Situational Factors that affect Obedience

Milgram’s study has shown us that individual differences including personality, gender and cultural differences do not influence levels of obedience as much as we might have initially thought. Milgram clearly underlined the power of the social situation to over-ride these factors, leading the majority of people to demonstrate high levels of obedience. This sections asks as to consider aspects of the social situation that lead to these destructive acts of obedience.

Milgram manipulated a number of situational variables in his variation studies, for example:

  1. The proximity of the authority figure to the teacher (participant)

What happens when order are given by phone? Links to variation 7

2. The perception of legitimate authority:

Perceived status/prestige of the setting: what happens when the study is performed in a run down office building? Links to variation 10

Perceived legitimacy of the authority figure: What happens when the person giving orders is seen to be an ordinary participant and not the experimenter? Links to variation 13 and 13a

3. Observation of disobedient/defiant others

What happens when the participants has witnessed acts of rebellion? This is also known as constructive conformity: This was tested by Milgram in 1965 and also by Burger in 2009. I have added more detailed notes about Milgram’s (1965) replication here to help you to back up your answers on this topic:




Some more of Milgram’s variations are described in this sheet, this sheet is not written for our spec but contains some useful information, in time I will modify this for you but for now, I am sure you will find it useful to learn from: as_aqa_socinf_obediencefactorscommentary

Assessment Questions:

  1. State ONE situational factor which affects obedience (1)
  2. Describe ONE situational factor which affects obedience (2)
  3. Explain ONE situational factor which affects obedience (3)
  4. A man knocks on Mrs Manner’s front door saying he is from the water board and that he must come in and check the drains in her back garden. He shows her some ID and she shows him in. From your understanding of the psychology of obedience, describe two features of this situation that may have led to Mrs Manner’s obedience.(4)
  5. Amer’s boss rings him at work and tells him that he has accidentally emailed a document to another colleague that he shouldn’t have done. He asks Amer to delete the email from his workmate’s computer while he is on his lunch break. Amer knows the password and could carry out the boss’s order but he decides not to. Explain one situational factor that might account for Amer’s resistance/defiance. (2)
  6. Assess the role of situational factors in determining levels of obedience (8)
  7. Now write an applied question of your own like questions 4 and 5. Swap this with another pupil. Have a go at writing a scenario where the person does and does not obey the order. Take care with the mark allocation, I would say a maximum of 3 per feature/factor is fair.