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Dispositional Factors Social Influence

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Dispositional Factors Social Influence

As a response to the atrocities committed by Nazi soldiers during the holocaust claiming they were ‘just following orders’, psychologist Theodor Adorno developed his explanation of obedience in 1950, known as a dispositional influence. This theory aims to explain how and why humans are influenced to obey.

Obedience is a type of social influence when people follow an explicit command given by a legitimate authority.

According to Adorno, situational (environmental) influences and social context did not sufficiently explain obedience. He stated that dispositional (internal) factors must explain why some people obey and others do not. An example of such situational influence was found in Milgram’s shock experiment (1964). 35% of participants were disobedient despite experiencing the same social context as the participants that did obey. These suggest other explanations for obedience.

The key concepts in dispositional factors in social influence

Understanding these key concepts in the explanation of dispositional influence will help you understand the main assertions of the theory as well as help you understand the research undertaken into the theory.

Dispositional explanation

Adorno was interested in dispositional influences on obedience levels. A dispositional explanation is interested in the importance of the individual’s personality, i.e. their disposition. Dispositional explanations focus on the traits unique to the individual and are often used compared to situational (environmental) explanations.

Adorno's authoritarian personality characteristics

Adorno stated that those with an authoritarian personality are naturally more obedient. This is because they favour the status of authority figures and view non-authority figures as inferior. In turn, they are more likely to obey.

According to Adorno, an individual develops an authoritarian personality through childhood experiences with strict parents who value discipline and loyalty. Such parents also have high expectations for the child and criticize the child heavily for any mistakes. Due to this, the child grows up to be respectful of authority figures and critical of those who are inferior.

Adorno thus suggested that personality plays an important role in explaining why people obey.

Dispositional Factors Social Influence [+] Obeying authority [+] StudySmarterWhy do some people obey authority more than others?, Pixabay

The dispositional explanation for obedience: Adorno's study (1950)

Adorno carried out a study to test dispositional factors affecting disobedience. The aim, procedure and findings of the study are discussed below.

Aim of the study

The study aimed to test whether dispositional factors, such as an authoritarian personality, affected obedience levels. It aimed to do this by testing participants’ affiliation with fascism. Adorno wanted to test whether having an authoritarian personality correlated with fascist beliefs.

Fascism is a movement and a form of nationalism that supports a centralized state authority and a dictatorial power. It is considered a far-right ideology.

The procedure of the study

The procedure of the study involved the recruitment of over 2000 middle-class white Americans. Adorno developed a questionnaire to measure levels of authoritarian personality called the California F scale. The ‘F’ stands for fascism.

The questionnaire presented various statements which the participants had to score on a Likert scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree). Examples of such statements include:

Obedience and respect for authority are the most important virtues children should learn.”

“Every person should have complete faith in some supernatural power whose decisions he obeys without question.”

Adorno then calculated the scores of the participants based on their scoring of how much they agreed or disagreed with each statement.

Findings of the study

The study found that the participants that scored highly on the F scale were authoritarian personalities. They showed a high level of respect and obedience to authority and were conscious of status.

He also concluded that those with authoritarian personalities tend to view situations in a black and white manner, namely, something is either right or wrong and there is no uncertainty. Adorno found that such people had a particular cognitive style of understanding, which involved the categorization of people into stereotypes. This also showed high levels of prejudice, linking this to the presence of an authoritarian personality.

The dispositional explanation for obedience:

  • High scores on the F scale indicated the presence of an authoritarian personality.

  • Since such scores measured attitudes towards fascism, it was concluded that agreement with fascist attitudes meant the individual had an authoritarian personality and was, therefore, more likely to obey authority.

  • Search an explanation for obedience is a dispositional explanation because it tests the influence of individuals’ personalities on obedience.

Dispositional Factors Social Influence [+] Authoritarian personality Adorno [+] StudySmarterAuthoritarian personalities take a black and white view of obedience and authority, Shikha Shah, StudySmarter Originals

Evaluation of dispositional factors in social influence

Below we will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of dispositional influence as an explanation for obedience.

Strengths

  • Adorno found strong positive correlations between authoritarian personalities and obedience as well as between authoritarian personalities and prejudice.

  • The study has research support. Milgram and Elms (1966) found there was a strong positive correlation between authoritarian personalities and obedience in a small sample of obedient individuals.

  • The explanation can explain why many support a fascist ideology, namely that they have authoritarian personalities and respect authority.

Weaknesses

  • The sample has low generalisability and low population validity as it only sampled white, middle-class Americans. It has been argued that the sample was more likely to have authoritarian personalities due to the nature of the sample itself and the time of the study (1950).

  • However strong the correlations are, they are not causation and therefore other factors may be involved in explaining the link between an authoritarian personality and obedience, such as education levels or cultural upbringing.

  • It is unlikely that everyone who obeyed fascist orders during the holocaust had authoritarian personalities. It is more likely that situational (environmental) influences were also a factor since all those that obeyed shared the same social context (the Nazi regime).

  • Some have argued that the study shows political bias in its interpretation of an authoritarian personality due to the negative association of the personality type with prejudice and right-wing political ideology.

Dispositional Factors Social Influence: Key takeaways

  • Adorno stated that there must be dispositional (internal) factors that explain why some people obey and others do not, as in Milgram’s shock experiment (1964), 35% of participants did not obey instructions despite experiencing the same social context as the participants that did obey.
  • A dispositional explanation is interested in the importance of the individual’s personality, ie their disposition. An authoritarian personality is a personality that is more likely to obey authority figures, as it favours the status of authority figures and views non-authority figures as inferior.
  • Adorno carried out a study to test the dispositional influence on obedience. The study found that the participants that favoured fascism had authoritarian personalities. They showed high respect and obedience for authority and were conscious of status.
  • The study’s strengths include that it showed important positive correlations between authoritarian personalities and obedience and that it has research support.
  • The study’s weaknesses include that correlation is not causation, that other factors are likely to influence obedience levels and that the sample of the study was not generalizable.

Frequently Asked Questions about Dispositional Factors Social Influence

An authoritarian personality is a personality that is more likely to obey authority figures, as it favors the status of authority figures and views non-authority figures as inferior.

A dispositional factor affecting obedience is an internal personality trait that makes it more likely for that person to obey. For example, Adorno claimed that those with an authoritarian personality were more likely to obey authority as they favor authoritarian systems and leaders.

An example of dispositional influence is an authoritarian personality which makes an individual more likely to obey. This is because the individual favors the status of authority figures and views non-authority figures as inferior.

The procedure for Adorno was the recruitment of over 2000 middle-class white Americans. Adorno developed a questionnaire to measure levels of authoritarian personality called the California F scale. The 'F' stands for fascism.

Adorno (1950) investigated whether dispositional factors such as an authoritarian personality affected obedience levels. He aimed to do this by testing the unconscious attitudes of participants towards other racial groups by measuring their tendencies for fascism.

Final Dispositional Factors Social Influence Quiz

Question

Why did Adorno study dispositional influence?

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Answer

According to Adorno, explanations of social context and pressure did not sufficiently explain obedience. He stated that there must be dispositional (internal) factors that explain why some people obey and others do not. In Milgram's shock experiment (1964), 35% of participants were disobedient despite experiencing the same social context as the participants that did obey. This suggests there are other explanations for obedience.

Show question

Question

What is a dispositional explanation?

Show answer

Answer

A dispositional explanation is interested in the importance of the individual's personality, ie their disposition. Dispositional explanations focus on the traits unique to the individual and are often used in comparison with situational (environmental) explanations.

Show question

Question

What is the definition of an authoritarian personality?

Show answer

Answer

An authoritarian personality is a personality that is more likely to obey authority figures, as it favors the status of authority figures and views non-authority figures as inferior.

Show question

Question

What did Adorno believe causes someone to have an authoritarian personality?


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Answer

An individual develops an authoritarian personality through childhood experiences with strict parents who value discipline and loyalty. Such parents also have high expectations for the child and criticise the child heavily for any mistakes. Due to this, the child grows up to be respectful of authority figures and critical of those who are inferior.

Show question

Question

What was the procedure of Adorno's study?


Show answer

Answer

The procedure of the study involved the recruitment of over 2000 middle-class white Americans. Adorno developed a questionnaire to measure levels of authoritarian personality called the California F scale. The 'F' stands for fascism.

Show question

Question

What were the findings of Adorno's study?


Show answer

Answer

The study found that the participants that scored highly on the F scale were authoritarian personalities. They showed high respect and obedience for authority and were conscious of status. Since such scores measured attitudes towards fascism, it was concluded that agreement with fascist attitudes meant the individual had an authoritarian personality and was, therefore, more likely to obey authority.

Show question

Question

What is fascism?


Show answer

Answer

Fascism is a movement and a form of nationalism that supports a centralized state authority and a dictatorial power. It is considered a far-right ideology.

Show question

Question

What correlations did Adorno find from the study?

Show answer

Answer

Adorno found strong positive correlations between authoritarian personalities and obedience as well as between authoritarian personalities and prejudice.

Show question

Question

What was a criticism for the sample used in Adorno's study?


Show answer

Answer

A criticism of the sample used in Adorno's study was that it had low generalisability as it only sampled white, middle-class Americans. It has been argued that the sample was more likely to have authoritarian personalities due to the nature of the sample itself (white, middle-class Americans) and the time of the study (1950).

Show question

Question

What is a criticism of the correlations found in Adorno's study?

Show answer

Answer

A criticism of the correlations found is that they do not show causation. Therefore other factors may be involved in explaining the link between an authoritarian personality and obedience, such as education levels or cultural upbringing.

Show question

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