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Образование Conformity and Obedience
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SOCIAL CONTROL

Every culture, subcul­ture, and group has distinctive norms governing what it deems appropriate behavior. Laws, dress codes, bylaws of organizations, course require­ments, and rules of sports and games all express social norms. Functionalists contend that people must respect such norms if any group or society is to survive. In their view, societies literally could not function if massive numbers of people defied standards of appropriate conduct. By contrast, conflict theorists are concerned that "successful functioning" of a society will consistently benefit the powerful and work to the disadvantage of other groups. They point out, for example, that widespread resistance to social norms was neces­sary in order to overturn the institution of slavery in the United States.

How does a society bring about acceptance of basic norms? The term social control refers to the "techniques and strategies for regulating human behavior in any society" (R. Roberts, 1986). Social control occurs on all levels of society. In the fam­ily, we are socialized to obey our parents simply because they are our parents. In peer groups, we are introduced to informal norms such as dress codes that govern the behavior of members. In bureaucratic organizations, workers must cope with a formal system of rules and regulations. Finally, the government of every society legislates and enforces social norms—including norms re­garding "proper" and "improper" expressions of sexual intimacy.

Most of us respect and accept basic social norms and assume that others will do the same. Even without thinking, we obey the instructions of police officers, follow the day-to-day rules at our jobs, and move to the rear of elevators, when people enter. Such behavior reflects an effective process of socialization to the dominant standards of a culture. At the same time, we are well-aware that individuals, groups, and institutions expect us to act "properly." If we fail to do so, we may face punishment through informal sanctions such as fear and ridicule, or formal sanctions such as jail sentences or fines

Techniques for social control can be viewed on both the group level and the societal level. People whom we regard as our peers or as our equals influence us to act in particular ways; the same is true of people who hold authority over us or oc­cupy positions which we view with some awe. Stanley Milgram (1975:113-115) made a useful distinction between these two important levels of social control.

Milgram defined conformity as going along with one's peers—individuals of a person's own status, who have no special right to direct that person's behavior. By contrast, obedience is de­fined as compliance with higher authorities in a hierarchical structure. Thus, a recruit entering military service will typically conform to the habits and language of other recruits and will obey the orders of superior officers.

Asch's Studyof ConformityHow many of us will "stick to our convictions" regardless of the feelings of others? Social psychologist Solomon Asch (1952:452-483) was interested in the effects of group pressure on people's opinions and tested this question in an experimental setting on a college campus. The results of his investigation indicate that the pressure to conform in group situations can have a powerful impact on social behavior.

Asch brought groups of seven to nine male col­lege students into a classroom and asked them to look at two white cards. All students were asked to state pub­licly which line on the right-hand card most closely corresponded to line A on the left-hand card. However, in each group of students, all but one were actually in league with the researchers and had been coached in advance to select wrong answers to some of the choices. Moreover, the uncoached students—the people who were the real targets of the study—were placed near the end of each group.

On a designated trial, the students coached by Asch all gave the same incorrect answer. Remark­ably, many uncoached students ignored the evi­dence of their own senses and conformed to the behavior of the (deliberately incorrect) majority. Of Asch's 123 students put to this test, more than one-third followed the lead of the group and chose the wrong answer even without any explicit pressures to conform.

In this situation—unlike many real-life situa­tions that we face—no money, grade, or friend­ship was at stake. In fact, the students who had been coached by Asch did not impose any in­formal sanctions (such as scowls and laughs) on the subjects who maintained their correct observations. Conformity occurred in this case not because external pressures were im­posed, but because students had internalized a desire to go along with the group (Aronson, 1972:19).

Milgram's Study of ObedienceIf ordered to do so, would you comply with an experimenter's in­struction to give people increasingly painful elec­tric shocks? Most people would say no; yet, the research of social psychologist Stanley Milgram (1963, 1975; B. Allen, 1978:34-63) suggests that most of us will obey such orders. In Milgram's words (1975): "Behavior that is unthinkable in an individual . . . acting on his own may be exe­cuted without hesitation when carried out under orders."

Milgram placed advertisements in New Haven, Connecticut, newspapers to recruit subjects for what was announced as a learning experiment at University. Typical participants included postal clerks, engineers, high school teachers, and laborers. They were told that the purpose of the research was to investigate the effects of punish­ment on learning. The experimenter, dressed in a gray technician's coat, explained that in each testing, one subject would be randomly selected as the "learner" while the other would function as the "teacher." However, this lottery was rigged so that the "real"' subject would always be the teacher while an associate of Milgram's served as the learner.

At this point, the learner's hand was strapped to an electric apparatus. The teacher was taken to an electronic "shock generator" with 30 lever switches. Each switch was labeled with graduated voltage designations from 15 to 450 volts. Before beginning the experiment, subjects were given sample shocks of 45 volts, which convinced them of the authenticity of the experiment.

The teacher was instructed by the experi­menter to apply shocks of increasing voltage each time the learner gave an incorrect answer on a memory test (recalling paired words such as blue sky and wild duck). Teachers were told that "al­though the shocks can be extremely painful, they cause no permanent tissue damage." In reality, the learner did not receive actual shocks; how­ever, subjects in the role of teacher believed that the procedure was genuine.

The learner deliberately gave incorrect an­swers and acted out a prearranged script. For example, at 150 volts, the learner would cry out, "Experimenter, get me out of here! I won't be in the experiment anymore!" At 270 volts, the learner would scream in agony. When the shock level reached 350 volts, the learner would fall silent. If the teacher wanted to stop the experi­ment, the experimenter would insist that the teacher continue, using such statements as "The experiment requires that you continue" and "You have no other choice; you must go on" (Milgram, 1975:19-23).

The results of this unusual experiment stunned and dismayed Milgram (1975:31) and other social scientists. A sample of psychiatrists had predicted that virtually all subjects would re­fuse to shock innocent victims. In their view, only a "pathological fringe" of less than 2 percent would continue administering shocks up to the maximum level. Yet almost two-thirds of participants fell into the category of "obedient subjects." As Milgram (1975:5) observed: "Despite the fact that many subjects . . . protest to the experi­menter, a substantial proportion continue to the last shock on the generator."

Why did these subjects obey? Why were they willing to inflict seemingly painful shocks on in­nocent victims who had never done them any harm? There is no evidence to suggest that these subjects were unusually sadistic; few seemed to enjoy administering the shocks. Instead, in Milgram's view, the key to obedience was the ex­perimenter's social role as a "scientist" and "seeker of knowledge."

Milgram pointed out that in the modern indus­trial world we are accustomed to submitting to impersonal authority figures whose status is indi­cated by a title (professor, lieutenant, doctor) or by a uniform (the technician's coat). The author­ity is viewed as larger and more important than the individual; consequently, the obedient indi­vidual shifts responsibility for his or her behavior to the authority figure. Milgram's subjects fre­quently stated: "If it were up to me, I would not have administered shocks." They saw themselves as merely doing their duty (Milgram, 1975:xii, 7— 8, 137, 144-146).

Viewed from an interactionist perspective, one important aspect of Milgram's findings is the fact that subjects in follow-up studies were less likely to inflict the supposed shocks as they were moved physically closer to their victims. Moreover, inter-actionists emphasize that leathers assumed re­sponsibility for punishment by incrementally ad­ministering additional dosages of 15 volts. In effect, the experimenter negotiated with the teacher and convinced the teacher to continue inflicting higher levels of punishment. It is doubtful that anywhere near the two-thirds rate of obedience would have been reached had the experimenter told the teachers to administer 450 volts immediately to the learn­ers (B. Allen, 1978: 42-43; Katovich, 1987).

One haunting memory for the reader of Milgram's Obedience to Authority is his discussion of a 43-year-old water inspector who "shocked" the learner up to a maximum of 450 volts—even though he suspected that the learner might have died in the process. After the experiment was over, the water inspector told his wife: "I think I did a good job." She asked, "Suppose (he man was dead?" He replied, "So he's dead. I did my job!" (Milgram, 1975:88; see also Gibson and Haritos-Fatouros, 1986:50-58).


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