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How far does evidence from Sherif support informational influence explanations of
conformity? (6 marks)
Sherif found that people will change their estimates about how far a light had moved in
response to information gained from others in a group. This supports the theory that
informational influence can cause people to conform they want to be correct so they
look to others for information.
However, Sherif's task was unimportant & artificial (guessing how far a light had moved).
His findings do not tell us how people would respond to informational influence when
faced with important decisions, e.g. religious views. Therefore, in this sense Sherif's
findings lack ecological validity & the support they provide for informative conformity is
Furthermore, Sherif only found evidence for informational conformity amongst an
American sample from an individualist culture. There is evidence to suggest that
collectivist cultures who do not value independent thinking as highly as individualists,
may respond differently to informational influence. Therefore, Sherif's research is lacking
external validity in that support for informational influence cannot be generalized outside
of his experimental situation. The fact that he used a small sample size also means that
we cannot generalize findings to wider population. So, we cannot be sure that everyone
will be subject to informational conformity in the same way as Sherif's participants were.
Finally the fact that Sherif's experiment was fairly well controlled means that it is valid in
the sense that he was testing what he set out to test, thus his support for
informational influence explanations of conformity is defended.
How far does evidence from Asch support normative influence explanations of
conformity? (6 marks)
Asch's finding, that in an unambiguous situation PP's will knowingly give an incorrect
answer to comply with a group norm, supports the theory that normative influence is a
reason for conformity. He has shown that people will go against their own ideas just to
fit in with group majority norms to avoid being rejected.
However, Asch's study only demonstrates normative conformity amongst Americans in
the 1950's. It may be that due the findings are products of the societal and political
pressures of the time. Perrin & Spencer replicated Asch's experiment in 1970 and found
lower conformity rates, suggesting that Asch's support for normative influence
explanations of conformity are out of date.
Additionally, Asch's sample was made up solely of men. So, he only found support for
men being subject to normative conformity and cannot generalize these findings to
women, who may act differently in the face of group pressure.
It could also be argued that Asch's participants were unsure of the correct answer and
were actually conforming due to informational pressure from the group, which would
devalue Asch's claim that normative pressure is the main reason for conformity. Yet,
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Asch interviewed his participants and found that they reported
wanting to fit in with the group even though they knew the correct answer, so it seems
they were showing normative conformity after all. In conclusion, Asch does provide
support for normative conformity, however due to a lack of ecological and external
validity in his methodology and sample these findings cannot claim to explain conformity
in the wider world.
Give one ethical limitation of Zimbardo's research.…read more
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Having a clear sense of purpose and strong, solid beliefs may lead to people being able
to resist informational conformity. For example, if the task/belief is clear to them then
they will not need to look to others for information and they will not be swayed by
informational pressure to change their opinions.
Other factors which will help an individual to act independently include culture, unanimity
and group size.…read more