The Authority Instinct

The authority instinct is ubiquitous among social species. It increases the survival rate of groups by facilitating decisive action. Presidents, warlords, gang leaders and chiefs are all human analogues of the alpha.

In 1961 psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted a series of social experiments to test whether participants would obey an authority figure when given an order which violated their core morality.

These experiments demonstrated that the vast majority of humans will carry out orders (albeit reluctantly) which they believe to be causing extreme pain to another human being. 65% will follow these orders to lethality.

In numerous tests, participants from a wide variety of education levels and socio-economic backgrounds obeyed commands to administer electric shocks of ever increasing voltage to a person in an adjoining room. Each shock provoked screams, and pleas to stop the experiment. Many subjects hesitated and questioned the orders, but as long as the authority remained firm most complied to a deadly 450 volts, even after the screams in the other room went silent. The only symbol of authority needed was a white medical jacket.

Authority can be signaled by uniforms, insignias, colors, and other visual representation of power. However vocal intonation and body language which convey an air of strength and certainty can be sufficient.

These behaviors can be scripted and choreographed like theater. Modern politics is essentially acting, stagecraft and props.

This site (and the associated content) is maintained by a very small team (with very limited resources). If you see something that you feel that you could improve, contact us through our volunteer page.