Obedience & Conformity: The Situation In Abu Ghraib

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Obedience & Conformity:

The Situation In Abu Ghraib


Over the years, different psychologists have explained conformity in a number of ways. Crutchfield (1995) defined conformity as ‘yielding to group pressure’ (Richard Gross, 2010). Mann (1969) agreed with Crutchfield’s definition b explained that conformity takes may different forms and all depends on the motives rather than group pressure. Famous social psychologist Zimbardo (1991) definition of conformity as a ‘change in belief or behavior in response to real or imagined group pressure when there is no direct request to comply with the group nor any reason to justify the behavior change’. Group pressure seems to be the common denominator when defining conformity. Group pressure is exerted by a chosen group at a given time that is important to the individual; such as significant other, family, peers (membership group), or a group, which the individual doesn’t belong to, but values and admires a person within the group (reference groups). Conformity involves yielding to real or imagined pressures of any group, whether it has majority or minority status (van Avermaet, 1996)


Obedience involves altering your behavior because a figure of authority has told you to. Obedience is an active form of social influence in which it involves an individual in authority requiring us to behave in a particular way in a particular situation. Obedience can be seen as a form of complying with an authority figures orders. Compliance occurs when someone asks us to do something, whether that is when people make direct request e.g. a friend asking for a ‘favour’ or sales persons inviting us to try a product/service. Many researchers argue that when people try to gain compliance through direct request is the most common form of social influence (Hoggs & Vaughan, 1995).

Differences between Obedience and Conformity

Obedience differs from conformity in three key ways, Obedience involves obeying an authority figures orders whereas, conformity involves following a request to please others within a group. Obedience is a trait that we tend to develop out of fear and in some cases out of respect. However, in conformity it is the fear of social disapproval. Obedience usually requires direct authority where the one who obeys and the one who makes the order have a perceived difference of social status between them. Conformity has a subtle approach but is still nonetheless considered a voluntary act. An individual who decides to dis obey the authority figures can result into harsh punishment or other negative consequences. However, Non-conformity usually ends up with rejection although in both case isolation can occur. (Henry Gleitman et al, 2007)

The situation in Abu Ghraib

Abu Ghraib became an instant case study to all social psychologists when the story was first leaked. After the introduction of the code of ethics, obedience and conformity experiments became more harder to conduct. The situation in Abu Ghraib was a naturally occurred when military police were put into a position of authority over the prisoners. In March 2003 the American army went to war in Iraq. The military used Abu Ghraib prison as a center for detainees and integrations. In April 2004, Abu Ghraib mission took a turn to the worse when CBS television and The New Yorkers magazine published details of the on going abuse in Abu Ghraib. Photos and Videos were leaked including graphic photography showing guards beating prisoners and forcing them into humiliating and stressful positions. The videos included prisoners being beaten, forced to strip and masturbated, threatened by un-muzzled dogs, smeared in faeces and made to simulate sex or form naked piles. Many prisoners were allegedly raped, sodomised and beaten to death. (BBC News, 2008). In 1949, the Geneva Convention act was enforced, theses international laws prohibited torture, outrages upon personal dignity, humiliating and degrading treatment of detainees. All detainees at Abu Ghraib were automatically assumed as ‘unlawful combatants’ and were denied status as prisoners of war. U.S defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said that ‘’ Unlawful combatants do not have any right under the Geneva Convention’’. (Reuters, 2002)
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Psychologist, Philip Zimbardo explained the behavior of the guards blaming the situation they were put into. ‘’ They’re overwhelmed; Fredrick and the others worked 12-hour shifts. How many days a week? Seven. How many days without a day off? Forty. That kind of stress reduces decision –making and critical thinking and rationality… and they tell him, ‘’it’s a war zone. Do your job. Do whatever you have to do’’.’’ (Zimbardo, Wired)

Conformity in Abu Ghraib

Why do people conform to others around them? Two influences appear to be crucial in understanding why people conform in ...

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