The Positive And Negative Effects of Social Obedience

 The Positive And Negative Effects of Social Obedience

In society, obedience is a must when circumstances require but can also lead to dire consequences. The need for obedience in society is simple, it allows it to function effectively by applying predetermined rules, an example can be given of a teacher in a school or a police officer directing traffic. In these two given circumstances it is easy to show the vital role obedience plays and so this is a positive effect for the use/enforcement of obedience. Obedience by nature however occurs by when one individual or a group of individuals behave in an instructed way by another, this command or instruction however can be malevolent. From numerous studies it has been found that the individuals most likely to be obedient have a personality that is more centred on authoritarian beliefs and behaviours. These individuals feel more of a need for order and authority in society to feel safe, in other words people with this personality state believe obedience and authority helps them to manage their worries over an unpredictable and possibly threatening event, it satisfies a psychological need. Motivated Social Cognition is the term coined by this method of seeing social interactions as a way of fulfilling an emotional need. This idea of a person holding an authoritarian trait however has some implications, for example in peoples beliefs and ideology. Research by Jost,Nosek&Gosling (2008), stated in part: “We argue that ideological differences between right and left may emerge, at least in part, for psychological reasons.” There study into peoples preferences for conservative and liberal ideologies and politics showed that “implicit preferences accounted for significant variance in political orientation even after partialing the variance in political orientation accounted for by explicit, self-reported preferences.” There are however limitations for this experiment, for instance how would one define liberal or conservative characteristics? One might be tempted to say an ordinary person given an instruction to cause ill harm and discomfort to another cannot commonly occur and must require great pressure upon the individual for an action or behaviour to come about, this however is not always the case. In the experiment shown by Milgram (1963) for instance, it is easy to see how given the certain situation a person can o unthinkable things. This links into obedience as a reason for why participants in this study were so obedient is because they feel they have a lack of responsibility for their actions instructed by the researcher. Social referencing also played a role in determining actions as the experimenters casually stated to continue the experiment, this had the effect of giving the participant a social reference of people who they felt either had authority or had superior knowledge of the safety of the “learner.” This also ties in with my previous blog on conformity whereby social referencing is a way in which people determine there own actions and behaviours to be acceptable or correct. Dehumanization is also a factor at play here, this occurs where people are considered “outside the boundary in which moral values, rules, and considerations of fairness apply” (Opotow, 1990, p. 1). An example can be seen in World War 2 posters depicting the enemy as a sort of monster ready to slaughter civilians gives motivation to want to destroy the enemy and helps reduce feelings of guilt in doing so. This is another method through which obedience is enacted in the behaviour of a person and I see as a negative side of obedience in behaviour. This is not to say however obedience as a whole is negative or positive, as this blog is not to argue one or another but to look at the positive and negative aspects only.

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One response to “The Positive And Negative Effects of Social Obedience

  1. It may be worth considering that obedience may be an evolutionary device in order to survive. For example if in a tribe a member will not obey the tribe leader, it is likely that that person would suffer for this. In this case pressure to conform would also lower the chances that the most authoritative person would have to compete for control, which may have been essential in situations of war and conflict, or hunting. Therefore conformity would benefit the group as a whole. This may even be loosely applied to the examples of school children and traffic conductors- in a school environment it may be beneficial for the whole class for each child individually to obey the teacher, in order to aid the smooth running of classes, and the ability of the teacher to focus maximum attention on teaching. In the case of a traffic conductor, drivers know that if they do not follow the orders given to them, they are greatly increasing the risk of having an accident. If it is possible that conformity has evolutionary roots, there have clearly been benefits in terms of survival, that, although most likely not aiding survival, still have positive outcomes today.

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