Lepage Johan

Lepage Johan
Membres associés
Email: johan.lepage@univ-grenoble-alpes.fr



PhD in experimental social psychology

Thesis: Role of self-regulation mechanisms in obedience to authority

Supervisors: Laurent Bègue (Pr., Laboratoire InterUniversitaire de Psychologie), Martial Mermillod (Pr., Laboratoire de Psychologie et de NeuroCognition, UMR 5105)

Defense: 4.12.2017

Jury: Jean Rossier (Pr., Académie des sciences, rapporteur), Moïra Mikolajczak (Pr., Université catholique de Louvain, rapporteure), Martial Foucault (Pr., Sciences Po - CEVIPOF, président du jury), Aïna Chalabaev (MC, Université Grenoble Alpes, examinatrice)


In the Milgram's obedience experiments (Milgram, 1963, 1965, 1974), naive participants were ordered to administer increasingly severe electric shocks on a “learner” (a confederate) after being told that they were participating in an experiment on the effects of punishment on learning. Results revealed that 62.5% of the participants were willing to administer allegedly lethal electric shocks when ordered to do so (standard condition; Milgram, 1974). The Milgram's findings are still often cited when explaining destructive behaviors such as torture. The Milgram’s obedience studies have also been a target of ethical criticism and replication has been discouraged. In such a context, a very few experimental studies has been conducted since the Milgram’s experiments and the mechanisms responsible for destructive obedience remain unknown. Recent research reopens the door to direct empirical study of destructive obedience through the employment of immersive environments. A recent fMRI study showed that pain-related affective sharing in a virtual version of the Milgram paradigm elicited an aversive, self-oriented state of personal distress. This result suggests that low self-regulatory control of the shared affect evoked by the victim’s pain could be responsible for destructive obedience. Based on recent social neuroscience research, we hypothesized that stress vulnerability may facilitate destructive obedience through a mechanism of inhibitory control over empathic resonance responsible for decreased harm aversion. We conducted six studies aiming (i) to explore the influence of cardiac vagal tone (a biomarker of stress vulnerability) on right-wing authoritarianism (RWA, a classic predictor of destructive obedience) and on destructive obedience, (ii) to induce a self-regulatory fatigue in order to manipulate the participants’ abilities for inhibitory control during the obedience procedure, (iii) to explore the relation between theta oscillations (a biomarker of inhibitory control) and destructive obedience, (iv) to examine the relation between destructive obedience and hemodynamic response in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (including the orbitofrontal cortex) and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, two brain areas highly involved in empathy and moral cognition. Obedience was measured using the “Immersive Video Milgram Obedience Experiment”. All in all, our results showed: (i) that lower vagal tone predicted higher RWA and destructive obedience, and that obedient participants exerted a cognitive effort associated with decreased physiological arousal (studies 2 and 3), (ii) that self-regulatory fatigue reduced destructive obedience and suppressed the influence of RWA, (iii) that increased theta power predicted destructive obedience (study 4), (iv) that increased oxygenated-hemoglobin in the right ventromedial prefrontal cortex predicts disobedience. On the whole, these results support the hypothesis that individuals high in stress vulnerability exert an inhibitory control over their empathic resonance in an attempt to reduce their own distress, and that such a mechanism is responsible for decreased harm aversion and then destructive obedience


Obedience to authority, right-wing authoritarianism, self-regulation, stress, inhibitory control, harm aversion

Research fields

  • Experimental social psychology
  • Psychophysiology
  • Affective, social and political neuroscience

Main publications


Lepage, J., Bègue, L., Zerhouni, O., Courset, R., & Mermillod, M. Influence of Authoritarianism, Vagal Tone and Mental Fatigue on Obedience to Authority. Cognition & Emotion (accepted)

Zerhouni, O., & Lepage, J. "Paint it black": chronic emotion regulation difficulties enhance evaluative conditioning effect when CSs are paired with highly arousing negative USs. Journal of Individual Differences (accepted)

Bègue, L., Beauvois, J.-L., Courbet, D., Oberlé, D., Lepage, J., & Duke, A. A. (2015). Personality Predicts Obedience in a Milgram Paradigm. Journal of Personality, 83(3), 299-306. doi:10.1111/jopy.12104

Mermillod, M., Marchand, V., Lepage, J., Bègue, L., & Dambrun, M. (2015). Destructive Obedience Without Pressure: Beyond the Limits of the Agentic State. Social Psychology, 46(6), 345-351. doi:10.1027/1864-9335/a000251



Lepage, J. (2017). Soumission à l'autorité et destructivité : approches comportementale et neurobiologique. In R. Coutanceau & S. Lemitre (Eds.), Violences ordinaires et hors normes. Aux racines de la destructivité humaine. Paris : Dunod.

Mermillod, M., & Lepage, J. (2016). Embodied Emotion: the Functional Mystery of Embodying Emotions. In Y. Coello & M. H. Fischer (Eds.), Foundations of Embodied Cognition, Perceptual and Emotional Embodiment (Vol. 1). Hove: Psychology Press.

Lepage, J. (2013). Empathie et comportement prosocial : une relation complexe. In L. Bègue & O. Desrichard (Eds.), Traité de psychologie sociale. Bruxelles: De Boeck.

Lepage, J. (2013). Bases motivationnelles, physiologiques et neurocognitives de l'idéologie. In L. Bègue & O. Desrichard (Eds.), Traité de psychologie sociale. Bruxelles: De Boeck.