30th July 2015: We Control You; The Psychology of Obedience and Authority By Prof Ray Miller

Stanley Milgrams experiment

Come along to The Counting House at 7pm to listen to Ray, share a crust of bread, and learn about control…


Title of talk:

“We control you: the Psychology of obedience and authority”
No. 6 in the series “What has Psychology ever done for us?”

Bullet points of what you would like to talk about:

  • Are we really in control of ourselves?
  • Are our decisions individual or the result of group norms and pressures?
  • Can we easily be convinced to behave in ways we might normally find unacceptable?
  • Is there a ‘demon’ inside us that has to be controlled by Society and Civilisation?
  • How influenced are we by conformity, obedience and authority?


A few paragraphs on your subject:

From the 1950s there have been a series of experiments in Psychology that are claimed to demonstrate a potentially disturbing side to human nature. They are seen as suggesting that we are less in control of our own attitudes, opinions and behaviours than we like to think. They are quoted widely as showing that we are actually open to manipulation in a number of ways against our better judgement.
The three experiments most widely quoted have become a kind off folklore and many people outside psychology will have heard of them. They have been used to explain various negative behaviours from ‘just obeying orders’ in the Holocaust horrors to the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse by servicemen in Iraq.

They are:

Solomon Asch’s conformity experiments (1950s) – group pressure to agree
Stanley Milgram’s electric shock experiments (1961) – turn up the shock level
Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison experiment (1971) – guards v prisoners
Recently, however, the interpretation of these experiments has been strongly criticised. Significant questions have been asked as to whether they really show the results that have been claimed. Most recently a re-run of the Zimbardo experiment by BBC television led to a rather different outcome.

What can we REALLY learn from Psychology about the extent to which we are controlled or in control?


A few paragraphs about you:

I have been a psychologist for nearly 40 years. Most of that time has been spent as a professional in the field of healthcare (now retired) but much of the psychology that I used, and continue to use, is based on understanding some essential concepts that I acquired during my undergraduate years.
Psychology is more than just an academic topic or applied science, although it is certainly both of these. Psychology is a fundamental aspect of our daily lives, our interactions with others and with our environment. In that sense, we all have to be psychologists and, even without aiming to become experts, we can all benefit from a better understanding of some of its principles.
Don’t expect an in depth study of the topic. This will be a somewhat idiosyncratic taster to whet your appetite rather than to educate you. However, you will probably find at least some ideas that set you thinking and which may start you along the path of self-generated learning.

What free internet knowledge resources would you recommend to others if they wish to explore your chosen theme further?

Textbook coverage of this classic social psychology study has become increasingly biased: http://digest.bps.org.uk/2015/03/textbook-coverage-of-this-classic.html
The six forms of resistance shown by participants in Milgram’s notorious “obedience studies”: http://digest.bps.org.uk/2015/02/the-six-forms-of-resistance-shown-by.html
What the textbooks don’t tell you – one of psychology’s most famous experiments was seriously flawed: http://digest.bps.org.uk/2014/07/what-textbooks-dont-tell-you-one-of.html
The BBC Prison Study explores the social and psychological consequences of putting people in groups of unequal power. It examines when people accept inequality and when they challenge it: http://www.bbcprisonstudy.org/


What are your weblinks?

Twitter – @RayMillerUK
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/RayMilleruk/
Public Email – [email protected]
Any others…. LinkedIn: http://uk.linkedin.com/in/RayMillerPsychol

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