Understanding Obedience and Inner Conflict: The Object-Destruction Paradigm


The concept of obedience has long been a subject of interest for psychologists studying human behavior in social contexts. Obedience involves compliance with the demands of an authority figure, even when those demands may conflict with one’s personal values or morals.

The infamous Milgram experiment, conducted in the 1960s, highlighted the disturbing fact that individuals could be persuaded to administer severe electric shocks to others simply because an authority figure instructed them to do so.

The Milgram experiment was a series of social psychology experiments conducted by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram between 1961 and 1963. In the experiments, participants were instructed to administer electric shocks to a “learner” in the next room. The shocks were fake, but the participants did not know that. The experiments were designed to measure the willingness of participants to obey an authority figure, even if they believed that they were harming another person.

The Milgram experiment was controversial when it was first published. Some critics argued that the experiments were unethical because they put participants under a great deal of stress. Others argued that the results of the experiments could not be generalized to the real world.

Despite the controversy, the Milgram experiment has been replicated many times over the years. The results of the replications have been consistent with the original findings. The Milgram experiment is now considered to be one of the most important experiments in social psychology.

The Milgram experiment has been used to explain a number of real-world phenomena, such as the following:

  • The Holocaust: The Milgram experiment has been used to explain how ordinary people could participate in the Holocaust. In the experiment, participants were willing to obey an authority figure, even if they believed that they were harming another person. The Holocaust was a situation in which people were put under a great deal of stress and were told to obey authority figures. This is similar to the situation in the Milgram experiment.
  • The Stanford prison experiment: The Milgram experiment has also been used to explain the Stanford prison experiment. In the Stanford prison experiment, participants were randomly assigned to the role of either a prisoner or a guard. The guards quickly became abusive and the prisoners became submissive. This is similar to the situation in the Milgram experiment. The guards in the Stanford prison experiment were put in a position of authority and they were told to obey the rules of the prison. This is similar to the situation in the Milgram experiment.
  • The Milgram experiment has also been used to explain why people sometimes do things that they know are wrong. In the experiment, participants were willing to obey an authority figure, even if they believed that they were harming another person. This suggests that people are sometimes willing to do things that they know are wrong if they are told to do so by an authority figure.

The Milgram experiment is a powerful illustration of the power of authority. It shows that people are willing to obey authority figures, even if they believe that they are harming another person. This is a reminder that we should all be careful about blindly following authority figures.

However, ethical concerns surrounding the Milgram paradigm have prompted researchers to seek alternative methods for studying obedience.

The present research aimed to address two critical challenges in studying obedience: (1) creating an ethically acceptable yet morally conflicting task, and (2) identifying the inner conflict experienced by participants who comply with such demands, thus qualifying their actions as obedience rather than mere compliance.

The Object-Destruction Paradigm

To overcome the limitations of the Milgram paradigm, the researchers devised the “object-destruction paradigm” based on the bug-killing paradigm. This paradigm involved instructing participants to destroy live bugs in an electric coffee grinder. The study comprised several control conditions that allowed for investigating the motivational and affective aspects of inner conflict induced by the experimenter’s bug-killing demands and its resolution.

Study Design and Results

Two experiments were conducted to assess participants’ responses to the bug-killing demands. In the demand condition, participants were directly instructed to kill the bugs, while in the control condition, they were reminded of their free will before proceeding with the destruction task.

The results revealed that participants in the demand condition were more willing to kill bugs compared to those in the control condition. Additionally, participants in the control condition required more prods from the experimenter to proceed with the bug destruction task.

Affective judgments of the destruction tasks showed that killing bugs, whether demanded or not, elicited negative arousal in most participants, highlighting the inner conflict experienced. Furthermore, self-reported feelings of dominance were lower during bug destruction compared to the destruction of inanimate objects, suggesting that (dis)obedience played a role in modulating participants’ emotional responses.

Experiment 2 delved into the conflict resolution of obedient and defiant participants in response to bug-killing demands. Compliant participants showed increasing physiological arousal over time, indicating that their initial negative arousal intensified during the task.

Moreover, obedient participants reported higher levels of responsibility and agency for bug-killing compared to other tasks, challenging the agentic-shift explanation of obedience.

Understanding Obedience Mechanisms

The research raises questions about the underlying motivational force that drives obedience. The engaged followership account proposes that social persuasion influences obedient behavior, but the present study suggests that a sense of obligation arising from joint action may play a more significant role.

Participants may have felt compelled to fulfill shared expectations in the context of the experimenter-participant joint action, resulting in their compliance despite moral reservations.

Ethical Implications

The present research holds crucial ethical implications for psychological science. Participants may feel obligated to adhere to their initial agreement, even when it contradicts their own well-being or values. Researchers should be cautious not to mistake the absence of resistance for an expression of free will.


The object-destruction paradigm shows promise as an ethical alternative to studying obedience and inner conflict.

The research sheds light on the complex mechanisms underlying obedience and opens new avenues for further investigation into the sense of obligation and engaged followership in the context of authority. By understanding the factors that drive obedience, psychologists can gain deeper insights into human behavior and develop more effective strategies for promoting ethical conduct in social situations.

in deep….

Obedience and inner conflict are two interconnected psychological concepts that often arise in situations where individuals are asked to follow authority figures or adhere to social norms, even when they might have reservations or conflicting feelings about doing so.

  1. Obedience: Obedience refers to the act of complying with orders, instructions, or commands from authority figures or those perceived to have legitimate power. This can be observed in various settings, such as the family, workplace, school, or society at large. Obedience is considered a fundamental aspect of maintaining social order and cohesion, as it enables people to cooperate and work together towards common goals.
  2. Inner Conflict: Inner conflict is a psychological state experienced by individuals when they find themselves torn between opposing thoughts, emotions, or values. It arises when a person has conflicting beliefs, desires, or moral convictions, making it challenging to decide on a particular course of action. Inner conflicts can cause emotional turmoil and distress, leading to a state of cognitive dissonance.

The Milgram Experiment: One of the most famous and controversial experiments related to obedience and inner conflict was conducted by psychologist Stanley Milgram in the early 1960s. In his study, participants were instructed to administer electric shocks to another person (an actor pretending to be a participant) whenever they answered questions incorrectly. The shocks were not real, but the participants were unaware of this fact.

Despite hearing the actor’s apparent pain and resistance, a significant portion of participants continued to administer shocks when instructed to do so by an authority figure (the experimenter). Many participants experienced inner conflict during the experiment, as they were torn between their conscience, which urged them to stop, and the perceived authority, which pressured them to continue.

Factors Influencing Obedience and Inner Conflict: Several factors can influence the degree of obedience and the experience of inner conflict:

  • Perceived Authority: The credibility and legitimacy of the authority figure can play a significant role in determining the level of obedience. People are more likely to obey individuals they perceive as legitimate and knowledgeable.
  • Social Norms: The prevailing social norms and cultural expectations can heavily influence obedience. People may feel conflicted when asked to act against deeply ingrained cultural values.
  • Personal Values: When the requested actions contradict a person’s core values and beliefs, inner conflict is more likely to arise.
  • Group Pressure: Obedience can be influenced by the presence of others and the fear of standing out or being judged.
  • Consequences: The perceived consequences of disobedience can impact the level of inner conflict. Fear of punishment or social isolation can discourage defiance.
  • Gradual Escalation: Compliance with small requests that gradually increase in magnitude can lead to a higher likelihood of obedience, as people find it harder to draw a clear line where they should stop.

Resolving Inner Conflict: Resolving inner conflicts often involves deep introspection and reflection. Strategies to address inner conflict may include:

  • Self-awareness: Recognize and acknowledge conflicting feelings and thoughts.
  • Value Clarification: Identify and prioritize your core values to better understand what truly matters to you.
  • Seeking Support: Talking to friends, family, or a therapist can help gain perspective and receive emotional support.
  • Challenging Assumptions: Examine the beliefs and assumptions that underlie the conflict to evaluate their validity.
  • Staying True to Values: When faced with conflicting situations, make decisions that align with your core values, even if it requires courage and resilience.

Remember that obedience and inner conflict are complex and multifaceted aspects of human behavior, and people may react differently depending on the specific circumstances and individual differences.

reference link: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-023-38067-z#Sec28


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Questo sito usa Akismet per ridurre lo spam. Scopri come i tuoi dati vengono elaborati.