Obedience, Conformity and Compliance

Table of Content

Various incidents demonstrate human behaviors such as obedience, conformity, and compliance. For example, a student displayed obedience by adhering to his teacher’s instructions. Likewise, parents exhibited conformity by acquiring a crib for their newborn baby. Additionally, a factory demonstrated compliance by enforcing safety measures mandated by the Government for its workers. The act of the student obeying the teacher illustrates obedience, while the parents’ choice to purchase a crib for their baby corresponds with the social norm of providing sleeping arrangements for infants.

The previous example exemplifies conformity, which is the act of adhering to social norms. In this instance, the factory followed specific rules and regulations enforced by the government, displaying compliant behavior that shows adherence to authority. Obedience involves unquestioningly obeying orders from legitimate authorities. People may have various sources of authority in their lives such as parents, school teachers, and spiritual leaders.

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The society has given authority to many authoritative figures to issue commands to others. In their lives, everyone has obediently followed orders from authoritative figures at some point, without questioning the reasoning behind their actions. For instance, we never question why we take tests in school; we simply do so because our teachers instruct us to. We follow various other rules because they usually come from individuals in positions of higher authority than ourselves. It is important to mention a particularly significant psychological experiment that explores the concept of obedience.

The experiment conducted by Stanley Milgram involved two individuals. One person acted as the student, attempting to remember various words they had heard, while the other person served as the subject of the experiment and played the role of a teacher. The teacher’s task was to administer a test to the student and deliver electric shocks whenever a word was missed. Milgram’s hypothesis was that the majority of individuals would not administer such high levels of electric shocks, particularly those that could be fatal, to another person.

To Milgram’s astonishment, he discovered that the majority of individuals participating in the experiment would shock their fellow participants and obediently comply with the instructor’s commands due to the authority they held. Conformity involves following societal norms, attitudes, practices, and peer pressures, compelling individuals in the minority to conform to the actions of the majority. In essence, conformity entails going along with the crowd.

Group conformity is a common occurrence where individuals modify their attitudes and beliefs to match those of their peers. Muzafer Sherif aimed to investigate how much people would alter their opinions in order to conform with the majority within a group. In his study, participants were placed in a dark room and instructed to concentrate on one specific point of light located 15 feet away. Their assignment was then to estimate the number of times the light moved.

The participants were tricked into perceiving movement in the light, when in reality there was none; the movements were merely a visual illusion. Initially, each person had a different estimate of the number of movements observed on the first day. However, starting from the second day until the fourth day, a consensus was reached on the same estimate, and other participants followed suit. Sherif considered this experiment as a representation of how social norms develop within a society and establish a shared framework of understanding. Compliance, although similar to conformity, involves taking action to satisfy someone’s explicit demand.

In order for compliance to occur within groups, individuals must adjust their actions according to the wishes or rules of others. Complying with someone’s request, rule, or wish requires a disposition that motivates one to concede to others. Requests for compliance and acts of compliance are common experiences in everyone’s life. However, when someone asks another person to do something, they do not necessarily require the person to agree or disagree with the task at hand. For example, a request for compliance simply entails asking someone to perform a task.

The person making the request for the task to be done does not necessarily aim to alter the beliefs of others, but rather desires the task to be accomplished. This distinction is what sets conformity and compliance apart. Conformity mainly involves the individual being influenced by the group to change their actions, attitudes, and/or beliefs. On the other hand, compliance is primarily focused on completing a specific task.


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