Discuss the legitimacy of authority and agentic state explanations of obedience. Refer to Freddie’s behaviour in your answer. (16 marks)

It is the end of the school day and Freddie is pushing other students in the bus queue.

“Stop it, will you?” protests one of Freddie’s classmates.

“You can’t tell me what to do!” laughs Freddie.

At that moment, Freddie turns to see the deputy head, wearing a high-visibility jacket, staring angrily at him. Without thinking, Freddie stops pushing the other boys and waits quietly in line.

Discuss the legitimacy of authority and agentic state explanations of obedience. Refer to Freddie’s behaviour in your answer.(16 marks) 


Model Answer 

The legitimacy of authority means people recognising their own and others' positions in a group. This recognition often comes with visible signs like uniforms and is stronger in certain settings or systems. In Freddie's situation, he ignores his classmate's complaint because the friend doesn't have a higher position in the school's social order.

But, when the deputy head, who wears a special jacket, comes in, Freddie changes quickly. This shows how visible signs of authority, like the jacket, can make someone or something more important. The jacket becomes a clear sign of authority in the school system, making Freddie follow rules like standing in line, and it shows how authority legitimacy affects how people act.

On the other hand, the agentic state is when someone acts for a person in charge, feeling less responsible for their actions. At first, Freddie laughs off his friend's complaint, acting on his own. However, when he sees the deputy head, he stops pushing others and waits quietly in line without thinking. This quick change indicates moving from doing what he wants (autonomous state) to following what the authority figure wants (agentic state). It shows that recognised authority can make people act differently, putting aside personal choices and following external directions. Overall, Freddie's situation highlights how authority legitimacy and agentic states affect behaviour, emphasising the importance of social order, visible signs, and external guidance in shaping actions.

Psychological explanations for Freddie's behavior are supported by relevant studies, referred to as supporting studies. These studies are crucial as they provide empirical evidence, contributing to the validity of psychological theories. They help researchers establish causal relationships between variables, enhancing our understanding of complex concepts like authority legitimacy and agentic states.

For exampleMilgram's variations in obedience experiments offer substantial support. The experiments revealed that participants were more likely to obey when the authority figure had visible symbols of legitimacy like the researcher wearing a white lab coat. This controlled experimental data allows for the identification of cause-and-effect relationships in psychological phenomena.

The relevance of Milgram's findings becomes evident when examining Freddie's compliance with the deputy head's authority, signaled by the high-visibility jacket. This connection highlights the impact of visible symbols on obedience and strengthens the argument about the influence of authority legitimacy in real-world scenarios.

While supporting studies such as Milgram's variations in obedience experiments provide valuable insights, there are limitations to their application in understanding the complexity of real-world obedience.

Controlled experimental settings may lack ecological validity, and the artificial nature of these experiments raises questions about their generalizability to everyday situations. The rigid parameters and controlled conditions may not fully capture the multifaceted nature of obedience in the unpredictable and dynamic environments encountered by individuals in their daily lives.

 In Milgram's experiments, the authority figure wore a white lab coat as a visible symbol of legitimacy. However, the artificiality of this scenario, where the authority figure is explicitly distinguished by attire, may not fully mirror the subtleties of authority legitimacy observed in real-world settings. Individuals in everyday life encounter a myriad of authority figures without explicit symbols, making the application of findings from controlled experiments challenging.

This limitation prompts a more cautious interpretation of Milgram's findings in the context of Freddie's compliance with the deputy head's authority signaled by a high-visibility jacket. While visible symbols may impact obedience, the complexity of real-world scenarios necessitates a broader understanding that considers the influence of authority beyond explicit symbols. The controlled nature of experiments, although valuable in establishing causal relationships, may not fully encapsulate the intricacies of authority legitimacy in the diverse contexts individuals navigate daily.


Anna achieved an A* in Psychology in June 2023

We caught up with Anna to ask her some tips for psychology A-Level students all over the country. Here is what she said:

"I would highly recommend being exposed to as many model answers as possible. What I found was the more I kept seeing them, the easier it was for me to write. I also made use of revision books as they condensed so much information into really small chunks. Model essays and revision books are seriously the go-tos."


Ready to boost your psychology revision like Anna did? Check out these essential resources:


AQA A Level Psychology SOCIAL INFLUENCE TOPIC Knowledge Book:

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Complete Companions: AQA Psychology A Level - Year 1 and AS Revision Guide (Fifth Edition for AQA)

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AQA Psychology for A Level Year 1 & AS - Revision Guide

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Don’t miss out on these tools to elevate your understanding and performance. 

Wishing you academic success,

Yum Yum Mama Team


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