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Power: Authority, Obedience and Conformity

Power has been around for as long as people have discovered free will and consequences. The concepts of power and authority make them important features in human society. People that hold power include persons of authority, government officials, and police officers, to name a few.

With power comes along compliance and obedience. These are behaviors that people follow when they’re told orders, or asked to behave in particular situations. According to German Sociologist Max Webber, power is having the ability to exercise your will over other people.

The scope of power goes beyond a one-on-one relationship but affects larger groups of people and entities. Power moves along the realms of sociology and psychology, two disciplines that focus on individual and group behavior.


Power and authority often have negative connotations in society, as they are commonly grouped with people abusing power and exercising complete control. Despite its bad reputation, acquiring power does not always lead to abuse or violence.

Leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. have used their influence to drive movements, resulting in positive changes to society. Power does not always involve the use of force and violence, but also through influence and nonviolence.

Power is also not limited to people of authority. Technology and social media have made people protest against their leaders and exercise their will over them.

Authority and Obedience

World leaders hold degrees of authority that differ from state law and your parents. Authority refers to the power that has been accepted. Accepted power is a power that people agree to follow because they believe that a person of authority is worthy. Obedience is the social influence that follows an action based on orders from people of authority.

In everyday life, children obey their parents because parents believe in what’s best for their children. The sounds of sirens and bright police lights indicate that an officer is about to pull someone over. A person who gets the attention of the police agrees to obey the authority of law enforcement.

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Authority with Compliance and Conformity

From a psychological perspective, compliance and conformity can follow a person holding a degree of authority. A person resisting arrest, for example, doesn’t want to face further charges, so he complies with the police officer. Compliance involves changing behavior to meet the requests of an authority figure.

A person of influence or authority can have a great degree of power in a group of people. People may be reluctant to follow others but do so anyway because of conformity. Conformity involves altering individual behavior to avoid looking left out.

The studies of Stanley Milgram take influence on the experiments of Solomon Asch. These experiments observe how people behave with authority and conformity. One of Milgram’s experiments involved participants administering electrical shocks to another person somewhere else.

Unknown to the participants, the person supposedly being shocked was just acting out to shocks that weren’t there. Around 65% of the participants were willing to shock the person more under the commands of the experimenter.

The Power of Power

The effects of power affect human psychology and sociology, holding influence on both disciplines. Power and authority can be observed in a country with its leader and citizens. Power can also be seen through people willing to conform to others, even if against their will.

Power also involves people of authority whom other people may look up to and respect.

Power is a driving factor for people, and its impact can be seen by how people exercise authority and influence over others.

The Author

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