Answers to Another Social Test

Annabel carried out research to investigate prejudice. She gave 20 students two reports of a person who had dropped their bag and needed help. One report described the person wearing a hooded top and the other report described the person wearing a suit. The students had to decide if they would help the person in the report or not. Table 1 shows the total number of students who said they would help or not help a person wearing a hooded top or a person wearing a suit.

Person wearing a hoodie Person wearing a suit
Total number of students

who would help

5 15
Total number of students

who would not help

15 5

Annabel concluded that people were more prejudiced against people wearing hooded tops.  (a) Identify the level of measurement used in Annabel’s study. (1)

Nominal data

(b) Identify the experimental design Annabel used. (1)

 Annabel used a repeated measures design

 (c) Explain one improvement that could be made to the experimental design used in Annabel’s research. (2)

Annabel could have used an independent measures deign. This would have improved the validity of her results. This is because the repeated measures design meant that people could have been showing demand characteristics, i.e. because they took part in the first condition, they were able to guess at the aim of the study when they noticed the difference in the second part of the study, i.e. the person was wearing hoodie and then in part two they were wearing a suit. They might have realised it was about prejudice due to clothing and acted as they thought Annabel would have expected. If it was independent measures they would only take part in the hoodie or suit conditions and would not have guessed at the aim and therefore their answers may have been more valid.

2 Tom is busy with his schoolwork and revision. He is told by his teacher, Mrs Smith, to make sure he turns up to lessons early so that he can run errands for her. Mrs Smith orders Tom to do her photocopying and help prepare the classroom for her lessons. Using agency theory, explain why Tom might have obeyed Mrs Smith’s orders even though he was busy. (4)

Tom may have obeyed Mrs Smith’s orders because he perceived her to be an authority figure, i.e. she was above him in the power hierarchy as she was a teacher. This means that when Mrs Smith gave her orders Tom entered the agentic state, from the autonomous state meaning that he diffused responsibility and felt that Mrs Smith was now responsible. If he was, for example, unable to carry out another duty that he had already been expected to perform, he would blame Mrs Smith for this and not take responsibility himself, he would say he was just following orders. When in agentic state, Tom will act on Mrs Smith behalf and he may do things that go against what he wants to do. He may experience some moral strain if she asks him to do something which goes against his personal moral code of conduct, for example, if she asked him to help her when he should have been helping his younger siblings this might have been anxiety provoking for him but he would have followed her orders anyway due to her legitimate authority over him and the fact he is in the agentic state. When in the autonomous state, before Mrs Smith gives him orders, Tom would have behaved independently according to his own free will and see himself as responsible for his actions. When in the agentic state people believe their actions are determined by the authority figure.

  1. Tom told his friend about Mrs Smith’s demands. His friend said another teacher had done this to him before and he had told the teacher that he couldn’t help her before school.

Using your knowledge of psychological research (theories and/or studies), explain why some people are defiant in situations like this while others are more obedient. (6)

There are many reasons why a person may be defiant in the face of authority. For example, cultural differences can determine why some people are more or less obedient. For example, in some cultures people are socialised to be more self-reliant and independent in their thinking and therefore this may mean that they are more likely to question authority if they believe the person to be giving orders that go against what they personally feel is right. For example, in Kilham and Mann’s study the Australian Pps were far less obedience than the American Pps this means that Tom’s friend might have been a different nationality. Also some people might be defiant due to individual differences in their personality. For example Tom’s friend might have been high on the desire for control scale which was investigated in Burger’s (2009) study where it was found that the higher the desire for control the more likely the person was to refuse to continue. Also situational factors can make you more likely to be defiant in the face of authority for example if Tom’s friend was amongst other people when the request was made, there may be a diffusion of responsibility amongst the other people and Tom’s friend may have found it easier to resist the order. This is similar to Milgram’s disobedient stooges variation, where Pps observed confederate’s defiant behaviour and acted in line with this – if the other children seem unwilling to come early to help then maybe Tom’s behaviour will fall into line with theirs and he will fail to follow orders. Also, if immediacy if reduced for example if Mrs Smith asked Tom to help by email rather than face to face this might have made it easier for him to be defiant. Other personality factors which has been found to be related to obedience is conscientiousness and agreeableness and these are from the Big Five (Costa and McCrae) so it is possible that people who find it easier to be resistant score lower on these traits.

  1. Evaluate whether research into obedience can be conducted without violating ethical guidelines. (8)

There are a number of studies of obedience which breach ethical guidelines and thus suggest that it is not possible to conduct such studies without violations. For example the BPS suggest that deception should be avoided as this means that informed consent cannot be obtained and therefore participants are at greater risk of psychological harm. However, in Milgram’s (1963) study Pps were deceived on many counts including the purpose of the study was not to investigate learning and memory, the shocks were in fact fake, Mr Williams and Mr Wallace were confederates and the lottery to choose teacher and learner was rigged. Also the Milgram study put the participants at greater risk still because they were so poorly debriefed with some of the Pps going away thinking that they had caused pain with real shocks. Also some Pps received no debriefing at all. Pps also may have felt that they did not have the right to withdraw due to the persistent use of the verbal prods, so when they appeared to want to drop out they were urged to continue and this also breaks ethical guidelines.

Other studies such as Hofling’s obedience study also involve deception as the phone call was not from a real doctor and they did not know they were being observed on the ward. When they found this out many were shocked, confused and embarrassed by what they had done and therefore clearly at risk of harm.

However, in order to conduct studies into obedience it is necessary to use deception to preserve the validity of the findings and therefore one could argue that violations were necessary in such an important area; if we are able to understand what causes destructive obedience, we may be able to help people to become more resilient in the face of malevolent authority and to remain autonomous and not be compelled to conduct acts of violence for example against others.

Although, it seems that it may be important to breach some ethical guidelines, in fact there are ways to make one’s work more ethical and Burger demonstrated this very well in 2009. He instituted many ethical safeguards such as reminders about the right to withdraw, a careful screening process to deselect people who may have been especially prone to psychological harm, the 150 V solution whereby he terminated the study when people hit the 150 V switch as he knew that Pps began to show anxiety (moral strain) after this point in the original Milgram studies. This study was carefully designed to maintain ethical guidelines yet test obedience in the 21 Century. There are also others ways to help with deception for example prior general consent can be used whereby people give their consent to be deceived and although this may bring about demand characteristics which could affect validity at least this strategy allows us to investigates areas such as obedience which are so necessary with regard to their benefits for society. Also, you can gain presumptive consent by asking other people similar to your expected participants what they think about the deception involved and whether they felt they would have been harmed if they had unknowingly taken part.

In conclusion, it can be seen that whilst obedience studies have been conducted that have caused serious physical and psychological issues including seizures due to the levels of deception involved, these studies are important to society, although the knowledge we have gained in the last 50 year or so seems to have done little to stop atrocities committed in the name of obedience. This said, more recent studies have been completed which clearly breach far fewer guidelines, demonstrating that validity and interesting research in this area is possible so long at care is put into reviewing alternative strategies and the ethics committee includes for example lay people who can give their subjective point of view on what is acceptable and what is not. This may give an insight into the views of possible future participants which is separate the more biased views of those who may be part of the psychological community and therefore find  it difficult to see a potential study through the eyes of a naïve participant and therefore may make poorer ethical decision because of this.