Why we obey Authority

Obedience to Authority

Why we obey Authority ?

By Basu Nepal

Authority can be termed as the power to give an order or have an influence in a situation. We are surrounded by authority whether it be government official, teacher or boss. We follow their orders willingly or unwillingly without aware of the extent to which we can go to follow the order from the authority.

In Social Psychology, there is a famous research called as Milgram Experiment which provided shocking result about the extent to which people can go in order to follow the authority’s order.

In this experiment, two people were introduced to each other as a participant where in reality only one was taking part and another man was inside person for the research. Participant was forced selected to act as a teacher and inside person would always play as a student. Student was given some word pair to memorize in a given time.

Both the student and teacher were placed in different rooms so that teacher would not know that student was not really a participant in the experiment. After some time, teacher would go through each word asking for student about its pair, if student gave wrong answer, he was subjected to a shock going from 15V to 450V increasing with each wrong answer.

Student would purposely provide wrong answer, to which teacher would have to give shock to a student. If hesitated by teacher, the experimenter sitting beside the teacher would insist him to continue the experiment by using various sentence to force him to follow the order.

Clip from Original Milgram Experiment

It was found that nearly 65% of the participant continued all the way to 450V (extreme danger).

Shocking Result

At the end of the experiment it was found that nearly 65% of the participant continued all the way to 450V and all participant continued till 300V after which student stopped responding to the question at all.

Before the experiment, it was predicted by other psychiatrists that most would stop the experiment when student demands to be free when shock was about 150V, only about 3 percent would continue till 300V and about one-tenth of a percent would go all the way to 450V.

When the result of the experiment came, it was literally a shocking truth, that many people would continue to obey the authority even when it was against their will, to the extent that it could have killed someone.

It gave many conclusions about human behaviors that under the influence of an authority, people would follow their order to any extent even with extreme unwillingness to carry out the order.

We have been brought up to obey the authority from our childhood whether be it parent or teacher or elders. so, it’s in our nature to obey and follow order if it’s from someone who can be considered as an authority.

If a person giving order seemed as a qualified person, people would obey them disregarding their moral or ethical belief. In the presence of an authority, people believe that the responsibility of the action will fall on the shoulders of the authority, which can push them to do things that they would never do under normal scenario, to the extent of even giving shock of 450V to an unknown person.

People follow authority even to extreme end

We have been brought up to obey the authority from our childhood whether be it parent or teacher or elders. 

When people are told responsibility falls on their shoulder for their action, many simply stopped following orders but if it’s not on them, they continued which shows if responsibility of our action is upon us, we become more cautious about our action, won’t just follow blindly.

At the end, people just don’t want to take the responsibility on themselves but if it’s on other they may go well beyond the moral and ethical boundary.

Milgram Experiment has many more version with different scenario and situation, most pointing to same kind of result about the presence of authority.

If authority is present in front of their eye, people are more likely to obey than if they are instructed over phone to continue the experiment, if non-authority person is giving orders, they are less likely to continue till end.

There have been several criticisms about the experiment for exposing the participants under extreme mental stress and ethical dilemma so, many rules for a research and experiment were changed after this experiment. In recent downscaled version of the same experiment with some modification, the result was almost similar to the original experiment.

Milgram experiment, like other many researches in psychology has given us with shocking behaviors of human being that we are mysterious creature often doing things we think we won’t do and even going to high extent of moral correctness.


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