Obedience to authority

compliance-movie-poster-slice1Some of you may be familiar with the MacDonald’s incident of 2005 where a hoax caller masqueraded as a policeman and delivered orders over the phone. Astonishingly he was obeyed despite the extreme nature of his instructions (read about the event here). I recently gave a talk in London including this event in my talk and one of the teachers directed my attention to a new film Compliance, which tells the story of the incident.

In my talk I distinguished between obedience in situations such as the MacDonald’s incident, which can be explained in terms of agentic shift and socialisation to obey orders from an authority figure, and obedience to the directions of the Nazi regime which can’t be explained in this way – Haslam and Reicher re-analysed Milgram’s original data (see here) and concluded that participants were identifying with the science of the experiments, which is why they obeyed, not because they were ‘just following orders’.