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Development and Racial Identity Theories

Description of how development theories and racial identity theories could inform your work with clients who are GLBT or who belong to racial or ethnic minority groups.

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One of the most significant social psychological studies was conducted on the heels of the Holocaust and the atrocities committed during that period in history. Social psychologists questioned how individuals could blindly follow an authority figure's demands to inflict harm. Discuss Milgram's research on obedience to authority. Include the following in your paper:

A brief summary of Milgram's seminal research on obedience to authority. Describe Milgram's methodology as well as his results and his interpretation of those results.

In the post-war era, atrocities such as the Soviet Gulags or the Nazi holocaust became the subject for studies on political and social power. More recently, the massacre at Jonestown and the torture scandals at Guantanamo base in Cuba have heightened interest in questions of power. Milgram's work centered around one thing: will or can an authority figure force people to inflict pain on others. This was an empirical study. The scientist (the authority figure) created a scenario where test subjects thought they were inflicting pain on another via electric shock.

The status of the scientist-researcher and the context of the university was thought to be sufficient to get test subjects to inflict pain more than they normally would. The conclusion was startling: people did inflict pain on others far more than they would outside of the authoritarian context. This spurred a major subsequent set of papers dealing with the results of this study, and specifically, what it has to do with obedience to authority (Milgram, 1974, esp 44-48).

Interpretation of Results (of Milgram)

One of Milgram's aims was to deal with obedience to authority not so much as a matter of course, but only in those areas where a person would normally not be obedient. The experiment was designed so that people pushing the shock buzzer would be uncomfortable doing so, as they caused more and more pain. At the same time, "pain" was being caused in that the subject believed they were inflicting pain on others, often at a severe level (though of course, no such shock was ever administered).

Using the Jonestown example, it was clearly the charismatic authority of Jim Jones himself that led to the poisonings. In his case, the institutions of power were limited, and the personal dimension was paramount. However, Jones' own well known connection to American politicians adds an institutional element to his authority. Mixing Christianity with Marxism and racial integration, the "People's Temple" was an attempt to reclaim "Eden" as a socialist paradise.

Milgram's methods were empirical, and were designed primarily to test the nature of obedience under orders. Given the wartime experience, pain became the main source of "moral discomfort" that was to be gently pushed by the authority figure. It should come as no surprise that both German and Soviet camps contained a scientific element where prisoners were used as scientific objects.

Hence, the importance of science is included with the specific significance of the researcher in a university. Of course, the problem is that the subjects were capable of refusing without harm to themselves. In the camp example, however, soldiers and guards that did not follow orders could be, at worst, executed. The experiment is not perfect, nor could it be (Milgram, 1974: 136-140).

Discuss what current research has being found regarding conforming to authority.

S.C. Patten (1977) challenged the nature of the experiment on other grounds - that the inferences to social life Milgram made make no sense. The scientist created a claim based on expertise, which is not the same as authority (Patten, 1977: 361). Expertise might be considered as only a subset of authority resting on very different grounds. In the camp example, Milgram is no help, since soldiers there acted under very different conditions, an certainly had nothing to do with the expertise of the command structure.

The second point Patten makes is the morality of the actor. This is to say, he is concerned with the mentality of those who continued to inflict pain far and beyond what they normally would do. Several options suggest themselves: that the actors felt it was morally acceptable to inflict pain because it furthered "science," or alternatively, that they were just worried they would appear "uncooperative" if they refused to inflict the faux pain. ...

Solution Summary

The expert develops racial identity theories.

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