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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
LEBLANC, A. M. (2001). The Effect of Auhtority Status on Compliance. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 4. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved September 25, 2023 .

The Effect of Auhtority Status on Compliance

Sponsored by: MUKUL BHALLA (bhalla@loyno.edu)
The purpose of this research was to determine the affect of requester status on compliance. Twenty-nine female college students, 18 to 21 years old, were recruited to participate by convenience sampling. The independent variable was requester status, having the authority requester present during the experiment, or having the non-authority requester present. The dependent variable was compliance defined as agreeing to deliver an envelope or non-compliance, disagreeing to deliver an envelope. We hypothesized that the participants would agree to deliver the envelope when the authority requester was present and not when the non-authority requester was present. No statistical significance was found between requester status and compliance, but all participants complied with easy tasks, and 57.1% complied with difficult tasks.

The Affect of Requester Status on Compliance In the past horrific disasters such as the holocaust, the mass suicide of the Jim Jones cult in Guyana, and the catastrophe at Waco, were all mindless acts of obedience to authority. People have thought that only the pathetic, low self-esteemed person could be manipulated into carrying out such destructive orders. Past research on obedience to authority has shown that ordinary, decent people are subject to obeying the command of an authority figure (Presley, 1994). Milgram conducted a study of obedience to authority in 1963. He wanted to find out what made people, such as the Nazi party of Germany during the holocaust carry out such destructive acts of killing. In his study, Milgram took 40 male participants and instructed them to shock a “learner” whenever they would answer a question asked to them wrongly. Milgram explained to the men that every time the learner would answer the question wrongly, they were to shock the learner and they were to increase the shock voltage after every wrong answer that was given (Milgram, 1963). What the men did not know was that they had never actually shocked the learner (Compliance, 1995). The learner, who was in on the experiment, had instead pretended to have received the shocks by pounding on the wall of the experiment room and finally he would not be heard from at all, indicating that he was so severely hurt he could not even speak. Before the study began, Milgram had the participants predict how far other participants and themselves would shock individuals on command. Milgram found that all 40 participants went beyond their predicted 300 volts, and that 65% of the participants administered the extreme 450 volts (Compliance, 1995). Milgram’s obedience experiments remain today to be the most talked about studies in the history of psychology (Blass, 2000; Miller, 1995). In support of Milgram’s results another study by Hofling, Brotzman, Dalrymple, Graves, and Pierce was conducted in 1966, also to study obedience to authority. They looked at nurses’ compliance to a physician’s order. In this study, 22 nurses were telephoned by an unfamiliar physician and were ordered to administer an excessive dosage of an unknown medication to a patient. Their results show that 21 out of the 22 nurses had filled the medication and were going to administer the medication to the patient, but were stopped by the experimenter before giving the patient the medication. (Krackow & Blass, 1995). Therefore, we conclude that almost all of these nurses followed through with the order even though they felt it was a harmful medication to dispense. Similar to the study described above was one done in 1995 by Krackow and Blass. Instead of having nurses’ physical carry out an order, these nurses were just asked about their behavior toward physicians’ orders. The study selected 500 licensed registered nurses from the state of Maryland. All the nurses had received a questionnaire to complete, asking about their behavior. Two versions of the questionnaire were sent out. One version asked that the nurse “recall the most recent time you carried out a physician’s order which you felt could have had harmful consequences to the patient…” The other version asked that the nurse recall when they refused to carry out a certain order. The results showed when the nurses returned the questionnaire, that 37 nurses refused to carry out what they thought to be an inappropriate order, 31 nurses that carried out an inappropriate order, and the remaining 48 nurses never received an inappropriate order by a physician (Krackow & Blass, 1995). Here too many of the nurses followed through with the order knowing it was inappropriate. Research in the past that studied obedience to authority conducted the studies either on children or on adults; this study was conducted to conclude a contemporary finding on compliance to requester status in college students. We attempted to find the way college students respond to requester status, the two variables studied were the independentvariable, an authority figure or a non-authority figure present and the dependent variable compliance or non-compliance. If an authority figure is present to ask the task, easy or difficult, then the participant will comply with the authority and deliver the envelope to the particular place on campus. If a non-authority figure is present to ask the task, easy or difficult, then the participant will not comply with the authority and not deliver the envelope to the particular place on campus.MethodParticipants There were a total of 29 female participants, all undergraduate psychology students from Loyola University of New Orleans in Louisiana, between the ages of 18 and 21. The participants were recruited as available samples by convenience sampling. The participants were not paid to participate in the study but instead were given extra credit by their psychology professors. All of the treatments of the participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the APA.Materials A sign up sheet was posted to recruit the students. The study took place in an empty office at Loyola University. Each participant received a consent form and a demographic questionnaire along with a personality survey, based on John’s, “The ‘Big Five’ Factor Taxonomy: Dimensions of Personality in the Natural Language and in Questionnaires.” This was used as a filler to establish the researcher’s status as an authority figure, along with a white lab coat. At the end of the study, each participant was given an envelope to deliver. There were two types of envelops, one envelope had psychology office written on it and the other had rec plex written on it. The envelope addressed to the psychology office was defined as the easy task being asked because it was close to the experiment room and convenient for the participant to deliver. The envelope addressed to the rec plex was defined as the difficult task being asked because it was neither close nor convenient for the participant to deliver.Design & ProcedureThe design of the study was a 2 x 2 between subjects design with task type (easy, difficult) and authority (present, absent) as the two independent variables. Active manipulation occurred and each participant was tested under only one condition. The first variable that was studied was the independent variable, having an authority figure present to administer the questionnaire and survey dressed in a white lab coat, professional looking, or having a non-authority figure present to administer the questionnaire and survey dressed in jeans and a shirt, causal looking. The dependent variable was compliance, defined as agreeing to deliver the envelope or non-compliance, disagreeing to deliver the envelope. The participants were told to allow 30 minutes to complete the study, controlling any excuse they could have given not to deliver the envelope.The personalities and dialog of the researchers was counterbalanced as to allow no differences between the attitudes toward the participants. Both the status of the authority figure and the status of the stranger were carried out in the same persona, manner, and dress code by both researchers. Each participant met with one of the researchers in a distant room and was walked over to the experiment room (empty office). They were seated at a table and asked to read the informed consent form that was already placed on the table for them, each participant was given a copy of the consent form to keep for their records. When consent was verbally given, both the demographic questionnaire and the personality survey were administered to the participant to complete. Such questions were asked on the demographic questionnaire, the participants age, sex, major and year in college. Such questions were asked on the personality survey, how quiet or talkative they were, how tense or calm they were, how enthusiastic or depressed they were, etc., and the same questions were asked of their best friend. As mentioned before, the personality survey was used as a filler as to give the researcher enough time to establish authority status over the participant when the authority figure was portrayed. After the participant completed the questionnaire and survey, they were thanked for their participation in the study and were directed out of the experiment room. Upon leaving the room each participant was asked to deliver an envelope somewhere on campus. Half of the participants were asked by the researcher portraying the authority figure and the other half were asked by the researcher portraying the non-authority figure. The researchers were not seen together at all during the study, so the participant saw no connection between the authority figure and the stranger. Whether or not the participant was asked by the authority figure or by the non-authority figure, half of the participants were asked to complete the easy task (psychology office), and the other half were asked to complete the difficult task (rec plex). Compliance was measured by the response given by the participant. When the participant agreed to deliver the envelope compliance was reached, when the participant did not agree to deliver the envelope compliance was not reached.Debriefing was held directly following the participants’ response to the task asked. The participants did not actually deliver the envelopes, although they were asked as if they were to deliver them, but as soon as the participant either agreed or disagreed to deliver the envelope they were debriefed. Since the participants were deceived they were told what was really being studied and that if they had troubles with the way they responded to the researchers, they could contact the counseling center at the university. The participants were again thanked for their participation in the study.Results The study consisted of 29 female college students with a mean age of 19.2 (SD=1.01). The year of the participants were as follows; eight freshman (26.7%), nine sophomores (30.0%), eight juniors (26.7%), and four seniors (13.3%). The Pearson chi-square test was used to analyze a relationship between compliance and authority type, but the results showed no statistical significance, x2 (1, N= 29) = .933, p = .334). The Fisher’s exact test was used to analyze the relationship between the affect of task difficulty and compliance, ignoring requester status. The task difficulty collapsed across requester status, p< .006. Significant findings were that everyone complied with the easy tasks but only 57.1% complied with the difficult tasks (p< .006).Discussion The purpose of this study was to find a relationship between authority status and compliance. In our sample of 29 female college students, no relationship was found to support our hypothesis; instead there was a relationship between compliance and the tasks. All of the participants complied with the easy tasks and only 57.1% complied with the difficult tasks. These results are not consistent with other research done on compliance to authority in the past. Past research on compliance to authority has found significant conclusions to support their hypotheses; they have found that some people comply with authority. Milgram found in his study that all 40 of his participants complied with authority. Hofling’s study (1966) looked at nurse’s compliance to a physician’s order and again 21 out of the 22 nurse’s complied to the physician’s order. This study on the other hand does not support the past research. The shortcomings of the study affected the results that were found. Initially both males and females were recruited, but not enough males were recruited to balance with the females, so their data were thrown out and not used. Only females were studied and this is a definite limitation. Also this study was conducted at a religious institution, instead of a community or state institution. Being that all the participants attended this religious institution, it is possible that they were nicer and more so willing to deliver a letter for the researchers than other participants would possibly have, if the study were conducted at another institution. Practical reasons to have studied this topic are to possibly prevent the destructive behaviors presented in the introduction, such as the Nazi party, the Jim Jones cult and the cult group from Waco Texas. If further studies were research compliance to authority maybe we will then be able to conclude why and when people comply with authority. That would maybe drastically reduce the cults and radical groups that are in our country and all over the world today. In the future to effectively conclude that authority status can affect compliance, both males and females should be studied, at all ages and from different ethnic backgrounds. Also to have a counterbalance of personalities in the future, participants should be recruited from many different institutions and not from just a single institution. Hopefully future research can then be able to conclude findings like Milgram (1963), that authority status does affect compliance and research could then conclude something not known today.

Submitted 12/16/2001 9:25:48 PM
Last Edited 1/3/2002 12:41:21 PM
Converted to New Site 03/09/2009

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