In a very general sense, everyone obeys out of their own self-interest. However, this places the fear of punishment on an equal plane with the promise of a reward and does not shed much light on the underlying reasons. The question that needs to be answered is; what self-interest are we fulfilling when we obey Kelman and Hamilton argue that obedience comes from one of three rationalizations. Compliance for self-interest, acknowledgment of authority, or ethical concerns (Tyler 1090). A person may comply with the request to work overtime at no pay in hopes of getting a promotion. In their identification of authority model, a person may act against their better judgment if the boss orders them to take an illegal action. People also have the capacity to exercise free will and act according to their own value system.
Psychological theorists can help explain obedience by examining the motivation behind the reward we receive for compliance. Maslow would describe the humanist viewpoint as obeying to gain respect and recognition from authority. Skinner would see obedience as a natural conditioned reaction to doing what we are told. Bronfenbrenner describes a myriad of authorities that we obey on an individual or group level. The echological argument holds that patriotism is obedience to nationalism. Obedience can take many forms and the authority may be abstract.
Young children may obey their parents because they understand it is the right thing to do and is an ethical decision. It may be self-interest, as they will obey them to avoid their parent's punishment, or to gain a reward. However, a child's inner logic may not be apparent through their actions alone. Children who have been abused, neglected, or feel abandoned may withdraw and suffer from defeatism (Singer, Dornenbal, and Okma, 601). They will display obedience though it may not be for the self-interest that it appears.
In a study of children by Singer, Dornenbal, and Okma, the researchers found significantly more foster children offered little or no resistance to parental authority than their birthchildren counterparts (596). Birthchildren had a much higher incidence of offering fierce resistance in a disciplinary conflict than foster children (596). In the case of the foster children, the researchers noted that, "Their main goal is unilateral-self-saving [...] Their main interests are fear of punishment and a feeling of powerlessness" (601). The birthchildren that were offering intense rebellion were said to have, " [...] unilateral coercive goals to get their own way" (594). The birthchildren were acting in self-interest to exploit the parental authority's lack of resolve, while the foster children were obeying for self-preservation.
As children grow into adulthood, they will for the most part become more aware of the need for obedience. The cost of punishment by law enforcement will generally get most people to abide by acceptable customs. The need for a steady paycheck will insure that they will put their feelings aside when taken advantage of in the workplace. They may rationalize to themselves, and others, that they are being obedient in order to live up to a moral or ethical standard. Adults may allow