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OTHER ITA SITES:
The Role Of Authority In Power Part One Of Two
When someone has a higher position or more authority than you, the automatic trigger is that whatever that person says must be true. The FAA found that many errors by flight captains were not challenged or corrected by other members of the crew. This blind obedience to position and authority resulted in catastrophes. One airline, concerned about this evidence, tested their flight crews via flight simulators. They created conditions that would lead to mental overload and emotional stimulation. The captains (in one study) would make fatal mistakes at a critical moment. The airline was shocked to find out that 25% of the flights would have crashed because the subordinates did not take corrective action and challenge the position of the plane’s captain.
AUTHORITY BY POSITION
Those who have authority based on the position they hold in the community have Positional Authority. This includes your boss, the U.S. President, or a police officer. A landmark study conducted by Stanley Milgram at Yale University illustrates just how powerful Positional Authority can be. In his experiment, Milgram had some participants pose as “teachers,” while others portrayed the “learners.” The “teachers” were told they were going to help the researcher test the learning levels in the “learners” by giving progressively more intense shocks each time a “learner” answered memory questions incorrectly.
Of course, no real shock was administered, but the “teachers” were not aware of the false premise, and the “learners” were instructed to act as though the pain were real. It appeared as though the “learner” were suffering intense pain. The purpose of the study was to see how far the “teachers” would go in obeying the head researcher’s authority, even if it meant inflicting great pain on a fellow human being. The results were astounding: Two-thirds of the subjects delivered as much pain as they could (450 volts), pulling all 30 of the shock switches, even when the acting “learners” pleaded, begged, and even screamed for them to stop the experiment.
This experiment strikingly demonstrates the concepts we’ve made about Positional Authority. Consider the following key points: First of all, the “teachers” were noticeably uncomfortable with what they were doing. In fact, they hated it. Many of them asked the researcher to please end the experiment. But when he refused, they continued on, trembling, perspiring, and some even laughing nervously. In spite of their extreme discomfort, almost all of the “teachers” continued to obey the head researcher until the experiment was over. The converse is also revealing: When the scripts were reversed and it was the “learners” ordering the “teachers” to deliver more shocks, while the researcher protested, not even one single person obeyed! One hundred percent refused to obey the “learners” over the researcher. After obtaining the shocking results of this experiment, Milgram wrote, “It is the extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority that constitutes the chief finding of the study.”
AUTHORITY BY UNIFORM
Do clothes really “make the man”? In certain instances, yes, they do. When you wear a uniform to play a certain role, that uniform evokes power over others. People create impressions or even illusions of power with what they wear. When you wear the right clothes for the situation, you can persuade without even speaking. Think of what a police uniform says; imagine a police officer trying to clear a urban riot in street clothes. The officer in uniform will get immediate attention because we respond and respect uniforms. Even clergy who wear their robes command more respect and are able to persuade and influence with higher efficiency than they can when sporting street clothes. We see a doctor in a white coat and automatically assume he is a medical professional who knows exactly what to prescribe. When a businessperson shows up in a $1,500 suit and polished shoes, we automatically assume his is in charge or is the decision maker. We know people treat us differently based on how we dress.
In one experiment, a man would stop pedestrians in New York City. The experimenter either had them pick up paper bags, move from where they were standing, or requested they give money to a perfect stranger. The experimenter would point to another man nearly fifty feet away, telling them the man had over parked and didn’t have any change to pay the meter. He would then tell them to go give the man the necessary change. Researchers watched to see how many people complied when the experimenter was dressed in normal street clothes versus when he was dressed as a security guard. After giving the command, the experimenter would turn a corner so he was out of the pedestrian’s sight. Incredibly, almost all of the pedestrians obeyed when he was dressed in uniform, even after he was gone! When he was dressed in street clothes, less than half of the pedestrians complied with his request. In another study, Lawrence and Watson found that individuals asking for contributions to law enforcement and healthcare campaigns gathered more donations when wearing sheriffs’ and nurses’ uniforms than when they just dressed normally.
AUTHORITY BY TITLE
We are all suckers to titles. When we hear “doctor” in front of a name, it automatically registers in our mind that this person is important, powerful, and intelligent. We don’t even ask if he or she graduated at the bottom of their class. In the medical profession, the “Dr.” is the king and the head decision-maker. We love to hear “two out of three doctors recommend” or “nine out ten dentists use this product or service.” This is all based on authority power. We respect, admire, and follow the recommendations or opinions of those in authority.
In one particular case, researchers wanted to test and see if the power of authority by title won out over established rules and regulations. They were going to see if nurses would over-prescribe an unauthorized drug to a patient when requested by doctor they didn’t know. A researcher would call in and tell a nurse he was a doctor and that he wanted a 20 mg dose of a drug called Astrogen administered to a certain patient. He told her to do it as soon as possible so the drug would have time to take affect by the time he arrived. He further stated that he would sign the prescription upon his arrival. The experiment intentionally violated four rules: First, the hospital forbade prescriptions to be made over the phone; second, Astrogen was an unauthorized drug; third, the dosage was dangerously excessive – in fact, double the amount specified on the label; and fourth, the order was given by a supposed “doctor,” whom the nurse had never met or even heard of. In spite of these red flags, a whopping 95% of the nurses headed straight for the medicine cabinet and on to the patient’s room. Before they went any further, they were stopped by an undercover researcher, who told them about the experiment.
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