Date of Award

Spring 5-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair

Alen Hajnal

Committee Chair Department


Committee Member 2

Virgil Zeigler-Hill

Committee Member 2 Department


Committee Member 3

Don Sacco

Committee Member 3 Department


Committee Member 4

Kenji Noguchi


The present study examined the potential role of individual differences in personality in the likelihood of engaging in destructive obedience to authority within a modified version of the Stanley Milgram paradigm (Milgram, 1963, 1974). Personality features examined included the Big Five dimensions of agreeableness, openness, neuroticism, conscientiousness, and extraversion, and the dimensions of the Dark Triad, which consist of narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism (Paulhus & Williams, 2002). Participants were 39 undergraduates enrolled in introductory psychology classes who participated in exchange for partial fulfillment of a research requirement. Data were collected in two phases. Phase 1 consisted of online completion of personality measures. Phase 2 consisted of an in-person laboratory session in which participants engaged in an ostensible learning task. Via a rigged drawing, participants were always assigned the role of “Teacher” and an actor posing as another participant was always assigned the role of “Learner.” Participants were tasked with conducting a paired-associates learning test consisting of 15 trials with the Learner via a computer. Participants were also instructed to administer escalating electric shocks as punishment to the Learner for every incorrect response. Each time participants indicated reluctance to continue with the learning task the Experimenter would urge them to continue by issuing a series of four increasingly demanding prods. The session ended if the participant refused to continue after the Experimenter had issued all four prods on a single trial or if the participant continued to trial 15. In reality, no electric shocks were actually administered and all of the Learner’s responses were prerecorded. Results of logistic regression analyses revealed no meaningful associations between obedience and personality features. Due to low variability in rates of obedience, two additional variables were computed, which reflected participants’ reluctance to obey. The first variable reflected the number of prods from the Experimenter each participant required during their session and the second variable reflected the trial on which participants required the first prod. Regression analyses revealed that only the Big Five dimension of conscientiousness significantly associated with participants’ reluctance to obey, such that individuals higher in conscientiousness were more reluctant to obey the Experimenter.