Authority is the ability of a person or an organization to conduct a certain lifestyle for another person or a group. Authority is known as one of the basis of society and stands against cooperation. Adopting lifestyle patterns as a result of authority is called obedience and authority as a concept includes most leadership cases.
Although authority is usually described as human there is also frequent mention of divine authority.
Authority is made by a certain social power. This power might be materialistic (such as a threat to harm someone) or fictitious (such as belief in a certain person's power). The power exists because of the possible use of sanction : An action who harms a person who's not obeying the authority or threatening it in order to conduct a social power.
Authority may exists in a direct way by virtue of an actual power (such as a threat of imprisonment), which is called "forcing", or by legitimization that the subject gives to the authority (such as recognition of aristocratic authority). In most cases both types exist.
Only a few authorities are based on physical power, most are based on an organizational authority system. In this way, the authoritys ability to act depends on her existence.
For example: the authority of a state leader takes part when there is some sort of a police that punishes individuals that do not obey him. The policeman are subordinated to the leader and his rules because they are also under the police threat. If all citizens of the state choose to deny the leader and his rules, the authority will be lost, but the very fact that the authority semi-exists allowes it to be full.
Theoretically, violation of the authority drags with it a sanction or punishment that's given by the authority owner. The severity of the sanction and the threat it presents are based on the particular social situation, on the balance of power, on the local norms and so on.
Stanley Milgram was a psychologist who was interested in obedience. He designed an experiment to measured how willing people were to do what an authority figure told them to do. The experiment had three participants. The person running the experiment told one participant, the volunteer, to pretend to be a teacher. Another participant was an actor, but the volunteer didn't know this. The actor's role was to be the teacher's student. The actor and the volunteer were separated with a wall. The person running the experiment told the volunteer to test their "student"'s ability to remember pairs of words. When the teacher's "student" remembered a pair of words incorrectly, the experimenter told the teacher to give the student an electric shock from an electroshock generator. The electric shocks were not real, but the volunteer did not know this. Every time the student got a question wrong, the voltage of the shock went up by 15 volts. In Milgram's first set of experiments, 65% of the volunteers gave the highest shock. It was 450 volts. Milgram had two theories for why he got the results he did.
- The first is the theory of conformism. Milgram based this theory on Solomon Asch's conformity experiments.
- The second is the agentic state theory. According to agentic state theory, the participants who obeyed the experimenter's orders did this because they did not see themselves as responsible for their actions.