Rebelling justly:Gamson et al and the links Conformity and Obedience research

Gamson et al (1982)

Aim: To investigate whether people would disobey in a situation where they were encouraged to rebel against an unjust authority

Procedure: Participants were obtained from volunteer sampling, as participants were respondents from an advertisement. The participants were told that they would be discussing `Standards of behaviour in the community’ . Groups of 9 were used, and at the start of the discussion were met by a representative of the Manufacturers Human Relations Consultants(MHRC), who also made it known that the discussion was being filmed. He presented information of legal action taken by an oil company on a petrol station manager( they sacked him). The company claimed that the manager was `offensive to the local community’, but the manager argued that he’d been sacked for speaking out about the high petrol prices on t.v. MHRC representative made it clear that he wanted the group to argue in favour of the company, and made it obvious that their personal opinions were irrelevant. It was also noted that the filming ceased when an argument was made in favour of the manager. After the discussion a consent form was presented to the participants and asked to be signed.

Findings: Participants rebelled, with 32 out of 33 groups resisted in some way and 25 out of the 33 had the majority of the group refuse to sign the form. Furthermore 9 groups threatened legal action on MHRC.

Conclusion: People can rebel against unjust authority, and opposes Milgram’s findings to an extent

Links to Conformity and Obedience

A potential reason for the increased disobedience in Gamson’s study than in other studies, such as Milgram, was the presence of systematic processing-which was put forward by Smith and Mackie (2000) , when evaluating why Gamson’s participants disobeyed. Systematic processing is when people have time to consider their actions. This increases chance of disobedience because they have the ability to contemplate what they’ve been asked to do. This factor correlates directly to a situational factor that provides a reason for the obedience in Milgram’s study-graduated commitment. This is when people have to react or answer quickly as the action that is being asked to carry out starts off simple or acceptable but graduates to something more unthinkable, which makes it harder to back out of an experiment or disobey  because you do not have the time to reflect on what’s been asked of you(Smith and Mackie 2003).

Another factor suggested by Smith and Mackie(2000) was that obedience was low because of the importance of a group. They said that people would not have disobeyed if they were on their own and nobody else shared their opinion. However because the group showed strong group identity they were able to decide amongst themselves that the consent form was unreasonable. This could be explained by Social Identity Theory which states that people self-categorise themselves into groups, and these serve as reference groups. This relates to Gamson’s study as the participants could have self categorised themselves as the `in’ group and the MHRC acted as the `out’ group (Tajfel and Turner). This divide between the two groups results in Meta contrast principle which is when the differences between the groups are maximised. So, in the context of Gamson, there is a perceived void between the participants and the MHRC.

Some of the participants could have actually agreed that the oil company was in the wrong and wouldn’t have minded signing the consent form, however they didn’t want to stand out, so they change their public opinion to  suit the others’. This is called compliance as their private opinion stays the same but they publicly say something else.

Another factor that links back to a previous section of Social, is the prestige of the setting of the experiment. Gamson et al’s study was carried out in a local Holiday Inn, and found high levels of disobedience. On the other hand, Milgram’s study took place at Yale University and found low levels of disobedience. Therefore it could be argued that the prestige of the setting affects levels of obedience-which has been investigated by Milgram and found this claim to be true, as there was lower levels of obedience when a different, lesser prestige location was used.


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