Paper1- Explanations for Obedience -Variations of Milgram (1963)

In the aftermath of Milgram's groundbreaking research on obedience, various variations were conducted to delve into the impact of different variables on obedience.


Agentic State

An agentic state, a central concept in Milgram's research, occurs when an individual executes orders as the agent of an authority figure, shouldering minimal personal responsibility. In Milgram's original experiment, participants were led to believe that the experimenter held full responsibility, enabling them to act as agents following the experimenter's directives. Milgram argued that individuals can either act autonomously or shift into an agentic state when faced with social situations, a phenomenon termed an agentic shift. In a variation where an additional confederate administered shocks on behalf of the teacher, the percentage of participants administering the full 450 volts dramatically increased from 65% to 92.5%. This underscores the potency of an agentic shift, where responsibility is transferred, leading to increased obedience as personal responsibility diminishes.


Proximity, both physical and psychological, emerged as a crucial factor influencing obedience. In a variation where the teacher and learner shared the same room, the percentage administering the full 450 volts dropped from 65% to 40%. The closer proximity allowed the teacher to experience the learner's pain more directly, reducing obedience levels. Further variations, including one where the teacher physically forced the learner's hand onto the shock plate, demonstrated a progressive decrease in obedience as proximity increased. This underscores that the closer the proximity between the individuals involved, the lower the level of obedience.

The proximity of the authority figure also played a pivotal role. In a variation where the experimenter provided subsequent instructions over the phone after an initial face-to-face interaction, only 21% of participants administered the full 450 volts. Proximity, in this case, influenced participants' willingness to defy the experimenter.


Milgram explored the impact of location on obedience by shifting the experiment from Yale University to a run-down building in Bridgeport, Connecticut. In the new location, the percentage administering the full 450 volts dropped from 65% to 47.5%. This change highlighted the influence of location on obedience, emphasizing that less credible locations resulted in reduced obedience levels.


The power of uniform emerged as a significant factor influencing obedience. In a variation where the experimenter was replaced by another participant in ordinary clothes, the percentage administering the full 450 volts plummeted from 65% to 20%. This stark decline demonstrated the substantial impact of uniform on obedience. Bickman's (1974) field experiment in New York, where actors in different attires gave instructions, further confirmed that people are more likely to obey individuals wearing uniforms, which convey a sense of legitimate authority and power.

Legitimate Authority

Milgram's variations on location and uniform underscore the importance of legitimate authority in obedience. The legitimacy of authority, influenced by variables such as location and uniform, significantly impacted participants' obedience levels. Changes in location and the absence of a uniform led to a reduction in the perceived legitimacy of authority, resulting in decreased trust and obedience.

In summary, Milgram's variations shed light on the intricate dynamics of obedience, revealing how factors like agentic state, proximity, location, uniform, and legitimate authority play pivotal roles in influencing individuals' responses to authority figures.

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