‘Complying with the demands of an authority figure’

The Agentic state suggests that when an individual obeys an authority figure they see themselves as an agent for the latter making the figure responsible for the individual’s actions. The opposite of the Agentic state is the autonomous state in which individuals view themselves as personally responsible for their actions.The Agentic state is a theory that argues that when an individual carries out the orders of an authority figure and acts as their agent they feel little personal responsibility as they were “just following orders”. An example of this is Eichmann.Eichmann was one of the leading people in the holocaust.Half a dozen psychiatrists had certified him as “normal”.Eichmann was described as a “mild mannered and likeable man”. When asked why he committed the act he simply said that he was “just following orders”.

Obedience occurs when you are told to do something (authority), whereas conformity happens through social pressure (the norms of the majority).

Milgram did an experiment in which he tested to see how far people would follow orders if it involved harming others. He carried out this experiment a year after Eichmann’s court case. Milgram used several ‘prods’ to get the participant to shock the other person :

Prod 1: please continue.

Prod 2: the experiment requires you to continue.

Prod 3: It is absolutely essential that you continue.

Prod 4: you have no other choice but to continue


The results of the experiment shocked America 65% (two-thirds) of participants (i.e. teachers) continued to the highest level of 450 volts. All the participants continued to 300 volts.

Milgram did more than one experiment he carried out 18 variations of his study.  All he did was alter the situation (IV) to see how this affected obedience (DV). more information about the experiment is available here


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