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Journal Articles Journal of Personality Year : 2015

Personality Predicts Obedience in a Milgram Paradigm


This study investigates how obedience in a Milgram-like experiment is predicted by interindividual differences. Participants were 35 males and 31 females aged 26–54 from the general population who were contacted by phone 8 months after their participation in a study transposing Milgram's obedience paradigm to the context of a fake television game show. Interviews were presented as opinion polls with no stated ties to the earlier experiment. Personality was assessed by the Big Five Mini-Markers questionnaire (Saucier, 1994). Political orientation and social activism were also measured. Results confirmed hypotheses that Conscientiousness and Agreeableness would be associated with willingness to administer higher-intensity electric shocks to a victim. Political orientation and social activism were also related to obedience. Our results provide empirical evidence suggesting that individual differences in personality and political variables matter in the explanation of obedience to authority. Stanley Milgram carried out the " Eichmann experiment " to determine whether Nazi war criminals such as Adolf Eichmann, whose trial had begun a couple of months earlier in Jerusalem, could have committed the heinous acts of the Holocaust merely because of a misplaced obedience to authority (Milgram, 1974). The German philosopher Hanna Arendt, a reporter during the trial of Eichmann, coined the phrase " the banality of evil " to describe him, seeing behind the architect of the Holocaust a thoroughly normal person. Going further, Arendt also mentioned that Eichmann's attitude toward his family and friends was " not only normal but most desirable " (Arendt, 1977, p. 25). Whatever the accuracy and truth of such an analysis (see Cesarani, 2007, for an alternative view of Eichmann), the issue of individual dispositions related to obedience was also included in Milgram's thinking as he wrote, " I am certain that there is a complex personality basis to obedience and disobedience , but I know we have not found it " (Milgram, 1974, p. 205). Somewhat paradoxically, the social psychologist consensually credited for having accelerated the shift away from internal explanations of behavior toward environmental and situational factors considered personality as a relevant source of variation in obedient behavior (Benjamin & Simpson, 2009). In the present study, we shed a new light on how personality factors predicted obedience and rebellion in a Milgram-like study recently carried out in the context of a television game show (Beauvois, Courbet, & Oberlé, 2012). We hypothesized


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sic_01158395 , version 1 (01-06-2015)



Laurent Bègue, Jean-Léon Beauvois, Didier Courbet, Dominique Oberlé, Johan Lepage. Personality Predicts Obedience in a Milgram Paradigm. Journal of Personality, 2015, 83 (3), pp.299-306,. ⟨10.1111/jopy.12104⟩. ⟨sic_01158395⟩
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