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Definitions of abnormality

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302 Terms


Definitions of abnormality

  • Statistical infrequency

  • Deviation from social norms

  • Failure to function adequately

  • Deviation from ideal mental health

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An anxiety disorder marked by a persistent, irrational fear and avoidance of a specific object, activity, or situation that negatively impacts a person's everyday life. .

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Suggested eight criteria to see if someone was mentally healthy;

  • No symptoms or distress

  • Able to think rationally

  • Has the ability to self-actualise

  • Can cope with stress

  • Independent of others

  • Good self-esteem

  • Realistic view of the world

  • Has the ability to work, love and enjoy leisure.

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Types of phobias

specific: Objects, animals, body parts or a situation social: social situations like public speaking Agoraphobia: being outside or in a public space

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Phobia characteristics

Behavioural: Panic, avoidance and endurance Emotional: Anxiety, high arousal Cognitive: Knowing your fear is irrational, unable to look away, can't control obsessive thoughts, distorted view of phobia.

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Behavioural approach to explaining phobias

Mowrer, proposed the two process model to explain phobias as they are learnt behaviour. Phobias are obtained through Classical conditioning by learning to associate the phobias with a feared response e.g. Watson and Rayner's Little Albert and maintained through operate conditioning. Every time a phobia is avoided, anxiety levels drop reinforcing avoidance.

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Behavioural approach to explaining phobias evaluation


  • The two-process model was a definite step forward in explaining the onset of phobias. This lead to the development of treatments like Systematic desensitisation and flooding so it has real life applications.


  • The two-processing model ignores evolutionary explanations of the development if phobias. Bounton argued we have developed phobias over time to survive and adapt we fear the dark because it was dangerous.

  • Cannot explain phobias where no previous encounters happened. it is impossible to classically condition a fear response to a stimulus with no previous encounters.

  • behaviourist explanations may be seen as reductionist as they see the sole explanation of phobias as due to the environment ignoring the role of biology, cognitive thought processes in developing phobias.

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Behavioural approach to treating phobias

Systematic desensitisation and flooding

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Systematic desensitisation

A behavioural therapy based on the principles of classical conditioning. Wolpe based the technique on the premise of what can be learnt can be unlearnt. The basis is counter conditioning where a new association is taught with the patient being taught to relax like with reciprocal inhibition. Patients are taught relaxing techniques, and create a hierarchy of fear with each scenario causing more anxiety. They slowly teach the patient to be calm in each situation so they can master the feared situation.

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systematic desensitisation evaluation


  • Evidence supports the effectiveness of desensitisation helping to reduce phobic anxiety. Bronson and Thorpe used a 10 week long desensitisation program to help technophobes learn more about technology on a learning course. At the end, their anxiety levels were significantly lowered.

  • Patients had some control over therapy which may factor into the effectiveness of treatment.


  • Reduces the phobic behaviour but is not always a cure, it may worsen again after a few months so it is not permanent.

  • Works better on some phobias, social and agoraphobia do not show as much improvement. Suggesting other causes than classical conditioning.

  • System substitute, a common criticism is that when a phobia disappears another appears as the underlying cause is never confronted like psychodynamic psychologists say it must be.

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High drop out rates

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A treatment for phobias in which clients are exposed repeatedly and intensively to a feared object and made to see that it is actually harmless and their fear has no basis. It is not unethical but can be unpleasant and patients must give fully informed consent.

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Extinction of the fear

When there is no longer a conditioned response rather than altering a pre-existing conditioned response.

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Evaluation of flooding


  • Cost effective and is highly effective and quicker than SD with sometimes only one session being required.


  • Doesn't work on all phobias like social phobias as these have cognitive aspects which flooding doesn't acknowledge.

  • Flooding is very traumatic experience and there is high attrition as often many people do not wish to continue.

  • System substitute, a common criticism is that when a phobia disappears another appears as the underlying cause is never confronted like psychodynamic psychologists say it must be.

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A mental disorder characterised by low mood and low energy levels.They're the most common with 1/20 British adults having depression at any one time.

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DSM-5 Categories of depression

  • Major depressive disorder, severe but short-term

  • Premenstrual dysphonic disorder, disruption to mood prior to or during menstruation.

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Depression Characteristics

Behavioural: Activity levels reduced leading to lethargic, disruption to sleep and eating, aggression and self harm.

Emotional: Lowered mood seeing themselves as worthless and empty, lowered self-esteem and anger

Cognitive: Poor memory, poor concentration and dwelling on the negative, delusions.

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The Cognitive approach to explaining depression

-Beck's cognitive theory -Ellis's ABC model

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Beck's Theory of Depression

Depression is caused by negative and irrational thought processes. Some people are more vulnerable to depression than others from the three parts of cognitive vulnerability:

  1. Faulty information processes, focusing on the negative.

  2. Negative self schema,

  3. The Negative triad becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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A package of ideas developed through experiences.

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Negative triad

negative triad- negative beliefs (schema) process in negative ways (cognitive biases) and leads to see the world negatively (depression) Negative views about the world, negative views about the future and negative views about oneself

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Beck's Cognitive Theory evaluation


  • A range of evidence supports the idea that depression is associated with faulty thinking processes. Grazioli and Terry Assessed 65 pregnant women for cognitive vulnerability and depression before and after birth. Cognitively vulnerable women more likely to develop post-natal depression.

  • Beck's theory has practical application including the treatment CBT.


  • Beck's theory doesn't explain all symptoms of depression as some people are very angry and Beck cannot explain this. Therefore it is reductionist.

  • It is difficult to know whether negative thoughts cause depression or depression causes negative thoughts.

  • Beck and Ellis ignore possible explanations of depression, Bowlby would argue they ignore the role of the family and secure attachments.

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Grazioli and Terry

Assessed 65 pregnant women for cognitive vulnerability and depression before and after birth. Cognitively vulnerable women more likely to develop post-natal depression.

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Ellis's ABC model

This model says that an activating event (a negative experience/event) leads to irrational beliefs being formed, such as we must always succeed. There are emotional and behavioral consequences to this process A: Activating event B: Belief C: Consequence

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Ellis's ABC model evaluation


  • Ellis's theory led to practical applications, including CBT where therapists challenge the negative beliefs and hope to reduce depression in the patient.

Weaknesses: -Doesn't explain all symptoms of depression as some people are very angry and Beck cannot explain this. Therefore it is reductionist.

  • Ellis's model blames the patient rather than situational factors. These therefore may be overlooked liked family dysfunction.

  • Beck and Ellis ignore possible explanations of depression, Bowlby would argue they ignore the role of the family and secure attachments.

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The Cognitive approach to treating depression

  • Beck's cognitive therapy

  • Ellis's rational emotive behavioural therapy (REBT)

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Beck's Cognitive Therapy

Therapy works to challenge the negative triad, patient test the reality of their negative thoughts, with homework being set to record when they enjoyed events this means therapists can provide evidence that their negative thoughts are wrong.

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Ellis's Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy

A- Activating event B- Belief C- The emotional consequences D- Disputations to challenge irrational beliefs through therapist E- Effective new belief F- New feeling and emotions

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Evaluation of CBT


  • Can be done individually, in a group can be done through self-help books, computer programes with two computer programme in England and Wales being used. Therefore, CBT is accessible for all patients even those who can't get out of bed.

  • CBT is not associated with the same ethical issues of drugs as it has no biochemical side effects. So it is an appropriate first line of treatment


  • Holmes pointed out their is few long term studies of CBT's effectiveness and most studies have patients with few symptoms so it may not generalise well.

  • CBT is more of a treatment rather than a cure as patients have to constantly change their thinking patterns or symptoms can reappear.

  • If a patient is feeling low it can be difficult to get motivated so attrition is more likely with CBT.

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obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

An anxiety related condition where a person experiences frequent intrusive and unwelcoming obsessional thoughts often followed by repetitive compulsions, impulses or urges.

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Obsessions vs compulsions

Obsessions: repeated intrusive uncontrollable thoughts/impulses that cause distress Compulsions: repeated physical/mental behaviors that are done in RESPONSE to an obsession

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OCD Characteristics

Behavioural: Compulsions are repetitive and compulsions reduce anxiety.

Emotional: Distress, OCD and Depression.

Cognitive: Obsessional thoughts (90% of people) and insight into excessive anxiety where they know it's irrational

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The Biological approach to explaining OCD

  • Genetic explanations

  • Neural explanations

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Genetic explanations of OCD

OCD to some degree must have a genetic component as family members often share it. Lewis, found 37% of had parents with OCD and 21% had siblings. A possible candidate gene is the SERT gene which regulates serotonin as well as the COMPT gene which regulates dopamine.

It is also thought to be polygenic. Taylor analysed findings and saw 230 genes may be involved in OCD.

The diathesis-stress model offers a view that people have vulnerability towards genes but an environmental stressor is needed.

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Candidate genes

Genes which create vulnerability

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describes a characteristic that is influenced by many genes such as OCD

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Diathesis-stress model

a diagnostic model that proposes that a disorder may develop when an underlying vulnerability is coupled with a situational event

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Genetic explanations evaluation


  • There is a lot of scientific evidence, like Nestadt et al reviewed previous twin studies and found that 68% of identical twins both had OCD.

  • There is also real life applications, mapping of genes reduces disorders like OCD. If a parent carries the SERT gene in a fertalised egg it can be ecided if they wish to continue.


  • With twin studies, the environment cannot be ruled out as most identical twins share the same environment so the onset of OCD may be due to nurture rather than nature.

  • Research supports the diathesis-stress model, Cromer found over half the OCD patients had trumatic events in the past, supporting the idea a stressor is needed so it is not a full explanation.

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Nestadt et al (2010)

Reviewed previous twin studies and found that 68% of identical twins both had OCD.

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Cromer (2007)

Found that over half the OCD patients in their sample had a traumatic event in the past, Supporting the diathesis-stress model as a patient needs a genetic vulnerability plus an environmental trigger.

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Neural explanations of OCD

Evidence from PET scans suggests people with OCD have abnormality in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitters that regulates mood so when a person has low levels mood and mental processes may be affected. OCD may be due to a reduction in functioning of serotonin in the brain.

Decision making systems, particularly with hoarding it is often associated with impaired decision making which may be due to abnormality in the functioning of the lateral of the frontal lobes.

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Neural explanations evaluation


  • Evidence supports the role of neural mechanisms in OCD. Anti-depressants work solely on serotonin and are often effective.

  • Research comes from brain scanning techniques like PET scans, these provide objective data which is high in validity.


  • Evidence suggests serotonin transmitters are not functioning normally in patients with OCD. This is not the same as abnormal functioning causing OCD. It could rather be the other way around.

  • Biological explanations are not the only explanation, the two-process model can be applied . These are supported by the success of treating OCD by using SD and can be seen as biological reductionist.

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A neurotransmitter believed to regulate moods.

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The Biological approach to treating OCD

Drug Therapy

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Drug Therapy

Drug therapy for mental disorders aims to increase or decrease the levels of neurotransmitters to increase or decrease their activity.

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Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitors like Prozac increase the body's Serotonin level by inhibiting its re-uptake. By blocking serotonin receptor sites on neurons, increasing the serotonin the the synapse.

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Combining SSRI's with other treatments

If SSRI's aren't effective after 3 to 4 months the dose can be increased or combined with other drugs. Other druts can be Tricyclics which has the same effect as SSRI's but has severe side effects.

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Soomro et al (2009)

Found drug therapy to be effective. They reviewed studies comparing placebos to SSRI's for treatment and in all 17 studies showed significantly better results for SSRI treatment. Symptoms typically reduced by 70%

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Drug therapy evaluation


  • Cost-effective and non-disruptive. Cheap in comparison to CBT so it is beneficial to public health services, patients can take drugs daily and easily.

  • Soomro et al, found drug therapy to be effective. They reviewed studies comparing placebos to SSRI's for treatment and in all 17 studies showed significantly better results for SSRI treatment. Symptoms typically reduced by 70%.


  • Drugs aren't long term, they just mask symptoms (Maina) saw when patents stopped taking their medication symptoms returned after weeks. CBT instead may actually cure.

  • Most drug therapy is combined with CBT so measuring the effectiveness of drugs is difficult.

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A type of social influence where we choose to go along with the majority we can do this privately or publically.

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Types of conformity

Compliance Identification Internalisation

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Going along with others in public, but privately not changing. It's superficial and temporary lasting only as long as we're in the group.

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Conforming to the opinions and behaviours of a group because membership to that group is desirable. It may involve short term private acceptance but this isn't maintained when we leave the group.

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Conforming from desire to join the group, involves some private acceptance as well as public, it only lasts as long as we're in the group.

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A person generally accepting and adapting to the group, it is considered the deepest level of conformity. Also known as true conformity as we take on the view both publically and privately

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Asch (1951)

Aim: Do people conform when the majority is clearly wrong.

Method: Male students were asked to take part in a visual discrimination study. Participants were in groups of 7-9 all other people were confederates. Out of three comparison lines they decided which was the same as the reference line, they answered aloud, with real participants answering second to last with all other participants answering unanimously the wrong answer.

Results: Participants conformed 37% of the time, 25% gave the correct answer every time, 75% gave an incorrect answer at least once, 5% gave the wrong answer every time.

Conclusion: People conform even when the majority is clearly wrong.

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Asch Evaluation


  • The study was conducted in a lab experiment, extraneous variables were well controlled therefore the study had high internal validity and causality can be seen.

  • Quantitative data was collected, easily converted into tables, easy to analyse and objective.


  • Due to it being a lab study, it was low in ecological validity. It cannot be generalised to irl.

  • Sample was restrictive with 123 american males used making it harder to generalise to the public. Bata bias

  • May be a child of its time, high conformity may be due to socio-political context of 1950's america, people with left wing views were afraid to speak up. Therefore it may lack temporal validity

Unambiguous data: Asch eliminated the possibility that the task wasn't ambiguous by having a control condition where participants were the task privately, 0.7% incorrect answers were given. 99% the task was easy so 37% of incorrect answers must be caused by conformity.

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Factors affecting conformity

  • Group size

  • Task difficulty

  • Breaking unanimity

  • Cultural factors

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Group size (asch)

When there was two stooges in the experiment there was 13% errors, 3 stooges 32% errors. The more people agreeing with the wrong answer, the more social approval is applied and conformity increases.

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Normative Social Influence (NSI)

Driven by our need to be liked and gain social approval from others(emotional response). Mostly compliance, public conformity which can be seen in studies like Asch's study.

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Informational Social Influence (ISI)

Driven by our need to be correct, involves internalisation as the majority is right(cognitive process). This can be seen in studies such as Jellie bean Jennis, the task was ambiguous and participants were unsure of the correct answer so they looked at other people for guidance.

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ISI Research support

  • Lucas et al (2006) Students conformed when they didn't know the answer to math problems especially those with lower ability.

  • Other examples include; Jenness Jellie bean study and Sherif study.

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Breaking unanimity (Asch)

When participants had a supporter in saying the correct answer conformity reduces to 5.5%

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Task Difficulty (Asch)

Perrin and Spencer (1981) Students who knew the answers were less likely to conform in his study on students studying engineering, math and chemistry.

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Cultural factors (Asch)

Smith and Harris Bond (1983) Compared individual vs community based societies between 1957 and 1985 and found conformity rates increased in collectivist societies. This may be due to these cultures striving for harmony and putting the group over the individual.

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NSI research support

Asch (1951) Found people went with the wrong answer because of social approval as when he asked them why they said that they felt they would be outcast for saying the wrong answer. When the study was done with answers written down conformity dropped to 12.5%

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Conformity to social roles, Zimbardo

Aim: How far do people go to conform to the roles we assign them such as guards and prisoners in a role playing situation of prison life.

Method: 21 male uni students rated physically and mentally suited, 10 guards 11 prisoners allocated at random. Prisoners were arrested by real police officers and taken to mock prison. Guards wore uniforms and reflective sunglasses to prevent eye contact.

Results: Scheduled to run for 14 days it was stopped after 6 when Zimbardo saw the extent of harm. Guards were aggressive, sadistic and taunted prisoners. Prisoners became submissive had anxiety with one prisoner being released after 36 hours due to fits of rage and crying.

Conclusion: Finding saw the power of the situation to influence people's behaviour, guards and prisoners conformed to their roles, supporting the situational explanation.

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Zimbardo evaluation


  • The study has practical applications which are useful to society as it helped change how prisoners were treated. Making it useful to society.

  • There is control over variables, the researcher is more confident in cause and effect like that they were psychologically healthy.


  • Has low ecological validity, it was not a real prison and an artificial setting with all of them being white males. This makes it harder to generalise the setting.

  • Serious ethical issues, prisoners were refused the right to withdraw and psychological harm was caused.

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A type of social influence where someone acts in response to a direct order from a perceived authority figure.

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Milgram evaluation


  • Restricted sample, not generalisable as participants volunteered attracting certain types of people.

  • Ecological validity, Baumrind critics Milgram challenges findings that can be generalised beyond the lab. Milgram describes participants experiencing distress about what they're doing unlike Nazi's. Therefore lacking mundane realism. However, Milgram argues obedience is obedience regardless of the situation.

  • Demand characteristics,Orne and Holland argued participants may have known the study was false.


  • Experimental realism, to follow on front the point above Milgrams participants did believe the conditions of the experiment to be real. He had a questionnaire later on and 56% confirmed participants fully believed the learner was receiving real electronic shocks 24% said he was probably getting shocked.

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Explanations of obedience

  • Socio-psychological explanations, agentic state and legitimacy of authority figure

  • Situational factors, location, proximity of learner, proximity of experimenter

  • Dispositional factors, authoritarian personality,

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Milgram's ethical issues

  • Deception, Milgram deceived participants but some may argue this was necessary

  • Informed consent, Milgram's participants didn't give fully informed consent, however it could be argued that the experiment would have no point if they were aware of the true nature.

  • Right to withdraw, participants had the right to withdraw but they were strongly urged to continue by the experimenter.

  • Protection from harm, participants suffered psychological distress during the study and afterwards, they have discovered they could have killed someone. When asked later 80% said they were happy to take part and no signs of harm were found by a psychiatrist.

  • Debriefing, Milgram fully debriefed and reassured participants showing them he was okay, 80% said more experiments like this should be conducted with 75% saying they learnt someone of personal value.

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Agentic state

We take no personal responsibility for our behaviour as they are acting as an agent for an authority figure.

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Autonomous state

The opposite of the agentic state where we're acting independently or freely.

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Agentic shift

Changing mind state from autonomous to agentic which increases obedience levels.

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Legitimacy of authority figure

An individual is more likely to be obedient when the authority figure is perceived as being legitimate and having power.

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Blass and Schmitt (2001)

showed a film of Milgram's study to students to show them to identify who they felt was responsible for the harm the learner came to do. Students blamed the experimenter blaming it on legitimacy of authority but also him being an expert authority. Therefore recognising legitimate authority as a cause of obedience.

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Socio-psychological explanations evaluation

  • Agentic shift, doesn't explain all research and therefore it is not a full explanation. E.g. cannot explain why some participants didn't obey and why in Hofling et als study nurses handed over responsibility as they didn't show anxiety.

  • Has practical applications, the legitimacy of authority can explain war crime such as My Lai in 1968 during the Vietnam war. Civilians were killed by US soldiers, only one was found guilty with his defense being he was following orders.

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location (milgram's variations)

In less well known places obedience dropped to 47.5%

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Proximity of learner (milgram's variations)

  1. Learner in the same room as the teacher - 16 out of 40 (40%)

  2. Teacher holds learners hand to a shock plate - 12 out of 40 (30%)

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Proximity of experimenter (Milgram's variations)

When the experimenter gave the instructions by telephone conformity dropped to 20.5%

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Uniform (Milgram's Variations)

When the teacher wore everyday clothing rather than a lab coat conformity dropped to 20%

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Bickman (1974)

Ordered people in New York pick up litter they were more likely to obey someone in uniform and twice as likely to obey the security guard than the man in a jacket and tie.

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Situational variables evaluation

  • Lack of internal validity, participants may have worked out the procedure was fake in Milgram's experiment causing demand characteristics.

  • Cross cultural replications, Miranda et al (1981) found a 90% obedience rate in Spanish students therefore the findings are valid cross culturally and female. However, Smith and Bond (1998) explain how most research has been carried out in Western developed societies, so it is too early to conclude that proximity, location and uniform apply universally.

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Authoritarian personality

Adorno et al (1950) put forward the idea that people who have an authoritarian personality are more likely to obey authority. They often are:

  • Likely to submit to the authority of those in higher position

  • Is authoritarian with those in lower positions

  • Excessive or blind obedience to authority

  • Preoccupied with power

  • Low education and economic status

Caused by:

  • Harsh and punitive upbringing with little love and punishment

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Adorno et al (1950)

Put forward the idea that people who have an authoritarian personality are more likely to obey authority. Developed an attitude questionnaire, F-scale, measuring different aspects to personality associated with authoritarian personality.

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Authoritarian personality evaluation


  • In Milgram's experiment, those who gave higher levels of shock had authoritarian personality and more likely to blame the learner. Supporting Adorno's theory that personality influences levels of obedience.


  • Doesn't explain how whole social groups like Nazi's can be prejudiced. All members would need to have authoritarian personalities. Therefore it doesn't explain all types of obedience.

  • Hyman and Sheatsley (1954), found both obedience and authoritarian personalities are more likely among less well educated and low economic status people. Personality may not cause obedience but a third factor like poverty.

Alternative explanations:

  • Generally, this explanation of obedience has not fared well, Psychologists regard the powerful situational factors to offer a better explanations for obedience. This explains why people without the personality type still obey.

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Resistance to Social Influence

  • Social support

  • Locus of control

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Social support (resistance to social influence)

  • Conformity can be reduced if there are offers also resisting, like in Asch's study when there was social support conformity dropped from 32% to 5.5%

  • Obedience is the pressure to obey can also be reduced if there is someone else who disobeys. Obedience dropped to 65% to 10% when the participant was joined by a disobedient confederates

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External control

Believing things happen outside of our own control. e.g. believing it is down to luck

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Internal control

Things are largely controlled by yourself accepting responsibility. People with a LOC are more likely to resist pressure to conformity or obey. They are also more likely to be self-confident, more achievement-oriented and have higher IQ's

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Social support evaluation


  • Allen and Levine (1971) found conformity decreased when there was a dissenter in an Asch-type conformity procedure, even if the dissenter wore thick glasses and said he had difficulty with his vision. Supporting the view that conformity is not just getting someone elses approval.

  • Milgram found obedience dropped significantly 65% to 10% when a 'disobedient' confederate was introduced into the situation. Asch found that conformity dropped from 32% to 5.5.% when a confederate went against the majority.


  • There are methodological issues with the research, many studies into social support are under controlled, artificial setting with unrealistic tasks. people can figure out the aim and act in the way that the investigator wants, lowering the internal validity.

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Allen and Levine (1971)

Found conformity decreased when there was a dissenter in an Asch-type conformity procedure, even if the dissenter wore thick glasses and said he had difficulty with his vision. Supporting the view that conformity is not just getting someone elses approval.

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Locus of control evaluation


  • Holland (1967) repeated Milgram's baseline study, but additionally measured the LOC of the participants. 37% of people with high internal LOC did not obey, 23% of externals disobeyed.


  • LOC is measured using questionnaires, answers may not be accurate e.g. demand characteristics, not reflecting a person's actual LOC

  • LOC and resistance to social control is purely a correlation, cannot establish cause and effect so there may be more important factors.

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Minority Influence

A form of social influence where a minority influences others to adopt their belief, attitude, or behaviour. Results in conversion where private attitudes change as well as public ones.

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Moscovici et al (1969)

Method 6 people had to view a set of 36 blue-coloured slides, of different shades and ask if it is blue or green. 2 confederates who said the slide was green on 2/3 of trials. Findings Participants gave same wrong answer on 8.42% of trials, 32% same answer as minority on at least one trial. Second with inconsitent minority, dropped to 1.25%. Third, no confederates, wrong 0.25% of trials

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The main processes involved in minority influences

-Consistency -Commitment -Flexibility -Snowball effect -Social cryptoamnesia

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If the minority are consistent in their views this makes people rethink their own. There are two forms:

  • Diachronic consistency

  • Synchronic consistency

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Social Cryptoamenisia

As a social group we recall that change takes place but often forget about the steps that brought it about.

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Snowball effect

Overtime, increasing number of people switch to the minority view, the more this happens, the faster the conversion rates.

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