• Factors affecting obedience and dissent/resistance to obedience, including individual differences (personality and gender), situation and culture.


Authoritarian Personality

The authoritarian personality is a personality type characterised by high levels of obedience to authority, conformity to societal norms, and a strict adherence to rules and regulations. This personality type is believed to be associated with a preference for strong and centralised forms of government, as well as a belief in the superiority of one’s own group and a tendency towards prejudice and discrimination towards out-groups.

According to the theory of the authoritarian personality, individuals with this personality type are highly susceptible to obedience to authority because they have a strong need for structure and security, and they view obedience to authority as a means of achieving this. They also tend to see authority figures as sources of stability and order, and they believe that obedience to authority is necessary for the maintenance of societal order.

Adorno´s F-scale

The F-scale (F stands for fascist) was developed by Adorno and his colleagues in 1950 and is part of the California F-scale, which is a measure of authoritarianism. The F-scale measures an individual’s tendency towards authoritarianism, which is characterised by a strong adherence to conventional values, submission to authority, and aggression towards those who are perceived as deviant or inferior. The F-scale is based on a series of questions that measure the individual’s agreement with statements about conformity, obedience, and traditionalism.

  • The theory has limited empirical support, as studies have not consistently found a strong correlation between authoritarian personality traits and obedience.
  • The theory is culturally specific, as it is based on research primarily with Western populations, and its applicability to other cultures is unclear.
  • The theory oversimplifies the complex social and psychological processes that underlie obedience, ignoring situational and contextual factors that can also play a role.
  • The F-scale has been criticised for its lack of theoretical clarity, as it measures a broad and ill-defined concept of authoritarianism. It also has limited predictive validity, as it does not consistently predict actual behaviour, such as obedience to authority.

Locus of Control

Locus of control refers to an individual’s belief about the source of control over events in their life. It can be either internal, meaning that the person believes they have control over events in their life, or external, meaning that the person believes that control is determined by outside factors such as fate, luck, or other people.

As an explanation for obedience, locus of control can play a role in shaping a person’s willingness to conform to authority. Individuals with an internal locus of control may be less likely to obey authority figures, as they believe that they have the power to shape events in their own life. In contrast, individuals with an external locus of control may be more likely to obey authority figures, as they believe that control over events is determined by external factors such as the directives of authority figures.

  • Research on the relationship between locus of control and obedience has been inconsistent, with some studies finding a significant relationship and others finding no relationship at all.
  • The concept of locus of control is not always clearly defined, and different measures of the construct may capture different aspects of the concept.
  • Locus of control may be influenced by situational factors, such as the perceived legitimacy of authority or the perceived consequences of obedience or non-obedience, which can undermine its explanatory power.

    The research by Oliner & Oliner (1998) provides some support for the idea that locus of control can play a role in shaping obedience. In their study, the authors examined the behavior of “righteous rescuers” during the Holocaust, individuals who saved Jews from persecution and death despite personal risk. The study found that individuals who rescued Jews were more likely to have an internal locus of control, as measured by the Rotter Internal-External Locus of Control Scale. This study provides some evidence that individuals with an internal locus of control may be less likely to obey authority figures and more likely to act in accordance with their own values and beliefs, even in the face of opposition from authority figures. However, this study should be considered in light of its limitations, including the fact that it is a study of a unique historical event and may not generalise to other contexts.


Research has shown that gender can play a role in shaping obedience. Although there is some variability across studies, the evidence suggests that women may be more likely to obey authority figures than men.

One explanation for this difference is that women may be socialized from an early age to be more compliant and obedient than men. Additionally, women may face greater consequences for non-compliance, such as being labeled as “difficult” or “uncooperative”, which can limit their ability to challenge authority.

Milgram’s research found that there was no significant difference in obedience rates between men and women. Both men and women were equally likely to obey the experimenter’s instructions and administer shocks to the “learner”. However, his research has recently been criticised because an analysis of his archival data showed that women in the experiment were given ´prods´ much more than men, in one case up to 19 prods to continue. This is at odds with Milgram´s reported four standardised prods and calls into question the validity of his research.


Research on gender and obedience has been conflicting. Some research has found that women may be more likely to obey authority figures than men. However, other research has found no significant differences between men and women in terms of obedience to authority.

It is important to note that the validity of research into gender and obedience is limited by several factors. For example, many studies have used small and non-representative sample sizes, which can limit the generalisability of their findings. Additionally, research into obedience often relies on laboratory experiments, which may not accurately reflect obedience in real-world situations.

Other factors, such as the perceived legitimacy of authority, the nature of the task, and situational factors, can also play a role in shaping obedience.


Research on culture and obedience has shown that cultural factors can play a role in shaping obedience to authority. For example, studies have found that people from collectivist cultures, where a strong emphasis is placed on group harmony and obedience to authority, may be more likely to obey authority figures than those from individualistic cultures, where the emphasis is on individual autonomy and self-expression.

Additionally, research has shown that people from cultures with strong power distance, which refers to the extent to which less powerful members of a society accept and expect unequal power distribution, may be more likely to obey authority figures than those from cultures with low power distance.

  • Many studies have limited sample sizes and demographic diversity, which can limit the generalizability of the findings to all cultures.
  • Additionally, many studies use limited measures of obedience and cultural variables, which can limit their ability to accurately capture the complex relationship between culture and obedience.
  • Furthermore, the relationship between culture and obedience is complex and shaped by many factors, including individual differences and situational factors. Cultural factors can interact with other factors, such as personal characteristics and situational variables, to shape obedience to authority

Kilham & Mann´s (1974) study is a cross-cultural study that investigated obedience to authority in different cultures. The study compared obedience rates among participants from the United States, Mexico, and India and found some differences in obedience rates based on cultural factors. The study found that participants from Mexico and India, which are collectivist cultures, showed higher levels of obedience to authority than participants from the United States, which is an individualistic culture.

Shanab & Yahya´s (1978) study was a cross-cultural investigation into the relationship between obedience and culture. The study compared obedience rates among participants from four different cultures: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia. The study found that participants from the collectivist cultures of Egypt and Jordan showed higher levels of obedience to authority than participants from the individualistic cultures of Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.


Situational factors refer to the specific circumstances or conditions present in a situation that can influence an individual’s behaviour and obedience to authority. Several situational factors have been identified as contributing to obedience to authority, including:

Proximity: Obedience has been shown to increase when the authority figure is physically distant from the victim, making it easier for the person to obey without feeling the direct effects of their actions. In Milgram´s variation studies, when the distance between the participant and the authority figure (the experimenter) increased, obedience levels decreased. When the participant and experimenter were in the same room, obedience was high, but as the distance between them increased (e.g., communicating over a telephone), obedience levels dropped.


Uniforms can affect obedience by creating an impression of authority and legitimacy, making individuals more likely to comply with requests from those wearing a uniform. Bickman’s study provides support for this idea by demonstrating that individuals are more likely to obey requests made by individuals wearing a uniform compared to those not wearing one. In Bickman’s (1974) study, researchers approached individuals in a public place and asked them to perform a task (e.g. complete a survey, help pick up papers). Some of the researchers wore a uniform, while others did not. The results showed that individuals were more likely to comply with requests from individuals wearing a uniform compared to those not wearing one.

Past Paper Questions

2 Markers
  • Jakob replicated his study but he gave instructions by telephone to nurses. In this variation only four out of 30 nurses followed the instructions. Explain one reason why only four nurses obeyed the doctor’s instructions in this variation. (2) January 2017
  • Explain one individual difference that could affect whether someone is obedient. (2) October 2017
  • Describe whether personality can affect obedience. (2) October 2020
  • Describe whether gender can affect obedience. (2) October 2020
8 Marker
  • Discuss how obedience factors could explain why Riya has been successful at work. (8) January 2019