A quick overview of the basic obedience experiment using online publishing as an example
One of the repeatable psychological experiments is called by many names but filed under the category of ‘Obedience’.
Unlike the infamous ’shock’ treatment, this one can be done in any group without any paraphernalia. For obvious reasons I'll use online publishing as the example.
Begin with simple rules. Then, without warning, change them and make enforcement arbitrary. Do not telegraph the change, nor allow questioning, simply 'punish' those who question the new rules.
For an example, I am using Factoidz, which is an online publishing site.
Originally writers would join Factoidz and be made aware of certain standards and practices.
Publish 20 articles and be elevated from Writer to Staff Writer.
Payment per article is X $ per X hits.
Aftr 'everyone' knows these rules, and they have continued for a a few months, without warning, change them.
What would happened in the Factoidz situation is exactly what happens In an Obedience Experiment where after every one knows and accepts the rules they become less certain, arbitray.
One could publish 20 articles, even 50 and not be promoted to Staff Writer.
Those who expected to be 'promoted' assume their work isn't good enough or they haven't published enough, so work harder.
The ratio of hits to revenue becomes random so article ‘A’ receives 1k hits and 10c, article ‘B’ gains 343 hits and receives 43c.
This causes confusion and then questioning and Complaints.
Complaints are punished.
Any complaint, question, response to the change is met by punishment. Punishment is the only 'given'. Any dissent has the person moved from Staff Writer to Writer, subsequent complaints to Member.
Whatever Factoidz does must be met with the “It’s a good thing, it’s a real good thing.” (Twilight Zone).
Unable to find a cogent pattern (grundnorm) and making the assumption one exists, subjects create their own belief system.
As punishment is the only certainty, the subjects ‘defend’ the policies of the power, believing if they posted; “I’m on Your Side, Mein Fuerher” they would be ‘protected’.
This leads to the 'informer' who, seeking to gain the favour of the Power and prove his loyalty, betrays other subjects.
Hence in the Factoidz paradigm, acting in fear, the members scour other writing sites and fora searching for the complainer so as to report him/her to the 'Power' in the belief that by doing so favour is gained.
The Power (in some experiments one uses a random number generator or a throw of the dice) remains inscrutable and continues to behave arbitrarily.
The subjects of the study having no idea they are part of an experiment continue to create reasons, to experience a sense of trepidation, and try to maintain a status quo ante as if this will 'protect' them.
Moving from experiment to Real Life, the arbitrary wielding of power gains greater obedience than the 'if you do this/that happens'.
Where there is no rules, nothing to grab onto, the response is fear. Out of this fear people will behave against their own interest.
This is why you find employees fighting against a Strike for better wages or conditions of service. They are so afraid of punishment and so uncertain of what it will be they respond almost instinctively, incapable of rational thought.
This is why people fought against Free Health Care in the United States.
The Power need not defend the arbitrary system. This defense and protection will come from obedient 'citizens' who believe this will protect them.
The Results of the Experiment
Participants leave with a very discomforting sense, an insecurity. Having behaved against their interest, having hurt others for no real advantage they perceive how they can be manipulated.
On Factoidz, the interesting feature is that despite the number of complaints, the reports that it is a scam which proliferate on the Internet people still join, people still defend, up to the point they are dropped to Member.