Study Questions for Milgram’s, Obedience to Authority

Peffley, PS 474, Political Psychology


1.          Define obedience, conformity, compliance, and acceptance, using examples, and indicate how these labels reflect Western culture. 

2.          In Muzar Sherif’s studies of norm formation, what role does the “autokinetic phenomenon” play in what Sherif labeled norm formation when subjects were in the presence of others versus alone?

3.          In what important way did Solomon Asch’s study differ from Sherif’s, and how did group size and the presence of a dissenter influence conformity to the group’s judgment?  What does this study tell us about conformity? 

4.          How does Milgram’s study differ from other explanations of the holocaust or mass killings and what does it tell us about who can be induced to harm others and under what conditions? 

5.           Describe Milgram’s baseline experiment and its implications for the study of obedience to authority and aggression. Which variations in the experimental conditions (e.g., emotional distance of the victim, closeness and legitimacy of authority, institutional authority) influence the level of obedience and which do not?  What implications does this have for obedience to authority in the real world? 

6.          Laboratory studies are always confronted with the question of whether they can be applied to the real world (i.e., “problems of method”).  To what extent are the results of Milgram’s study “limited to the laboratory” versus the real world?   Explain.

7.          Discuss whether Milgram’s study is time-bound—i.e., limited to the early 1960s, when his studies were conducted? 

8.          Describe the difference in the agentic state and an autonomous state and how this helps to explain Milgram’s results.

9.          Describe Zimbardo’s prison simulation experiment and how its results shed further light on conformity and the torture and prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.