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What is conformity?

The tendency to change what we do (behaviour) or think and say (attitudes) in response to the influence of others or social pressure. This pressure can be real or imagined.


What study did Sherif (1936) on on conformity?

He argued that people use the behaviour of others to decide what to do, especially when they are unsure or lacking in confidence about how to act. Each participant was taken individually to a dark room and asked to focus on a single spot of light- the autokinetic effect- and were asked to estimate how far the light moved and in what direction This is an example of an ambiguous task as the light does not actually move so there is no correct answer. In the second condition, each participant returned to the laboratory several days later to repeat the perceptual task. This time they were placed in groups of 3, comprising individuals with quite different estimates. Again, they were asked to estimate the distance and direction of the 'moving light' many times.


What was the result of Sherid's (1936) study on conformity using the autokinetic effect?

They found that individuals changed their individual views and converged or agreed on similiar answers. Those with high estimates lowered them and those with low estimates increased their judgement, so by the third trail each individual group member produced a very similiar answer. Sherif noted that a 'group norm' was formed by members.


What is the autokinetic effect?

An optical illusion in which a stationary spot of light in a dark room appears to move.


What is a norm?

An unwritten rule about how to behave in a social group or situation that members accept as correct.


WHat study did Rohrer et al (1954) do on conformity?

Using sherif's method, it was found that group norms formed in this experiment persisted, so that when participants were re-tested up to one year after, they continued to use the group answer rather than reverting to their own individual views. This shows the power of the group to influence behaviour even when the group no longer exists.


What did Kelman (1958) argue about conformity?

He argued that we can distinguish between three different types or levels of conformity:
1. Compliance
2. Identification
3. Internalization


What is compliance?

It is the most superficial type of conformity. Here, the person conforms publicly with the views or behaviours expressed by others in the group but continues to privately disagree. Their personal views on the subject do not change. Compliance is also used to describe the process of going along with the requests of another person while disagreeing with them.


What is identification?

A deeper type of conformity, which takes place when the individual is exposed to the views of others and changes their view publicly and privately to fit in with them. In order to do this, the person identifies with the group and feels a sense of group membership. The person identifies to be like the person or group they admire. However, when identification takes place, the change of belief or behaviour may be temporary.


What is internalisation?

This is the deepest level of conformity. WHen the views of the group are internalised, they are taken on at a deep and permanent level, and they become part of the person's own way of viewing the world or their cognitive system. People can internalise the views of a larger group (majoritiy influence) or of a small group or individual (minority influence). Internalisation is also known as conversion.


What is majority influence?

This takes place when a person changes their attitudes, beliefs or action in order to fit in with a larger group.


What is a confederate?

'non participants' working for the experimenter who have been briefed to answer in a particular way. The real participants believes the confederate is simply another naive participant.


What was the aims of Asch's (1951) study on compliance?

Asch believed that conformity was a rational process in which people work out how to behave from other people's actions. Sherif had found that people will change their views in an ambiguous situation when they are unsure of the 'correct' response. However, Ash wished to assess what would happen when people were confronted with a majority who were plainly wrong in their judgements, to see if they would change their own views to conform to the majority.


What was Asch's (1951) study on compliance?

In the original study, he recruited 123 male students and asked them to take part in a 'task of visual perception'. They were placed in groups of between 7 and 9, and seated around a large table. The experimenter showed them 2 cards, one of a standard line and the other showing 3 comparison line. Participants were asked to call out in turn which of the three comparison lines matched the standard line in length- to which there was an easy and obvious answer. There were a total of 18 trials for each group. However, Asch used confederates who were instructed to give the wrong answer in 12/18 trails (called critical trials). In six trails the gave the incorrect answer of a long line and, in six, a shorter line was incorrectly identified. The real participant was seated second to last or last around the table to they were exposed to the same wrong answer repeatedly before giving their own view.


What was the results of Asch's (1951) study on compliance?

The overall conformity conformity rate (i.e. the number of trails in which naive participants gave the same wrong answer as the confederates) was 37%, just over 1/3
5% (1/20) of the participants conformed on every critical trial. These could be seen as the most conformist.
25% remained independent, they gave the correct answer on all 12 critical trails.


Why did the participants in Asch's (1951) study on compliance claim they conformed?

After the study, Asch asked the participants why they had answered in the way they did. Some felt that their perceptions may have been inaccurate and doubted their eyes, whereas others knew that the rest of the group were wrong but conformed because they did not wish to stand out from the group. As the trails progressed, participants became increasingly anxious and self-conscious regarding their answers and some reported feelings of stress.


What were the strengths of Asch's (1951) study on compliance?

1.The laboratory experiment was highly controlled, allowing the research to therefore establish cause and effect.


What were the weaknesses of Asch's (1951) study on compliance?

1. The artificial groups caused it to lack validity, as the people were amongst strangers, whereas in real-life situations conformity usually takes place when people are in groups with whom they have lasting ties.
2. Asch's research can be criticised as being situatied within a particular historical and cultural context- 1950's America.
3. Informed consent could not take place
4. The participants in Asch's study experienced stress and temporary discomfort, although it is unlikely that they suffered lasting damage.


What is minority influence?

This takes place when an individual or small group of people influence the majority or larger group to change their attitudes or behaviour towards an issue.


What are some real-life examples of minority influence?

1. Galileo saying the earth travelled round the sun
2. The suffragettes
3. Gay rights compaigners


What experiment did Serge Moscovici (1969) do into minority influence?

Groups of 6 people were brought together, with 4 real (naive) participants and 2 confederates. They were shown a series of 36 slides of different shades of blue and asked to name aloud the colour of the slide. In one condition (the consistent condition), the confederates called all 36 slides green. Under this condition, just over 8% of real participants moved to the minority position. In the second (inconsistent condition) the confederates called 24-36 slides green and the move to the minority position was around 1.25 %. This study suggests that minorities should be consistent in order to exert influence.


What study did Clark (1989/99) carry out into minority influence?

They carried out a series of studies using the 1954 film 12 angry men, in which a single juror (the actor Henry Fonda) believes that a defendent is innocent of killing his father and sets out to convince the rest of the Jury that the young man is innocents. Participants were asked to play the roles of jurors and to make up their minds about the guilt or innocence of the young man.


What did Clark (1989/99) want to test in his study into minority influence?

1. That the minority could exert its influence through the information presented and the persuasive nature of the minority's arguments.
2. That the minority could influence the majority through changes in behaviour or 'defections'. Seeing other people change their view can have a powerful effect on the individuals own beliefs.


What happened in the first study Clark (1989/99) did on minority influence?

In the first study, he used 220 psychology students, 129 women and 91 men. They were given a 4-page booklet with a summary of the plot of 12 angry men. The book contained evidence for the defendent's guilt (that he had purchased and used a rare knife, that he had been seen by two eyewitnesses). Clark varied whether ot not the students were given information about Henry Fonda's defence and the counter-arguments. He found that a minority juror only led people to change their minds when they could provide counter-evidence to the charge. If they did not provide evidence, people did not move from the majority position.


What happened in the other study Clark (1989/99) did on minority influence?

Clark focused on the impact of behaviour, or people defecting to the minority position. Student participants were given a 3-page summary of the Jury's discussion in the film. They contained the main counter-arguments presented by the minority juror (that the defendent had been able to produce an identical 'rare' knife, that the man could not have seen or heard the murder due to old age and disabilities so took too long to get to the window, the old woman wasn't wearing glasses and had very bad eyesight). Clark presented different scenarios to the students in whcih he showed varying numbers of defectors from 1-6. Clark asked the students to use a 9-point scale to give their opinion of whether or not the man was guilty.


What was the results of Clark's (1989/99) second study (defectors) on minority influence?

He found that participants were influenced by the number of defectors to the 'not guilty' position. When they heard the 4 or 7 jurors had changed their mind to agree with Henry Fonda they were more likely to adopt the 'not guilty' position themselves. 7 defectors had no more influence than 4. Clark argued that after 4 people have changed their minds,a 'ceiling of influence' is reached, meaning that more defectors do not produce more influence.


What are the strengths of Clark's (1989/99) study on minority influence?

1. The participants were not misled, and were subjected to little by way of stress or discomfort.
2. The task was a simulation of a realistic situation in which social influence takes place- that of jury decision making


What are the weaknesses of Clark's (1989/99) study on minority influence?

1. The costs of making an error for participants in this research were much lower than in real-life jury service, where it is likely that decisions would be accompanied by much more soul searching. It is questionable how far the results of this role-play can be generalised to real-life jury service.


What study did Zimbardo (1971) do into identification (conformity)?

Working at stanford university he set up a mock prison in the basement of the university over the summer vacation. He wished to see if the brutality found in many American prisons at the time was a consequence of the personality of the guards or identification with the social roles in which they were placed. He recruited 24 male students from volunteers, selecting those who were most stable. He randomly allocated each student to the role of prisoner or guard. Prisoners were arrested at their homes early on Sunday morning, taken to the prison, search, de-loused and dressed in smock uniforms. THey were referred to by number. The guards were given uniforms, a 'night stick' or truncheon and dark glasses. They were instructed to keep the prisoners under control but to use no physical violence.


What was the results of Zimbardo's (1971) study into identification (conformity)?

Within a day the prisoners rebelled and ripped of their numbers. THe guards responded by locking them in their cells and confiscating their blankets. As the experiment continued, the punishments imposed by the guards escalated. Prisoners were humiliated, deprived of sleep and made to carry out roll-call in the night. One, who went on hunger strike in protest, was force ded and locked in a dark cupboard. The prisoners rapidly became depressed and passive with some showing serious stress-related reactions to the experience. The role play, which had been intended to go on for 2 weeks, was called off after 6 days. The findings were interpreted as showing the power of the situation to influence conformity, and how ordinary, stable individuals can abuse power and behave in violent, anti-social ways if placed in a situation that facilitates this.