Evaluating reseach into conformity

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  • Evaluating reseach into conformity
    • Validity
      • Insignificant task - participants may be willing to conform to save face.
        • Findings may only tell us about conformity in certain situations. There may have been special pressures on them to conform.
      • On a more important task we would expect conformity levels to drop
    • Ethics
      • Participants in Aschs study did not know the true aims of the experiment nor did they know the other participants were confederates.
        • Our objections can be overcome by properly debriefing participants after the experiment and offering the right to withhold their data.
    • 'A child of its time'
      • The findings may be unique to one culture - participants were all male, all American and the study took place in the 1950s.
        • Perrin and Spencer tried to replicate Aschs study on English science and engineering students in the 1970s. THey only got one conforming response out of 396 trials.
          • They subsequently used youths on probation as participants and probation officers as confederates.
            • This time they found similar levels of conformity to those found by Asch.
              • This suggests that conformity is higher when the percieved costs of non conformity are high.
      • Nicholson et al also replicated Asch's study and found some evidence for conformity among British students.
        • They explained this in terms of a greater feeling of national cohesion following the Falklands War.
    • Unconvincing Confederates?
      • It would have been difficult for the participants in Asch's orginal study to act convincingly when giving wrong answers.
        • Mori and Arai (2010) overcame this by using glasses with special polarising filters. All participants saw the same stimulus but the real participant wore different glasses to the other three confederates. The real participant therefore saw the stimulus differently.
          • The results closely matched those of the original experiment, suggestting that the confederates in Asch's study had acted convincingly.
    • Conformity or independence?
      • Only about one-third of the trials where the majority unanimously gave the wrong answer produced a conforming response.
        • In other words, in two-thirds of these trials the participants resolutely stuck to their original opinion despite being faced by an overwhelming majority expressing a totally different view.
          • Asch believed that his study demonstrated a commendable tendency to stick to what we believe, i.e. to show independent behaviour.
    • Culture and Conformity
      • Research suggests we may expect to find different results depending on the culture in which the study takes place.
        • Perrin and Spencer have contended that the relatively high levels of conformity in Asch's research in the 1950's are more indicative of the particular social climate operating in the US at the time than of a universal human behaviour.
        • Smith and Bond carried out a meta-analysis and found that collectivist countries tended to show higher levels of conformity than individualist countries.
          • The impact of cultural variables on conformity levels was greater than any other variable (eg gender).
          • Levels of conformity in the US had steadily declined since Asch's studies in the 1950's, with the date negatively correlated with the level of conformity found in the study.
          • Consistent with the findings of Asch, conformity was significantly higher with; larger majority sizes, female participants and more ambiguous stimuli.
          • Limitations of this analysis
            • Cultures are not homogenous and differences differences between individualist and collectivist values within different cultures have been established. Drawing conclusions based on differences between cultures may, therefore, be an oversimplification.
            • In cross-cultural comparisions, there is a problem of cultural differences in the relevance or meaningfulness of the materials used.
              • It is possible that the task was more meaningful for one culture than the other, and that it was these differences, rather than differences in conformity, that were being measured.
      • People from collectivist cultures should be more likely to yield to the majority than people from individualist cultures. This proposition is tested by Smith and Bond.


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