psych-article2 - The prediction and perception of obedience...

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The prediction and perception of obedience to authority^ Arthur G. Miller, Barry Gillen, Charles Schenker, and Shirley Radlove, Mi'ami C/n/versrfy Milgram (1965) investigated several parameters in the obedi- ence situation, by authorizing subjects to administer electric shock as punishment m an alleged leaming experiment. The most note- worthy finding was the high baseline of total obedience to the experimenter's command—26 of 40 subjects in the onginal study (1963). Milgram's analysis emphasized the operation of legiti- mate authonty and advocated an exaimnation of the social psy- chological forces operating in authonty or hierarchical patterns of human relations, rather than a focus on the personological dis- positions to harm or aggress that reside within individuals. Hughes has made a similar distinction in discussing the Nazi death camps (1964). The present study concerns the prediction and perception of obedience to authority. Our imderstandmg of these aspects of the problem is minimal One indication is Milgram's evidence that mdividuals—e g, Yale semors, and a large sample of psychiatrists —were unable to predict vnth even a modicum of accuracy how subjects actually behaved in this setting. Serving as testimony against role playmg as a substitute for more realistic (often de- ceptive) research strategies (Miller, 1972), such evidence also suggests that there is considerable uncertainty or ambiguity in the obedience situation. People—laymen or behavioral scientists- have great difficulty in predicting how they, or others, would act in such a context. Attribution theory (Jones & Davis, 1965) provides a concep- tual framework for tiie present analysis. Its basic premise is that man is disposed to making a causal analysis of acts, ascertaining whether the ongin for a given act is located in the environment or perceived within the actor. The obedience-to-authonty para- digm presents a special case of the attribution problem: Person 1. A prelunmary report on Experiment 2 was presented at the meetmg of the American Psychological Association, Montreal, August, 1973
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24 Miller, Gillen, Schenker and Radlove A commands B to administer harm to C. To what extent is B held responsible for his actions? What are some factors which deter- mine the reaction to B's behavior? Two expenments were de- signed to examine these questions, the first dealing with predictions of obedience, the second with perceptions of obedi- ence. EXPEWMENT 1 In this experiment, subjects were shown an array of hypo- thetical stimulus persons, varying m sex and attractiveness, and were asked to predict how these persons would have behaved in Milgram's obedience expenment (1963). Four independent van- ables were mampulated, two associated with the stimulus per- sons, and two widi the perceiver Stimulus Ferson Variables Attractiveness. A number of investigations have documented the relationship between physical attractiveness and perceived personahty characteristics (e.g, Berscheid & Walster, m press, Dion, 1972, Miller, 1970a, 1970b). These data suggest that m a
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