Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Human obedience: The myth of blind conformity

Date:
November 20, 2012
Source:
Public Library of Science
Summary:
In the 1960s and 1970s, classic social psychological studies were conducted that provided evidence that even normal, decent people can engage in acts of extreme cruelty when instructed to do so by others. However, professors revisit these studies' conclusions and explain how awful acts involve not just obedience, but enthusiasm too -- challenging the long-held belief that human beings are 'programmed' for conformity.

"Decent people participate in horrific acts not because they become passive, mindless functionaries who do not know what they are doing, but rather because they come to believe -- typically under the influence of those in authority -- that what they are doing is right," Professor Haslam explained.
Credit: BortN66 / Fotolia

In the 1960s and 1970s, classic social psychological studies were conducted that provided evidence that even normal, decent people can engage in acts of extreme cruelty when instructed to do so by others. However, in an essay published November 20 in the open access journal PLOS Biology, Professors Alex Haslam and Stephen Reicher revisit these studies' conclusions and explain how awful acts involve not just obedience, but enthusiasm too -- challenging the long-held belief that human beings are 'programmed' for conformity.

This belief can be traced back to two landmark empirical research programs conducted by Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo in the 1960s and early 1970s. Milgram's 'Obedience to Authority' research is widely believed to show that people blindly conform to the instructions of an authority figure, and Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) is commonly understood to show that people will take on abusive roles uncritically.

However, Professor Haslam, from the University of Queensland, argues that tyranny does not result from blind conformity to rules and roles. Rather, it is a creative act of followership, resulting from identifying with authorities who represent vicious acts as virtuous.

"Decent people participate in horrific acts not because they become passive, mindless functionaries who do not know what they are doing, but rather because they come to believe -- typically under the influence of those in authority -- that what they are doing is right," Professor Haslam explained.

Professor Reicher, of the University of St Andrews, added that it is not that they were blind to the evil they were perpetrating, but rather that they knew what they were doing, and believed it to be right.

These conclusions were partly informed by Professors Haslam and Reicher's own prison experiment, conducted in 2002 in collaboration with the BBC. The study generated three findings. First, participants did not conform automatically to their assigned role; second, they only acted in terms of group membership to the extent that they identified with the group; and finally, group identity did not mean that people simply accepted their assigned position -- it also empowered them to resist it.

Although Zimbardo and Milgram's findings remain highly influential, Professor Haslam argue that their conclusions do not hold up well under close empirical scrutiny.

Professor Reicher concludes that tyranny does not flourish because perpetrators are helpless and ignorant; it flourishes because they are convinced that they are doing something worthy.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Public Library of Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. S. Alexander Haslam, Stephen. D. Reicher. Contesting the “Nature” Of Conformity: What Milgram and Zimbardo's Studies Really Show. PLoS Biology, 2012; 10 (11): e1001426 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001426

Cite This Page:

Public Library of Science. "Human obedience: The myth of blind conformity." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 November 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121120193529.htm>.
Public Library of Science. (2012, November 20). Human obedience: The myth of blind conformity. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121120193529.htm
Public Library of Science. "Human obedience: The myth of blind conformity." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121120193529.htm (accessed April 20, 2014).

Share This



More Health & Medicine News

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Nine-Month-Old Baby Can't Open His Mouth

Nine-Month-Old Baby Can't Open His Mouth

Newsy (Apr. 19, 2014) Nine-month-old Wyatt Scott was born with a rare disorder called congenital trismus, which prevents him from opening his mouth. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
'Holy Grail' Of Weight Loss? New Find Could Be It

'Holy Grail' Of Weight Loss? New Find Could Be It

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) In a potential breakthrough for future obesity treatments, scientists have used MRI scans to pinpoint brown fat in a living adult for the first time. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Little Progress Made In Fighting Food Poisoning, CDC Says

Little Progress Made In Fighting Food Poisoning, CDC Says

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) A new report shows rates of two foodborne infections increased in the U.S. in recent years, while salmonella actually dropped 9 percent. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Create Stem Cells From Adult Skin Cells

Scientists Create Stem Cells From Adult Skin Cells

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) The breakthrough could mean a cure for some serious diseases and even the possibility of human cloning, but it's all still a way off. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins