Neural Basis of Two Kinds of Social Influence: Obedience and Conformity PMC

Obey the commands of people viewed as legitimate authority figures, even if the behavior may harm another individual. Social psychologists are fond of saying that we are all influenced by the people around us more than we recognize. Of course, each person is unique, and ultimately each of us makes choices about how we will and will not act.

The study found that obedience rates were only slightly lower than those originally reported by Milgram. Milgram’s studies involved placing participants in a room and directing them to deliver electrical shocks to a “learner” located in another room. Unbeknownst to the participant, the person supposedly receiving the shocks was actually in on the experiment and was merely acting out responses to imaginary shocks. Researchers have demonstrated the power of descriptive norms in a number of areas. Homeowners reduced the amount of energy they used when they learned that they were consuming more energy than their neighbors (Schultz, Nolan, Cialdini, Goldstein, & Griskevicius, 2007).

Obedience and Authority

In the name of “following orders” or “just doing my job,” people can violate ethical principles and break laws. More disturbingly, obedience often is at the heart of some of the worst of human behavior—massacres, atrocities, and even genocide. Whereas reward and coercive power are likely to produce the desired behavior, other types of power, which are not so highly focused around reward and punishment, are more likely to create changes in attitudes (private acceptance) as well as behavior. In many ways, then, these sources of power are stronger because they produce real belief change.

obedience refers to

The effect of quantity and quality of verbal interaction on ratings of leadership ability. Effects of categorization, attribution, and encoding processes on leadership perceptions. Relationship orientation as a moderator of the effects of social power. Throughout the course of the experiment, the experimenter firmly commanded
the teachers to follow the instructions they had been given. In reality, the
learner was not an experiment subject but Milgram’s accomplice, and he never
actually received an electric shock.


Expert power is increased for those who possess more information about a relevant topic than others do because the others must turn to this individual to gain the information. You can see, then, that if you want to influence others, it can be useful to gain as much information about the topic as you can. Coercive power is power that is based on the ability to create obedience refers to negative outcomes for others, for instance by bullying, intimidating, or otherwise punishing. Bosses have coercive power over employees if they are able (and willing) to punish employees by reducing their salary, demoting them to a lower position, embarrassing them, or firing them. And friends can coerce each other through teasing, humiliation, and ostracism.

There was a 3–5 min break between two blocks, and the participants could have a rest for 10–15 min between two segments. In part 1, participants were told to decide by themselves according to the information in the picture. In part 2, participants were requested to buy books which had larger number of negative reviews compared to positive ones. By following the similar procedure like part 1, obedience was induced by forcing participants to buy the book with lots of negative comments. For books with inconsistent reviews, the subjects were free to make any decision.

More from Merriam-Webster on obedience

Transformational leaders, on the other hand, are more like charismatic leaders—they have a vision of where the group is going and attempt to stimulate and inspire their workers to move beyond their present status and to create a new and better future. Transformational leaders are those who can reconfigure or transform the group’s norms (Reicher & Hopkins, 2003). In some cases, legitimate power can even be used successfully by those who do not seem to have much power. After Hurricane Katrina hit the city of New Orleans in 2005, the people there demanded that the United States federal government help them rebuild the city. Although these people did not have much reward or coercive power, they were nevertheless perceived as good and respected citizens of the United States.

  • We accept that governments can levy taxes and that judges can decide the outcomes of court cases because we see these groups and individuals as valid parts of our society.
  • Conformity that results from a concern for what other people think of us.
  • People with referent power have an ability to influence others because they can lead those others to identify with them.
  • Conformity that results from a concern to act in a socially approved manner as determined by how others act.
  • The students in this condition relied almost exclusively on coercive power rather than attempting to use their legitimate power to develop positive relations with the subordinates.

Researchers who study obedience are interested in how people react when given an order or command from someone in a position of authority. We are taught at an early age to obey parents, teachers, and police officers. It’s also important to follow instructions from judges, firefighters, and lifeguards. And a military would fail to function if soldiers stopped obeying orders from superiors.

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