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Compliance is a word frequently found in history, sociology, government, and business texts. It refers to the act of giving in or yielding to some other person or group's wishes, requests, or commands. Compliance can be used informally (sentences 1 and 4) to describe interpersonal relationships, in which one person gives into another. But it can also be used more formally in situations where compliance involves adhering to, or following, established laws or rules (see sentence 2). It is also common in medical texts where it's used to indicate how well a patient does or does not follow a particular course of treatment (sentence 3).
Related forms: compliant, comply
Memory Pegs. To remember the word compliance, link it to the notorious Milgram experiment. This was a study carried out by psychologist Stanley Milgram in the 1960s. Milgram wanted to see if, when told to do so by a person in authority, people would comply and inflict pain on others.
Unfortunately, many of Milgram's subjects showed a high degree of compliance when a man in a white coat and appearing to be a doctor told them to administer painful electric shocks to other members of the study. Even though the subjects appeared to be screaming in pain—They were faking it—65% of Milgram's subjects were compliant. They delivered what they thought was a highly painful electric shock to their fellow human beings. Based on his study, Milgram decided that compliance to authority was a very common trait.* Remember the Milgram experiment, and it's doubtful that you will forget the meaning of compliance.
*Later studies showed that the number of people willing to inflict pain on others dropped dramatically when they were supported in their objections by other participants.
Specialized Use in Business. Regulatory compliance refers to a company's or individual's following of, or adherence to, all the legislation and standards that apply to their particular field or market. Any factory owner, for instance, is going to aim for regulatory compliance with all the guidelines set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA.)
1. Given what you know about the word compliance, which of these sentences uses it correctly?
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Last update of this page: March 22, 2014