Explanations of Obedience – Variations of Milgram’s Study

Description, AO1 – Factors Affecting Obedience Rates

Factor – A01 Link to research – A03
Proximity Proximity refers to how aware the individuals are of the consequences of their actions. Obedience tends to be higher when the individual can divorce themselves from the consequences.

E.g. In a war situation, it could be argued that launching a missile from a remote location is easier than shooting a single person

Milgram carried out a number of variations of his original experiment in which he manipulated to proximity of the teacher (participant) and learned (confederate).

(1) Learner and teacher seated in the same room – obedience to 450 volts dropped from 65% to 40%

(2) Teacher having to force the learners hand on a plate that administered the electric shock (touch proximity), obedience to 450 volts dropped to 30%

(3) Experimenter (authority figure) gave instructions to the teacher (participant) via a phone (experimenter and participant were in a seperate room. Obedience to 450 volts dropped to only 21%.

Location The location of an environment can be relevant to the amount of perceived legitimate authority an authority figure is considered to have. Obedience rates will be higher is the location is considered appropriate, specifically in institutional settings where obedience to authority is expected


Milgram moved his research to a run down office in a poor area of New York. In this version of the experiment the authority figure was not wearing smart clothing. Milgram found that obedience rates in this version of the experiment dropped to only 47.5% participants shocking to 450 volts compared to 65% in the original Yale experiment.


Uniform A uniform can add to the legitimacy of an authority figure. Obedience rates are higher when the person giving the orders is dressed in a formal way. Bickman (1974) found the following obedience rates when ordering people in New York to pick up rubbish, loan a coin to a stranger o move away from a bus stop – Civilian – 14%, Security guard = 38%
The Authoritarian Personality A personality type characterised by a belief of absolute obedience, submission to authority and domination of minorities. Adorno suggested that this personality type was shaped in childhood by hierarchical, authoritarian parenting. They find social change disruptive, and anxiety inducing.


Elms & Milgram found that highly obedient participants in Milgram’s study were more significantly authoritarian (using F-scale) than disobedient participants.

Altemeyer found those participants with an authoritarian personality type who were ordered to give themselves shocks, administered higher shocks than those without the personality type.