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Flashcards in Conformity To Social Roles Deck (19)
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What are social roles?

The 'parts' people play as members of various social groups. These are accompanied by expectations we and others have of what is appropriate behaviour in each role.


What are social norms?

An expected way for individuals to behave, which will vary from situation to situation.


What part do social roles play in teaching individuals to behave?

Individuals know how to behave by looking at social roles other people play in social situations and then conforming to them. These learned social roles become like internal mental scripts allowing individuals to behave appropriately in different settings.


Does conformity to social roles therefore involve identification or internalisation? Why?

Conformity to social roles therefore involves identification, which is stronger than compliance as it involves both public and private acceptance of behaviours/attitudes.

It is not internalisation as individuals adopt different social roles for different situations. With each social role adopted, behaviour changes to fit the social norms of the situation - and as they move to another situation, their behaviour will change to suit the new social roles.


What study illustrates the role of social in conformity?

Zimbardo's prison simulation study


Describe the procedure of Zimbardo's study into the role of social roles in conformity

Zimbardo's set up a mock prison experiment in the basement is Stanford University. They advertised for students willing to volunteer and selected those who were deemed 'emotionally stable' after psychological testing.

The students were randomly assigned the roles of guards or prisoners. The 'prisoners' were arrested in their homes by the local police and were then delivered to the 'prison'. They were blindfolded, strip-searched, deloused and issued a uniform and number.

The social roles of the prisoners and guards were strictly divided. The prisoners' daily routines were heavily regulated. There were 16 rules they had to follow, which were enforced by the guards who worked in shifts, three at a time. The prisoners' names were never used, only their numbers.

The guards, to underline their role, had their own uniform, complete with wooden clubs, handcuffs, keys and mirror shades. They were told they had complete power over the prisoners, for instance even deciding when they could go to the toilet.


Describe the findings of Zimbardo's Stanford prison experiment

After a slow start to the simulation, the guards took up their roles with enthusiasm. Their behaviour become a threat to the prisoners' psychological and physical health, and the study was stopped after 6 days instead of the intended 14.

Within two days, the prisoners rebelled against their harsh treatment by the guards. They ripped off their uniforms, and shouted and swore at the guards, who retaliated with fire extinguishers.

The guards employed 'divide-and-conquer' tactics by playing the prisoners off against each other. They harassed the prisoners constantly, to remind them they were being monitored all the time. For example, they conducted frequent head counts, sometimes in the middle of the night, when the prisoners would stand in line and call out their numbers.

The guards highlighted the differences in social roles by creating plenty of opportunities to enforce the rules and punish even the smallest misdemeanour.

After their rebellion was put down, the prisoners become subdued, depressed and anxious. One prisoner was released on the first day because he showed symptoms of psychological disturbance.

Two more were released on the fourth day. One prisoner went on a hunger strike. The guards attempted to force-feed him and then punished him by putting him in 'the hole', a tiny dark closet. Instead of being considered a hero, he was shunned by the other prisoners.

The guards identified more and more closely with their role. Their behaviour become more brutal and aggressive, with some of them appearing to enjoy the power they had over the prisoners.


What conclusions about the role of social role in conformity can be drawn from the study?

The simulation revealed the power of the situation to influence people's behaviour. Guards, prisoners and researchers all conformed to their social roles within the prison.

People can very easily identify with social roles.


What sampling technique did Zimbardo use?

Volunteer sampling


How many days was the study intended to go on for, and how many days did it actually last?

The study was stopped after 6 days instead of the intended 14.


After how many days did the prisoners start to rebel against their harsh treatment by the guards?

Within two days of the start of the experiment, that prisoners rebelled.


How many prisoners were released on the first days and why?

1 prisoner was released on the first day because he showed symptoms of psychological disturbance.


Two more people were released from the simulation, on what day did this occur?

Two more people were released on the fourth day.


How many prisoners went on a hunger strike, how were they punished, and how did the other prisoners react to it?

One prisoner went on a hunger strike. The guards attempted to force feed him and punished him by putting him in 'the hole', a tiny dark closet. Instead of being considered a hero he was shunned by the other prisoners.


We're there any ethical issues in Zimbardo's study?

Zimbardo's study was considered ethical as it followed the guidelines of the Stanford University Ethics committee that had approved it. There was, for example, no deception as all participants were told in advance that their usual rights would be suspended.

However Zimbardo does acknowledge that perhaps the study should have been stopped earlier as so many of the participants were experiencing emotional distress. He did however carry out debriefing sessions for several years afterwards and concluded there were no lasting negative effects.

The fact that Zimbardo did have to carry out debriefing sessions shows that his study had problems with protection from harm. This is a weakness of the study as it shows that there were ethical issues.


How does lack of research support challenge Zimbardo's conclusions about conformity to social roles?

The findings from replications of the Stanford prison experiment have been very different to those of Zimbardo. This shows that his study lacks external validity.

In one study, it was the prisoners who eventually took control of the mock prison and subjected the guards to a campaign of harassment and disobedience. The researchers argued that the prisoners actively identified themselves as members of a social group that refused to accept the limits of their assigned role as prisoners, which doesn't fit with Zimbardo's conclusion.

It shows that conformity to social roles does not necessarily come naturally and/or easily and sometimes not at all.


How is the minimisation of dispositional influences (personality factors) a weakness of the study?

Zimbardo has been accused of exaggerating the power of the situation and minimising the role of personality factors (dispositional influences). For example only a minority of the guards (about a third) behaved in a brutal manner. Others actually tried to help and support the prisoners, sympathising with them, offering them cigarettes and reinstating privileges.

This suggests that Zimbardo's conclusion (that participants were conforming to social roles) may be over stated. The differences in the guards' behaviour indicate that they were able to exercise right and wrong choices, despite the situational pressures to conform to a role.


How is control over variables a strength of the study?

A strength of the study is that Zimbardo and his colleagues had some control over variables. For example when choosing participants, emotionally stable individuals were chosen and randomly assigned to the roles of guard and prisoner. This ruled out individual personality differences (participant variables) as an explanation of the findings and their behaviour must have been due to the pressures of the situation.

Having such control over variables is a strength because it increases the internal validity of the study. So we can be much more confident in drawing conclusions about the influence of roles in behaviour.


How did Zimbardo's study lack realism?

Some argue that the participants were merely play-acting rather than genuinely conforming to a role. Their performances were based on their stereotypes of how prisoners and guards were supposed to behave. For example, one of the guards claimed he had based his role on a brutal character from the film cool hand Luke.

This would also explain why the prisoners rioted - because they thought that was what real prisoners did. But Zimbardo pointed to evidence that the situation was very real to the participants - 90% of the prisoners' conversations were about prison life - which gives the study a high degree of internal validity.