Change Over Time in Obedience: The Jury's Still Out, But It Might Be Decreasing

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Jerry M. Burger's (2009) partial replication of Stanley Milgram's (1974) obedience study shows both the influence of culture and generations on behavior and the power of the situation. In Burger's data, disobedience has nearly doubled among male participants since the 1960s, a shift just as large as the increase in Americans' body mass index that has been labeled the “obesity epidemic.” Differences in the ethnic composition of the two studies' samples, particularly the large numbers of Asian Americans in Burger's sample, may have suppressed what might have been an even larger increase in disobedience. Halting the experiment at 150 volts may also have suppressed change. Nevertheless, situations have a strong influence on behavior; thus generational shifts would not be expected to completely eliminate the effect. Burger's results are consistent with documented changes in personality traits over the generations, including increases in nonconformist traits such as assertiveness, self-esteem, and narcissism.

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