Factors affecting obedience; culture

Bingo: Culture and Obedience – WordMint

Mix and Match: Culture_and_Obedience (1)

Milgram’s original results can be criticized for being ethnocentric, meaning that the results may only apply to people who are from New Haven, a small town in Connecticut on the East Coast of America.

Many studies have been conducted to test levels of obedience of people from various countries around the world and in this section we will start to see whether this criticism is supported by research evidence or not. The answer will help to determine why people might be so obedient.

Before we look at the research, let’s consider how cultural differences arise.

The socialization process refers to the way in which people acquire the beliefs, value and attitudes of the cultural niche in which they find themselves. We learn these from agencies of socialization including parents, education, peers, religion and the media. Through these sources we learn about our culture and how we need to behave in order to fit in with other people and accepted. Belonging is an important drive for human beings and learning the social and cultural norms of the community are part of our development.

This PowerPoint gives more information about the term culture an cultural norms: culture-powerpoint

When people’s behaviour is similar, despite them being exposed to very different cultural norms, we take this as an indicator that the behaviour might be part of our human inheritance, shaped by our genes. This means that the behaviour was potentially helpful to the survival of our human ancestors, 35,000 to 3 million years ago, a product of nature not nurture.

When behaviours appear to be different between people from different cultural backgrounds, we assume that these behaviours have been learnt through experience within our social and cultural environment, through interaction with others, that is through nurture not nature.

Psychologists use cross-cultural studies to determine whether behaviours are determined by nature or nurture. Although, nowadays is widely accepted that the debate should not be as simplistic as this as we now know that environmental experiences can actually alter our genetic material. This field is known epigenetics. However for now the nature/nurture distinction is helpful.

This PowerPoint will help you to learn more about the use of cross-cultural studies in psychology: ccstudies-social-2016 It also introduces the terms emic and etic which will be very helpful in the issues and debates section of the course.

This file contains some of the vocabulary that you will have learnt in this section: culture-vocab

We are going to learn about two so-called cultural dimensions (‘individalism/collectivism’ and ‘power distance’, that have been described by Geert Hofstede. We will also look at the concept of filial piety and the Japanese word “amae”.  Using what we have learnt, it may be possible to make some hypotheses about potential cultural differences that we might expect in terms of obedience. We will use the following website to research this area:



Once we have learnt a bit about the two cultural dimensions we will create some hypotheses and design some cross cultural studies. At this point in the course, I like you to think about creating competing arguments in your essays, a new skill! In the ATCHOOBC acronym, the OO stands for “one the one hand”, “on the other hand” and so we will draw round our hands and write the information on the fingers to make this point to ourselves!

On the “one hand” we will write our hypotheses based on our new found AO1 knowledge and understanding, on the other hand we will write the research studies which demonstrate whether our hypotheses are supported or nt. Of particular interest here will be the studies of Kilham and Mann where the obedience rate is very low despite being an Individualist culture and the Shanab and Yahya study which returns a rate of obedience which is not dissimilar to the findings obtained in the US and Northern Europe despite being a collectivist culture.

We will use textbooks to find out the obedience rates in a range of countries and add these to a world map. We will use the Hofstede website to find out the scores of the two difference cultural dimensions and also add these to the map: world-map

We will use the following hand-out to collect all our information together: assess-how-culture-affects-levels-of-obedience

This extract tells us more about the Jordan study: shanab-and-yahya and therefore may be helpful for evaluation.

Read more about a recent replication of Burger’s study ( March 2017) in Poland by Dariusz Doliński and colleagues: https://digest.bps.org.uk/2017/05/05/new-milgram-replication-finds-90-per-cent-of-polish-participants-willing-to-deliver-highest-shock/

Assessment task:

  1. Describe the influence of culture on obedience (2)
  2. Poppy has just studied Milgram’s (1963) experiment in her psychology class. She tells her mum about the study. Poppy’s mum says the results might have been different if the study was done in a different country. Explain whether you think Poppy’s mum is right or not (4).
  3. Assess the extent to which culture affects levels of obedience (8)

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© Amanda J Wood, 2016-2017