Throughout the years obedience has had an enormous effect on human history. It has caused nations to rise and fall, prosper and suffer; yet it has also brought destruction among innocent people. The Jewish holocaust is one of the best publicized examples of the perils of obedience. Hitler caused otherwise normal people to commit atrocious acts, acts that greatly reduced the number of Jewish people. Philip Zimbardo, a professor of psychology at Stanford university, questions to what extent will a person allow themselves to be imprisoned by obeying others commands; Andrew Wolfson, a senior investigative reporter working for the Louisville Courier Journal, similarly discusses how a young adult was brutalized because of our nature to obey without question. This similarity is important because it reveals how Zimbardo and Wolfson view the effects of obedience.
In “The Stanford Prison Experiment”, Zimbardo randomly selected 21 normal males to take place in his experiment. He randomly divided them into Guards and prisoners. The prisoners were then stripped of their clothing and names. They were forced to wear smocks and were given ID numbers to replace their names. The guards were given a similar treatment – they were given khaki uniforms, sunglasses and symbols of power. They did not receive much training and were told to keep the law and order within the prison. They certainly did, and they were willing to abuse their power in order to do it. They made the prisoners do pushups, repeat statements over and over, turn on each other, clean the toilets with their bare hands and more. The guards became so brutal one of the prisoners had an emotional breakdown and was replaced with another volunteer. The brutality continued to get worse and worse and eventually Zimbardo called for an end to the experiment after only six days. He concluded that he was shocked by the findings: ” We were caught up in the passion the suffering, the need to control people, not variables, the escalation of power, and all the unexpected things that were erupting around and within us”. (Zimbardo)
“A hoax most cruel: Caller coaxed McDonald’s managers into strip-searching a worker” presented Andrew Wolfson with a rather disturbing scam. Louise Ogborn, an 18 year old churchgoing employee at McDonalds, became the suspect of a crime that was never committed. According to the man on the phone, “Officer Scott”, she had stolen a purse and needed to be strip searched. Summers, her manager, led her to the restaurants office and began the process, doing what the caller told her to step by step. Of course she claims that she asked him questions about why she had to do this, but he sounded like a legitimate police officer to her. After a few hours she told “Officer Scott” that she had to get back to the counter, and at his request she called her fiancé. He forced her to perform sexual deeds at the callers command, and threatened to hit her if she refused. He was not the only one. Several cases were reported were the managers were so intent on doing as the caller asked that they even fought off the victim’s family. However, finally Nix, summers fiancé, had to leave and he called in the janitor. It was he who refused the callers demands and realized something was amiss. The result of this traumatic event affected everyone involved. Both Summers and Nix ended up in jail, and Ogborn was never the same. She began to suffer from panic attacks, nightmares, anxiety, and depression as a result. As Wolfson’s title suggest this was truly a hoax most cruel.
Both of these articles are adjoined by the fact that the people under command were very quick to obey, even if it was an unethical order. Zimbardo said that the guards managed to obtain nearly complete control over the prisoners. They did so by the use of force; they used insults, threats, aggression, and nightsticks to keep the prisoners in check. As a result the prisoners began to stop resisting the unethical commands and did as they were told. Wolfson, on the other hand wrote that the McDonalds’ managers and the victim herself were quick to obey. They believed that the caller was a police officer and because he was a higher authority than them they obeyed him. This is important because the fact that the people in each situation were so quick to obey suggest that people can be manipulated very easily. This fact is the main focus point in both of the writer’s articles.
Zimbardo was careful that he only used normal people in his experiment, and it turns out the people involved in Wolfson’s article were fairly normal as well. Zimbardo states that the fact that normal people turned so sadistic towards each other is dreadful because it could happen to anyone. However, neither author addresses how the effects of obedience could be used in a positive direction. They presume that obedience can be used to manipulate others into gruesome situations, but never considered how obedience can be used for good intentions.
Wolfson states that Ogborn was convinced that she could not leave, while Zimbardo said that in his experiment prisoners were only released if they began to break down. Ogborn felt this way because she thought that the Police were commanding the situation and that Nix would abuse her if she disobeyed. Wolfson continues by convincingly stating that the reason Ogborn submitted was that she was afraid and wanted to remain in as little trouble as she could. Zimbardo; however, stated that both he and his staff refused to let their volunteers go home unless they began to have serious breakdowns, depression, and other similar results. By doing this he made the prisoners feel a sense of hopelessness as they realized that they had no power over their situation. Both Zimbardo and Wolfson believed that this was important because this sense of hopelessness may have propelled the subjects into a more obedient state than they would otherwise be in.
One of the biggest differences between the two articles is that one took place in a real life scenario and the other did not. Wolfson’s article about Ogborn was not an experiment, she did not know what would happen to her; however, Zimbardo let his volunteers at least understand what would most likely happen. This being said Wolfson wrote about far more horrifying demands of obedience than Zimbardo did. He stated that Ogborn was crying and threatened, while Zimbardo said the prisoners were forced to do unpleasant activities. Zimbardo did not expect the prisoners to experience as much trauma as they did. They knew they were a part of an experiment, where as Ogborn was not. Zimbardo had presumed that this knowledge would help make the impact of prison life not as challenging for his subjects but the knowledge surprisingly appeared to have no effect. The prison became very real to the prisoners, and was no longer just an experiment. It was real. This realization made by Zimbardo is important because it shows that when obedience is forced upon someone, even if it is not in a real situation, it is still impactful on those it is effecting.
According to both Wolfson and Zimbardo their victims lost their identity. According to Wolfson: “Riddled by anxiety and depression, Ogborn was forced to switch from one antidepressant to a second, then a third and fourth, before she finally found some relief.” (Wolfson) She also did not enroll in college after graduating from high school and she began to push people out of her life. Zimbardo did not report results as dramatic as this. He stated that the prisoners simply gave into to the demands of the guards. They referred to each other using their ID numbers and began to do only what was asked or required of by the guards. In both cases the writers displayed evidence that the effects of being obedient to unlawful or unjust actions caused the victims to lose their sense of Identity. They no longer felt free to do as they pleased, but as Zimbardo wrote they stopped resisting and questioning the figures in authority all together. This is important because it shows that when people are forced to obey orders and feel as if they have no hope of doing as they please then they will begin to lose their sense of identity.
Both writers focus on the negative effects of obedience, but neither discuss how obedience can be used in a positive way. They seem biased in their work and therefore do not consider any alternative views of obedience. Both papers come to similar yet different conclusions. Zimbardo finishes by saying that we allow ourselves to become imprisoned by accepting the roles others give us while Wolfson concludes by discussing the effects that the obedience in the McDonalds’ hoax had on the lives of those involved. The themes of the two papers are also similar but different. The more accurate theme for these papers probable lies somewhere in between. Obedience can devastate and imprison the lives of those involved if it is used in a harmful way. This message combines both of these articles themes and is accurately described throughout both papers


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