously” in collect but unanimous majority on the judgments of a lone individual”. Asch’s study as well as Sheriff auto kinetic effect experiment (1935), support the notion that people do behave like sheep as they are influenced by social groups.

His study illustrates that people are more likely to conform to the situation they are in rather then confirmative personality; this illustrates normative influence, where an individual conforms because they want to be liked by other people, fit in and avoid being rejected. In the same way obedience study also shows that people conform to pressure but in response to pressure from more direct orders issued by an individual, as said “obedience is the performance of an action in response to a direct order, usually the order comes from a person of higher status or authority” (Franzori1996).

This is shown by a study by Milgram’s electric shock experiment (1963); this study was aimed to test the hypothesis “Germans are different” based on the atrocities committed during the Second World War. He was interested in how easy ordinary people could be led to inflicting harm on others. He decided to test ordinary Americans from all types of backgrounds and they were told that the research was into the effects of punishment and learning.

The volunteers were told to give electric shocks of increasing voltage, up to 450 to a learner (actor), each time the learner made an error. The teacher believed he was giving electric shocks but this was not the case, the level of obedience was measured by the amount of volts given, which was on a scale of 15-450 V, each wrong answer increased by 15 V shocks. Milgram also asked 40 psychiatrists to predict the results, they predicted that less than 1% would go all the way and if any did they would be classed as psychopathic sadists.

Milgram’s results were astonishing and the psychiatrists were very wrong. Obedience rates were way higher, two thirds of volunteers went up to 450 V, no one stopped before 275 results. Even Milgram was very surprised by this, no one expected to find so many people prepared to give 450 V shocks to a stranger. This concludes that obedience is due to situational factors rather than personality, people are compliant even thought they don’t agree, this contradicts the hypothesis.

Milgram’s work was heavily criticized and upset many people, because they felt uncomfortable about what it showed about ordinary people, his study showed us a side that we do not find acceptable about humans and this is something that we would not like to admit ourselves. That in our society we easily obey commands from a powerless source of authority, even when these commands require to harm other people. This is a very scary thought to think that we humans are so easily lead by figures in authority, and that when we don’t even agree with what we are doing we still go ahead and do it.

On the other hand one can argue that Milgrams study was set in an artificial setting, not a real life situation. But a study conducted by Hofling et al 1966, carried out a test on nurses in a more natural setting. The nurses were unaware that they were involved in an experiment. The nurses in a hospital were given orders by a doctor over the telephone to give a dose of medication that was above the maximum allowed. The medication was not real even thought they thought it was. Astonishing results once again, where 21 out of 22 nurses carried out this order.

They exceeded the allowed dose, from instructions by phone, when clearly they were not to take instructions by phone. This clearly shows that they were easily influenced by an authority figure, but one could also say that they may have trusted the doctor to know better and sometimes a ‘doctor figure’ you would trust and one would be unwilling to question supposed authority. Perhaps such actions may be seen as ‘normal, even desirable because people performed them in obedience to legitimate authority’ (Kelman and Lawrence, 1972).

According the Oxford dictionary obedience is fulfilment with order, request or law or submission to other’s authority. From a psychological point of view obedience is recognised as part of human behaviour. There has been much research done on this topic. …

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Baumrind criticised Milgram for showing insufficient respect for his pps, inadequate steps taken to protect pps, possibly leading to long-term harm. Lack of informed consent, deception by disguising the true nature of the experiment and possible psychological harm. In his …

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