OBLIGATION is a particular type of justification. The dictionary definition of “obligation” is fulfilling a promise or commitment. Unethical behavior is readily given a moral connotation with the use of obligation: “I needed to keep my commitment, to do what I promised. My word is who I am.”
In the Brock and Buss experiment described in the previous section, subjects were also preassigned to either a high-shock condition or a low-shock condition. Those in the high-shock condition were told to administer shock intensities of 6–10 to the “student” (confederate) and those in the low-shock condition to use shock intensities of 1–5 when the “student” made errors.
Results from the questionnaires taken at the end of the experiment demonstrated that those subjects in the high-shock condition felt much more “obligated” to continue with the experiment compared to subjects in the low-shock condition.1 Subjects used obligation as a justification for harming others. The more harm they inflicted, the more “obligated” they felt.
Obligation can often be a justification that results from obedience to authority (Trap 1). “My boss told me to do this and I said yes. I’m obligated to follow through—I won’t break my commitments.”