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7. Psychology Unit 2: Social Influence > Social Influence > Flashcards

Flashcards in Social Influence Deck (42)
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What you need to know

Definitions of conformity, obedience, social loafing and deindividuation.

Description and evaluation of studies of conformity, obedience, social loafing and deindividuation.

Explanation of factors affecting conformity, obedience, social loafing and deindividuation.

Explanation of factors affecting Bystander Intervention

Description and evaluation of studies of Bystander Intervention including

Latane and Darley




Contemporary and practical implications of studies of social influence and their benefits and drawbacks



Social Influence


The effect other people have on our behaviour. This includes conformity, obedience and social loafing for example


Conformity intro

Conformity refers to the way in which our thoughts and actions are affected by the presence of those around us. Although we are sometimes aware of this happening it can also be unconscious. Consciously we may look to people in our lives for guidance, while unconsciously we may copy or mirror others without realising it.


Psychologists are interested in why and how we conform.







A change in a person’s behaviour or opinions as a result of group pressure.



Factors that affect conformity:

  • Need to be right: conform more if we think the others have Superior knowledge

When in a situation and we're unsure of the correct things to do, or say we'll see what other people are doing and assume they're correct this will lead us to copy them. This is especially true if we think they have superior knowledge

e.g. through age or experience

  • Need to be liked: conform more with people who we want to belong with

Humans have a strong desire to be socially accepted. This means we’re likely to do or say things that make us popular with a group.

The extent to which we conform will vary depending on who we’re with at the time

E.g. may go to a move when we don’t like it because being with them is important

Group Size

In Sherif's study - the larger the group the more conformity

Difficulty of the Task

Asch found that when the task was more difficlt people were more likely to conform with the condederates.

Unanimous majority

Asch made the task more difficult and increased the number of confederates giving wrong answers. Both led to greater conformity. Whereas there was another person giving a correct answer, or the task was easier, conformity levels went down.

  • Ambiguity of the task

  • Personality factors eg age, non conforming


Sherif Study


Aim: to discover the effect on judgment of listening to other people

Method: he asked participants to estimate how far a spot of light moved when they were sitting in an otherwise completely dark room. In fact the light didn’t move at all, but owing to an optical illusion (called the autokinetic effect) it did appear to


  • individually the participants gave a variety of estimates, which differed quite widely from each others.
  • in groups of 3 their estimates became more similar until finally they were very close.

Conclusion: the participants used other people’s opinions to help them form a judgement in an ambiguous situation


Asch Study


Aim: to see whether people could be influenced by other people’s opinions to give an answer they knew to be wrong (and are therefore conforming)

Method: white American college students were shown sets of 4 lines. For each set the participant had to say whether line A or B or C was the same length as the test line.

  • When alone
  • When in groups

Confederates were told to give some wrong answers


  • When tested alone they rarely made a mistake – error rate less than 1%
  • When tested in groups 32% of the time the rest gave a wrong answer the participant gave the same wrong answer even when it was obviously right. 74% of the participants gave at least 1 wrong answer

Conclusion: people’s opinions can be changed as a result of group pressure

The only reason for this 32% error rate was hearing the incorrect answers previously given.

Those Participants told Asch they knew their answer were wrong but didn’t want to go against the group. This is true conformity.



Eval Conformity

Asch criticised Sherif. He argued that Sherif’s study was flawed because there was no right or wrong answer (the light didn’t actually move). The situation was ambiguous. The distances the light had moved was not known by the participants. So this did not demonstrate conformity. A’s study made sure there was a right or wrong answer.


  • Both were conducted in laboratories this means neither were natural situations for participants so they may have behaved in unnatural ways. They are low in Ecological validity (not true to everyday life).
  • Participants were deceived (not told it was a conformity experiment) this therefore is an ethical issue but would have ruined the experiment if they had been told.


Laboratory experiments are the most scientific research methods. Allow a lot of control over the variables. Asch was able to alter the variables e.g. he made the task more difficult and increased the number of confederates giving wrong answers. Both led to greater conformity.  Whereas there was another person giving a correct answer, or the task was easier, conformity levels went down. 




Give an introduction to Obedience

While there are positive reasons for obedience (obeying authority figres can keep us safe and allows society to run smoothly) in history there have been many situations in which authority figures have given people unreasonable orders with terrible consequences (such as genocide).

Psychologists are therefore very interested in why we obey  orders even when we feel they're wrong.



What is the Definition of Obedience?



Following the orders of someone we believe to have authority


Factors that affect obedience:



The 5 factors that affect obedience are: [BLAGS]


Legitimate authority

Agentic state (not feeling responsible)

Gradual commitments



“something that creates distance between the teacher and learner (e.g. a wall or another person administering the shocks).

Buffers shield the person from the consequences of their actions on the victim. For example in Milgram’s study, the ‘learner’ was in another room.

Legitimate authority

we have faith in people we believe to be in positions of authority such as when we unquestionably obey a Doctor because we believe in his superior knowledge, or in Milgram’s experiment where the Yale professor in the lab coat made the participants put faith in what he was telling them to do.

Agentic state (not feeling responsible)

when acting on behalf of someone else people don’t feel as guilty or responsible for their actions. Milgram said that in his experiment people lost their sense of responsibility for their own actions. The participants were just acting on behalf of someone else; they were just doing what they were told. This stopped them from feeling they would be blamed for what they did.

Gradual commitment

Slowly increasing your demands of someone so the severity of their actions doesn’t seem as large

e.g. as the shocks in Milgram’s study started quite low and increased by such small steps it was difficult for the participants to know where to draw the line. After all if you have given someone 150 volts already, why not 165?


“the way we are raised to behave and the things we are taught to accept as normal”

Throughout our lives, and especially when we are young, we are taught to obey authority figures, such as parents and teachers. This means that it becomes a normal thing to do.


Milgram study


Aim: to see how far people would obey an unreasonable order

Method: 40 male participants were asked to take part in what they thought was a memory and learning study. They were made to believe that they were giving an electric shock to a ‘learner’ (really a confederate) every time he got an answer wrong. Each wrong answer increased the severity of the shock. The shocks weren’t actually real but the participants didn’t know this.


They were seated in front of a shock generator that had 30 switches marked from 15 to 45 volts.

The learner had to remember pairs of words, and if the learner got it wrong the participant had to deliver a shock that increased in severity with each mistake

As the shocks increased, the participant heard a recording of the learner

  • Groan in pain,
  • Protest
  • Beg to be released
  • Eventually fell silent.

If the participant tried to stop so the experimenter would provide verbal prods such as ‘the experiment requires that you continue/, ‘you must go on

Results: Despite the participants suffering a lot of distress (three of them actually had a seizure!) they ALL delivered 300 volts and 65% of the went all the way to 450 volts.

Conclusion: people are prepared to obey quite extraordinary orders if they think the person giving then is in a position of authority



Evaluate Milgram's experiment

This experiment brings up several ethical concerns, such as the removal of

the right to withdraw (participants were led to believe they had to continue);

deception (they were deceived about the nature of the experiment), and

distress and harm.

The experiment was very distressing for the participants. It has been argued that participants realised that the shocks weren't real, but this doesn't explain why the stress reactions of the participants were so high. 

The experiment could be said to be low in ecological validity because it took place in a lab setting but it has been replicated in many other situations with similar results.


Describe the Hoffling study


Aim: to see if people would follow an unreasonable order in their normal work environment

Method: Hofling contacted 22 nurses individually by phone claiming to be a doctor. He instructed them to give a patient twice the maximum dose of a drug called Astrophen

Results:  21 of the 22 followed his order. Even though the max dose was on the bottle

Conclusion: nurses are likely to obey the instructions of a doctor even when there may be bad consequences for a patient



Evaluate the Hofling study


Hofling's study was an experiment conducted in a real life setting. It had the benefit of being scientific while reducing the artificiality of a laboratory setting.


However it can still be argued that this experiment was lacking in ecological validity. The drug used was not a real drug, and the nurses weren't allowed to discuss the request with anyone. This made the study less realistic, despite the apparent normality of the situation. 




Intro Social Loafing

When people are in groups, they do not put in as much effort as people doing the same task on their own. In a tug-of-war the more people there are pulling the rope the less effort they each put in. 5 people should be able to apply 5 times the force, but this doesn't happen. When a group of people are all performing a task together, every person is being helped by others. As a result it is not possible to identify an individual person's performance. This means they do not need to work as hard as they do on their own.


Social loafing definition


Putting less effort into the same task when in a group rather than on your own


Factors Social Loafing


Factors that affect social loafing: [SNC - 'sneak']

  • Size of the group [Latane et al]
  • Nature of the task you’re performing
  • Culture to which you belong [Earley]


Latane study

[social loafing]


Aim: To see whether being in a group would have an effect on how much effort participants put into a task.

Method: Researchers asked 84 participants to shout and clap as loudly as they could while they were

  • -alone
  • in a group of up to 6.

Each participant wore headphones so they couldn't hear the others.

Results: The larger the group size, the less noise the participants made

Conclusion: People put less effort into doing something when they know others are contributing effort to the same task than they do when they are the only one.


Earley Study

[social loafing]

[know this for your evaluation of Latane]

Aim: To see if culture makes a difference to social loafing

Method: Participants from the US and China had to complete tasks

  • alone
  • in groups

The level of social loafing was measured by how much effort was put in to the task in each condition by the participants.

Results: The American participants reduced the amount of effort they put in to the task when they were in groups, but the Chinese did not

Conclusion: Social loafing does NOT exist in all cultures. In some cultures people are prepared to work just as hard for the good of the whole group even when they do not need to.


Eval Social Loafing

Latane study could be criticised because the results can’t be generalised to other cultures. In the Earley study results showed that American people put in less effort but Chinese participants did not. People who live in Africa for example, might behave differently again.

Strength: Most of the research has taken place in a laboratory setting. This has the advantages of more control over the variables, and is replicable and objective.

Weakness: The studies are artificial though and low in Ecological Validity. E.g. clapping and shouting on demand is not an everyday activity.


Intro Deindividuation

Festinger first used the term Deindividuation to refer to what happens when people lose their sense of individuality (our personality, conscience, values and so on).

An important part of this is our sense of right and wrong.

When deindividuation occurs people lose this, along with their sense of responsibility for what they do. They stop being able to judge whether their actions are right or wrong.

Most people behave in socially acceptable ways because of threat of punishment. However a person can only be punished if it is clear who is responsible, and if they're identified.

Festinger said deindividuation is more likely to happen in a group because we become anonymous.

Once you join a group your identity becomes harder to distinguish and the threat of punishment decreases. If no one knows you you can't be punished. This is why deindividuation leads to antisocial behaviour. It’s why mobs behave very differently from people on their own.



Deindividuation definition

Not feeling as responsible for our actions when in a group


Factors that affect deindividuation

Factors that affect deindividuation: ['HUG']

  • Hiding your identity
  • Wearing a Uniform
  • Being part of a clearly identificalbe Gang / Group

Hiding your identity:

Anonymity increases antiscocial acts because people feel they're not at risk of punishment because they can't be identified. Lose your sense of your identity can lead to antisocial acts.

Wearing a Uniform:

Uniforms make us like everyone else in a group and discourage us from being individuals. There are roles we are expected to play indicated by uniforms (eg Doctor, Policeman, School pupil).Expected to behave like the group that the uniform represents. People can take on the identity and the norms of the group and lose their individual identity when wearing uniform.

Being part of a clearly identificable Gang / Group :

if we're seen as belonging to a group then we're expected to behave like other members of the group. Deindividuation occurs when we behave like the group we are in rather than like an individual.



Diener study


Aim: To see if children would commit more antisocial acts if they were anonymous

Method: 1300 'trick or treating' children were split into two groups on Halloween:

  • names and addresses
  • anonymous

When the children went to the door the answering woman received a fake phone call, and left the children with a bucket of sweets, telling them to take one each.

An observer recorded the chldren's behaviour.

Results: The children were more likely to steal sweets when anonymous than when they were identifiable and when in groups than alone.

Conclusion: Diener concluded that people are more likely to commit antisocial acts when they can't be identified



Zimbardo study


Aim: to see if living in a big city causes people to be more antisocial than living in a small town

Method:  A car was deliberately parked with the bonnet up as if it had broken down:

  • In a city (New York)
  • in a small town (Palto Alto)

Then passers by were observed as they passed the car


  • In the city people immediately began stealing parts off the car, and within 2 weeks there was very little of the car left!
  • In the small town the only time the car was touched was when someone lowered the bonnet to stop the engine getting wet in the rain!

Conclusion: The deindividualtion caused by living in a big city leads to more antisocial behaviour



Evaluation Deindividuation

Diener and Zimbardo (car study) evaluation

Both studies took place in a natural setting and are therefore high in Ecological validity.

We could criticise these studies on the basis of Ethics as the people were observed without the right to withdraw and deception was necessary, (neither the children or the passers by realised they were being observerd.) However the observation was carefully unobtrusive, and fits the BPS guidelines in that the particiapnts could’ve reasonably be expected to be observed in every day life.


Zimbardo prison experiment


[Be familiar with this for general answers not off by heart]


Zimbardo prison experiment

[Be familiar with this for general answers not off by heart]


Intro Bystander Intervention

Bystander intervention is about the degree to which a person nearby (a bystander) will intervene when another individual needs help.

Psychologists interested in Social Influence have studied what causes a person to do nothing in an emergency when someone is in need of help - Bystander apathy

Latane and Darley for example believed that people don't offer help in such situations as an attack (like the case of Kitty Genovese or Angel Torres), because of the presence of the other people around them.