According to the experiments and studies conducted by Milgram, Zimbardo and Asch, there are a number of key variables that increase and decrease obedience in any societal setting. The first key variable is power or the existence of prestige. In Milgram’s electric shock experiment, a number of volunteers were selected who were all known to have strong ethical and morale values and would never want to harm someone else (Milgram, 1963). Once these individuals were provided with some sense and source of power and prestige in a more formal setting, they became more obedient and compliant with directions from the particular scientist and also more willing to inflict pain on others in order to remain more compliant and obedient overall. This is further demonstrated in Zimbardo’s prison experiment where people become more compliant (college students in this case) when there is a leader who is strong and evokes a sense of prestige and superiority. People will become more obedient if someone else instructing them is strong and powerful (Milgram, 1963).
The second variable that influences the obedience of humans is structure. In more structured settings where people are explicitly told what to do and have a complete overview of the situation, they are willing to become more obedient to achieve a set task or goal. All of the situations established by the stipulated three scientists were very structured and each individual was provided with a clear set of instructions, which didn’t necessarily allow them to think to themselves or use any initiative at all (Hanley, Banks & Zimbardo, 1973). It can further be argued that lack of power or authority by selected individuals and more power or authority given to their leader or manager makes them more obedient also. In contrast, without this overlying structure, levels of obedience quickly decrease and this becomes the fundamental component of military training. People will become more obedient with structure, power and authority from above.

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Other key variables that influence obedience include societal status, family and relationships. Depending on the status of the society that someone lives in, they can become more obedient or less obedient to specific orders and this can also be the case in situations where families have become dysfunctional and children have grown up without goals or any suitable level of supervision (Hanley, Banks & Zimbardo, 1973). The people selected for each of the stipulated studies have been obedient in the past and grown up in families with a strong morale compass and foundation overall. As a result, they are more likely to be obedient. In contrast, Milgram’s experiment can be used to argue that lower levels of obedience can be achieved if moral people are forced into a situation where they have to abide by rules that may not be so ethical in the first place (Asch, 1958).

If I was a researcher interested in exploring the variables of obedience as stipulated earlier in this paper, I would address such ethical considerations as the background and families of participants or certain individuals involved in similar studies. I firmly believe that family backgrounds and respective childhoods have a large influence on whether someone is obedient in adulthood. I would also consider the societal status of where the participants or people in general are living. Often, people can start following certain ideals because they are the norm in whatever city they are currently residing in (Milgram, 1963).

The stipulated variables impact social welfare and also lead to restrict social change by placing barriers on the behavior of people in general society. They can often lead people into a false sense of security or allow them to stray away from ethical values that have become engrained in them since childhood or if they have been subjected to a good upbringing. The use of structure and controlled environments can certainly convince, like the Milgram experiment, for ethical people to perform activities, which are compliant but no so ethical overall.

  • Asch, S. (1958). A study of conformity. Solomon Asch conformity experiments, Retrieved from Accessed on 7th April, 2016.
  • Hanley, C, Banks, C, Zimbardo, P. (1973). Interpersonal Dynamics in a Simulated Prison. International Journal of Criminology and Penology, 1, 69-97, Article, Accessed on 7th April, 2016.
  • Milgram, S. (1963). Behavioral Study of Obedience. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67(4), 371-378, Article, Accessed on 7th April, 2016.
  • Milgram, S. (1963). Behavioral Study of Obedience – Video. Accessed on 7th April, 2016.