Social Approach

Will and Ridge


  • Psychology’s explanation for blind obedience.

  • Milgram’s work has led us to understanding that people are agents of society and will do things despite causing them moral strain.

  • Once people are in an agentic state they neglect the morals they had beforehand as they are agents.

  • It has benefited society by helping us understand blind obedience.

  • Certain events have occurred in the past such as the Abu Ghraib prison incident that can now be explained.

  • They help us understand why people will follow certain instructions in certain situations even though in hindsight they wouldn’t follow through.

Evaluation of Agency Theory

Strengths & Weaknesses

  • The agency theory explains the different levels of obedience found in the variations to the basic study by explaining the relationship between the level of responsibility felt by the participant and the levels of obedience obtained.

  • Helps explains real world issues such as Eichmann in the Holocaust or the My Lai massacre.

  • It doesn’t explain why. All forms of obedience require one to follow orders in an agentic state. Why is Agency Theory any different?

  • There have been different explanations to obedience such as French and Raven’s theory of 5 powers (1959). Referent, Coercive, Reward, Expert and Legitimate.

Evaluation of Methodology

  • All the experiments were lab experiments are controlled so the replicability was high. For example, Milgram’s verbal prods. Moreover, there were no extraneous variables.

  • The studies found similar findings in two countries (USA and the Netherlands) so the findings can be generalisable across cultures.

  • However, there isn’t a big difference between the USA and the Netherlands.

  • Milgram and Meeus and Raaijmakers had the participants doing things they wouldn’t usually be doing (shocking people).

Evaluation of ethics

  • All studies had competent psychologists who allowed for a right to withdraw.

  • All studies included deceiving the participant to avoid demand characteristics such as Hofling.

  • The experiments themselves included putting the participant in an agentic state which is ethically wrong.

  • Experiments like Milgram’s caused distress as participants believed they were actually harming the confederate.