If you’ve ever seen the movie “The Stepford Wives”, Matthew Broderick moves to the perfect suburban town where everyone is nice – too nice. He soon learns that the women have been transformed into robots, controlled by their husbands. It’s a satirical take on just how unsettling it can be when a person appears to be always in a good mood, nice at every waking moment.
In 1961, psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment in order to understand Nazis’ rise to power and tested how far people would obey authority. Volunteers were asked to turn a dial and send an electrical shock to the test subject (an actor that was faking pain) gradually increasing the voltage. Some volunteers were willing to shock the subject until he was dead.
The Milgram study got an update recently when the Journal of Personality revealed just what sorts of people are willing to obey the orders of authority – no matter how outlandish the commands. Those with personalities described as “highly agreeable and conscientious” were more likely to perform orders that harmed others.
Participants were 35 males and 31 females aged 26–54 from the general population, who were contacted by phone 8 months after their participation in a study transposing Milgram’s obedience paradigm to the context of a fake television game show.
Those who were especially friendly and considered agreeable obeyed orders because they didn’t want to upset the order of things, while those who were described as less friendly were quicker to speak up for themselves. Additionally, the study revealed people holding left-wing political views were less willing to follow orders that harmed others.
In short, it’s probably fair to assume that a-holes are less likely to tolerate ridiculous orders from authority figures than somebody who’s a pushover.