We live in an environment that is strong with influence
attempts. A large portion of the population makes a living
simply attempting to get others to comply with their
requests. Whether a manager encouraging productivity, a
policeman directing traffic, a salesperson closing a sale,
or a president telling us we need to spend more money on
social programs. Each of us is subjected to an uncountable
number of influential attempts each day.
Obedience is as basic an element in the structure of social
life as one can point to. Some system of authority is a
requirement of all communal living and it is only the
person dwelling in isolation who is not forced to respond,
with defiance or submission, to the commands of others
(Elms 1995, p. 28). For many people, obedience is deeply
ingrained behavior tendency, a compelling impulse
overriding training in ethics, sympathy, and moral conduct.
Obedience has been a determinant of behavior established
from 1933- 1945 when millions of innocent people were
systematically slaughtered on command. (Pettijohn, 1995, p.
196). Obedience to destructive authority was indeed a
crucial social issue in 1962. (Elms 1995, p.21) American
military advisers were being ordered to Vietnam in
increasing number for forestall Communist control of
southeast Asia (Elms, 1995 p. 21).
Stanley Milgram, a psychologist at Yale University
conducted an innovative study. It addressed the endless
conflict between obedience and conscience. In the
experiment, the teacher was to administer an electric shock
of increasing intensity to the learner upon each mistake.
When the teacher asked for advice regarding increasing the
punishments, He/she was verbally encouraged to continue
Ultimately, 65% of the teachers obeyed orders to punish the
learner all the way to the end of the 450-volt scale. Not a
single teacher disobeyed orders before reaching 300 volts.
(Elms 1995, P. 25).
Obedience significantly dropped when the experimenter was
absent, or when the experimenter provided contradictory
instructions (Modigliani and Rochat 1995, p. 120) In fact,
at times, the teacher questioned the experimenter, asking
who was responsible for shocking the learner. Once the
experimenter assumed full responsibility, the teachers
seemed to accept the response and continue shocking.
(Pettijohn, 1995, P.200).
Although there is much debate over the extent to which
Milgram's studies demonstrate the susceptibility of people
to the commands of authority figures, There is no doubt
that his work has tremendous value and is among the most
widely discussed in social psychology (Drout and Vander,
1993. p.595) Milgram's experiment was designed to show that
people are very influenced by someone of authority.
Philip Zombardo (1988) conducted an experiment using
volunteer guards and prisoners in the basement of Stanford
University. The initial experiment was planned to last for
14 days and had to be cut short after 6 days (Brady and
Logsdon 1988, p.706). This was due to the unexpected and
disturbing results encountered. The prisoners were given
numbers instead of being able to use their names, and given
prison clothing to wear. The prisoners were belittled and
dehumanized (Brady and Logsdon 1988, p. 706) This shows
along with Milgrams experiment that people can become
locked into roles from which they find it difficult to
escape. Although all of Zimbardo's subjects were fully
aware of the nature of the experiment, it becomes clear
that given the authority, many individuals will violate the
boundaries of widely held norms and beliefs about what is
and what is not acceptable.
Many theorist believe that norms are powerful social
influences that people would resist if they could. Norms
are consensual standards that describe what behaviors
should and should not be performed in a given context. They
prescribe the socially appropriate way to respond in the
situation. People who do not comply with the norms of a
situation and cannot provide an acceptable explanation for
their violation are looked upon negatively (Franzoi 1996,
p. 267). Norms, if written down become formal rules of
proper conduct, but in most instances norms are adopted
unquestionably as people arrange their behavior until
approval from others is clear. Individuals, once they join
with others, rapidly structure their experiences until they
conform to a general standard (Franzoi, 261). This standard
can be forced upon the group by an outside authority or a
group leader, but Sherif notes in his studies that in most
instances norms develop through reciprocal influence.
People do not actively try to conform to the judgments of
others, but instead use the "group consensus" to revise
their own opinions and beliefs (Franzoi, 1996, p. 262).
Sherif researched this process of how group pressures
influence the judgments of individuals in an ambiguous
situation, by taking a group of male college students into
a visual perception experiment (Franzoi, 1996, p. 261). The
experiment involved having subjects judge the amount of
movement of a light that was actually stationary, but
appeared to move when viewed in darkness. Originally, the
subjects; judgments varied widely, but when they made their
judgments in a group, their estimates converged; individual
subjects met the group norm even when they made judgments
alone (Franzoi, 1996, p. 261).
Norms exert such a powerful influence on behavior that even
indiviuals who privately reject their society's norms
usually follow some standards of conformity. Asch
documented the human tendency to conform to norms
experimently by placing indiviuals into groups that were
making incorrect judgements about the length of lines
(Franzoi, 1996, p. 266).
Norms are not only external constraints but internalized
standard; people feel duty bound to adhere too. Milgram's
study, 'On Maintaining social Norms' documented the
personal consequences of violating norms. He had men and
women board an New York City subway and perform a simple
behavior; asking someone for their seat. In this situation
all people understand and accept the rule "all seats are
filled" so asking someone to give up their seat is a norm
violation (Milgram, 1992, p. 38). Still many people gave up
their seats, apparently because the request took them by
surprise, they wanted to avoid interaction, or because they
normalized the situation by concluding that the requestor
was ill. Milgram was particularly intrigued , by they
reaction displayed by the norm- violators. Even though they
were volunteers who were deliberating breaking the
situational norms. " They reported when standing in front
of a subject, they felt anxious, tenses and embarrassed.
Frequently, they were unable to vocalize the request for a
seat and had to withdraw" (Milgram, 1992, p.42).
In an experiment performed during the Spring semester at
Monmouth University, students from a social psychology
class were asked to go to the mall and perform simple
requests of asking people where a major store was. However,
they were told to ask from different proximities to get the
reactions of the shoppers. The first proximity was 12 feet
most of the subjects stopped came closer and gave
directions. The second proximity was 3 feet at this
distance most of the subjects gave direction. The last
proximity was 1 foot or less, which clearly violates the
norm of personal space. Here the majority of the subjects
observed, gave no directions and backed away. At this
proximity even the researchers felt uncomfortable, some
couldn't even perform the task.
What can be considered as a social norm in one group or
society may not be accepted elsewhere. Norms, are not
merely external forces that require certain kinds of
actions in certain kinds of situations. They are a
fundamental components of social structure that links each
individual to social order.