Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Situational Influence

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
Situational Influence

Situational influence is the name given to the impact of environmental factors on obedience. Many social psychologists believe that our behaviour (specifically obedience levels) is determined by situational influences rather than dispositional influences.

Obedience is a type of social influence when people follow an explicit command given by a legitimate authority.

A key motive behind exploring the impact of situational influence is to see the extent of external and environmental factors, such as social context, pressure and authority figures, and how those factors affect the rate at which individuals obey.

This could explain why so many people, often in certain social contexts, follow orders even if it means causing harm to others. After all, many thousands of German soldiers readily followed orders to harm and kill people during the Holocaust. In Milgram's shock experiment (1964), 65 percent of participants administered high-voltage shocks to people when ordered to do so.

Why did Nazi soldiers and Milgram’s participants follow such orders? Was it because of the social contexts they were in?

Many studies have been conducted to see whether environmental factors affect obedience levels. These studies include variation studies of Milgram’s original shock experiment and cross-cultural studies that measure whether Milgram’s findings are applicable universally.

Variation studies into situational influences in psychology

Since Milgram’s original shock experiment (1964), variations of his study were carried out where researchers manipulated independent variables to measure situational influence on obedience.

The independent variables were situational (environmental) changes. These were:

  • The proximity of the authority figure.

  • Uniform of the authority figure.

  • The proximity of the learner.

  • Presence of other participants.

  • Location of the study.

Proximity of the authority figure

Original study (1964):

  • The authority figure was in the same room as the participant.

  • Obedience levels were high. 65 percent of participants administered high voltage shocks.

Variation study:

  • The authority figure was not in close proximity to the participant as they were in different rooms. The authority figure gave instructions to the participant over the phone.

  • Obedience levels decreased to 20.5 percent.

  • Individuals are therefore more likely to obey an authority figure if the figure is in close proximity, as it is more difficult to resist orders.

Uniform of the authority figure

Original study (1964):

  • The authority figure wore a white laboratory coat.

Variation study:

  • The authority figure wore everyday clothes.

  • Obedience levels decreased to 20 percent.

  • Individuals are therefore more likely to obey authority figures with official uniforms or clothing, as it gives them status.

Situational Influence [+] Example [+] StudySmarterA uniform is an example of a situational influence. Are you more likely to follow orders from someone wearing a uniform over everyday clothes? unsplash

The proximity of the learner (person receiving the shocks) to the participant

The original study (1964):

  • The learner was in a separate room from the participant. Participants could not see the learner in pain but could hear them.

Variation study:

  • The learner and the participant were placed in the same room when the shocks were administered.

  • Obedience levels decreased to 40 percent.

  • Result: Individuals are more likely to obey if they cannot see the result of their actions, namely the learner showing signs of pain or discomfort.

Proximity from the learner to the participant: second variation

The original study (1964):

  • The learner was in a separate room from the participant.

Variation study:

  • The participant was forced to put the learner’s hand directly onto the shock plate.

  • Obedience levels decreased to 30 percent.

  • Result: Individuals are less likely to obey if they are in close proximity to the person they are harming, and if they have physical, direct involvement in the harm.

Presence of other participants

The original study (1964):

  • Only one participant administered the shocks.

Variation study:

  • Two confederates (individuals who knew about the experiment but were pretending to be participants) were present with the genuine participant. They refused to administer shocks higher than 150V.

  • Obedience levels decreased to 10 percent.

  • Result: Individuals are less likely to obey if they are in the presence of someone who is expressly disobedient.

Location of the study

The original study (1964):

  • The study was held on the campus of the prestigious and well-known Yale University in the United States.

Variation study:

  • The study was conducted in a city office building that was not in good condition.

  • Obedience levels decreased to 47.5 percent.

  • Result: Individuals are more likely to obey if the location has high status or credibility.

The variation studies showed that obedience levels can vary depending on situational influences. It was concluded that the proximity of the authority figure and the presence of other disobedient individuals had the highest impact on obedience.

Situational Influence [+] Credible location obedience [+] StudySmarterA credible location can make us see authority figures as more trustworthy, leading to higher obedience levels. pixabay

Bickman (1974) study of the situational influence on obedience levels

Bickman tested the impact of clothing and uniform through a field experiment in New York City. Members of the general public were given instructions to either pick up a bag, give someone money, or stand to the side of a bus stop where doing so was prohibited. These instructions were given by three men. Their dress and resultant obedience rates are stated below.

  • Security guard: 76 % obedience rate.

  • Milkman: 47 & obedience rate.

  • Ordinary pedestrian: 30 % obedience rate.

This suggests that uniform and clothing impact how likely someone is to obey. This finding supports Milgram’s variation study that tested the uniform of the authority figure.

Cross-cultural variations as situational influences

For years after Milgram’s shock experiment, research was carried out into cultural variations as situational influences. This means that cross-cultural studies were carried out to test whether the results of Milgram’s experiment varied across different cultures. As infamous as the results of Milgram’s shock experiment were, the experiment was only carried out on American men. American culture is significantly different from other cultures due to varying perspectives on obedience, respect for authority and individualism.

Psychologist Thomas Blass identified replications of Milgram’s experiment in several countries outside of North America. Not all replications of Milgram’s experiment had the same experimental conditions. For example, in the Jordanian experiment, participants were matched by sex. There was also a control group that gave participants the choice to administer electric shocks. In the Dutch experiment, participants were instructed to insult another individual rather than give them electric shocks.

Below are the results of the cross-cultural replications.

CountryStudyParticipantsObedience percentage
ItalyAncona and Pareyson (1968)Students85
AustraliaKilham and Mann (1974)Male and female students

40 (male)

16 (female)

UKBurley and McGuiness (1977)Male students50
JordanShanah and Yahya (1978)Students62
SpainMiranda et al (1981)Students90+
AustriaApron (1985)General population80
NetherlandsMeeus and Raaijmakers (1986)General population92
GermanyMantell (1971)Male general population85
IndiaGupta (1983)Students42.5
South AfricaEdwards et al (1969)Unknown87.5

The results of the replications show that obedience can vary across cultures, suggesting that cultural variations can act as situational influences on obedience.

Evaluation of situational influence as an explanation for obedience

The explanation of situational influence and the various studies have been subjected to considerable feedback.

Positives

  • Milgram’s original experiment has a lot of research support, therefore increasing the validity of his findings.

  • Situational influences appear to be good explanations for obedience as high levels of obedience were found cross-culturally. This suggests that environmental factors can highly affect how likely we are to obey orders.

  • Milgram’s variation studies show how seemingly ‘small’ adjustments to the environment can affect our obedience, eg clothing.

Negatives

  • In Milgram’s original experiment, 35 percent of the participants did not obey. This suggests situational influences may not fully explain obedience.

  • Milgram’s study, the variation studies and cross-cultural studies do not take into account dispositional (personality) influences that may affect obedience. This may be especially relevant for studies that showed low obedience levels, as found in Australian female students. Adorno (1950) studied how personality can affect obedience.

  • Milgram’s study and the variation studies lack ecological validity as they were conducted in artificial settings.

  • The majority of the cross-cultural studies were still conducted in Western settings, so the findings may not truly be cross-cultural.

Situational Influence - Key takeaways

  • Situational influence is the name given to the impact of environmental factors on obedience.
  • Many studies have been conducted to see whether environmental factors affect obedience levels. These studies include variation studies of Milgram’s original shock experiment, and also cross-cultural studies that measure whether Milgram’s findings are universally applicable.
  • The independent variables were proximity of the authority figure, uniform of the authority figure, proximity of the learner, presence of other participants, and location of the study.
  • It was concluded that the proximity of the authority figure and the presence of disobedient individuals had the highest impact on obedience. A study by Bickman (1974) supports the situational influence of clothing on obedience levels.
  • Thomas Blass identified replications of Milgram’s experiment in several countries outside of North America. The results of the replications show that obedience can vary across cultures, suggesting that cultural variations can act as situational influences on obedience.
  • A strength of the variation studies is that they show the impact of seemingly minor environmental changes on obedience levels.
  • A weakness of the variation studies is that they do not take into account dispositional influences that may affect obedience.

Frequently Asked Questions about Situational Influence

The variation studies on Milgram's original obedience experiment found that factors such as proximity of the authority figure, proximity of the learner, uniform of the authority figure, location of the study, and presence of other disobedient participants contributed to situational influence.

Situational influences in psychology, specifically in social psychology, are the impact of environmental factors on behavior.

Examples of situational factors in obedience studies include the proximity of the authority figure, the uniform of the authority figure, location of the study and presence of other disobedient participants.

Final Situational Influence Quiz

Question

What is situational influence as an explanation for obedience?

Show answer

Answer

Situational influence is the name given to the impact of environmental factors on obedience.

Show question

Question

Why did researchers carry out variations of Milgram's original shock experiment?

Show answer

Answer

Variations of Milgram's shock experiment were carried out to test the impact of situational influences on obedience levels.

Show question

Question

What were the independent variables in the variation studies?


Show answer

Answer

The independent variables were the proximity of the authority figure, the uniform of the authority figure, the proximity of the learner, the presence of other participants, and the location of the study.

Show question

Question

Obedience levels increased when the authority figure was not in close proximity to the participant. Is this true or false?


Show answer

Answer

This is false. Obedience levels in the variation study decreased to 20.5 percent when the authority figure was not in close proximity to the participant (instructions were given to the participant over the phone).

Show question

Question

What was the effect of the authority figure wearing everyday clothes in a variation study?


Show answer

Answer

Obedience levels decreased to 20 percent when the authority figure wore everyday clothes instead of a white laboratory coat.

Show question

Question

It was found that individuals are more likely to obey if they cannot see the results of their actions. Is this true or false?


Show answer

Answer

This is true. In a variation study, it was found that obedience levels decreased to 40 percent when the participant was in the same room as the learner (the person receiving the electric shocks). The participant could thus see the pain or discomfort experienced by the learner.

Show question

Question

What happened when the participants were forced to put the learner's (person receiving the shocks) hand directly onto the shock plate?


Show answer

Answer

Obedience levels decreased to 30 percent.

Show question

Question

Describe the conditions and findings of the variation study that involved more than one participant administering shocks.


Show answer

Answer

In this variation study, two confederates (individuals who knew about the experiment, but pretended to be 'ordinary' participants) were present with the genuine participant. The confederates, when given orders to administer the shocks, refused to administer any higher than 150V. It was found that obedience levels then decreased to 10 percent, suggesting that individuals are less likely to obey if they are in the presence of someone who is expressly disobedient.

Show question

Question

Why did the location of the study matter?


Show answer

Answer

It was found that individuals were more likely to obey if the location the study was conducted in had high status or credibility. This was tested in a variation study that found lower levels of obedience in an office building that was not in a good condition.

Show question

Question

Which of the following situational influences affected obedience levels the most in the variation studies?

  • Location of the study 
  • Proximity of the authority figure
  • Presence of other participants
  • Proximity of the learner
  • Uniform of the authority figure


Show answer

Answer

The proximity of the authority figure, and the presence of other participants affected obedience levels the most.

Show question

Question

Which study supported the situational influence of clothing and uniform on obedience levels?


Show answer

Answer

Bickman (1974).

Show question

Question

Why were cross-cultural studies on obedience carried out?


Show answer

Answer

Cross-cultural studies on obedience were carried out to test whether the results of Milgram's experiment varied across different cultures. These were called replications of Milgram's experiment.

Show question

Question

Name the countries in which Milgram's experiment was replicated.


Show answer

Answer

Italy, Australia, UK, Jordan, Spain, Austria, Netherlands, Germany, India, and South Africa.

Show question

Question

Cite a strength of the variation studies on obedience.


Show answer

Answer

The variation studies show how seemingly 'small' adjustments to the environment can affect our obedience.

Show question

Question

What are the weaknesses of the variation studies on obedience?


Show answer

Answer

One weakness of the variation studies is that they lack ecological validity, as they were conducted in artificial settings. Another weakness is that they do not take into account dispositional influences that may affect obedience.

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Situational Influence quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Just Signed up?

Yes
No, I'll do it now

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.