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Outline and Evaluate Psychological Research into Majority Influence (12)
There have been a number of different proposals for the reasons why people conform. Majority
influence takes place when a person changes their attitudes, beliefs or actions to fit in with a larger
group. Sherif's study in 1936 is the first major study in this field. He used the auto-kinetic effect and
asked participants to estimate how far the spot of light moved. This is an ambiguous task as the
auto-kinetic effect is an illusion and the light does not move at all. He found the participants, when
asked individually, all gave very different answers. A few days later the participants returned to the
laboratory to take part in the experiment again, however this time they were placed in groups of
three. Each group put together had all given very different answers in the first condition of the study.
Sherif found when the groups were asked to give their estimates, they all agreed on similar answers.
By the third trial each individual member of the group gave a very similar answer.
Asch wished to develop on Sherif's research by investigating majority influence with an
un-ambiguous task. He gave them a task in which a test line was presented next to three other lines
labelled A, B and C. The answer to every task was quite obvious. Asch used confederates in his study,
and they were asked to give the same incorrect answer for 12 out of 18 of the trials. These were
called the critical trials. The naïve participant was seated at the end or second to last of the group,
and the group were asked to give their answers out loud each time. The overall conformity rate in
this study was 37%. This shows the number of trials in which naïve participants gave the same wrong
answer as the confederates. He also found that 5% of the participants conformed on every critical
trial. He also found that 25% of people were not affected by majority influence at all and gave the
correct answer for every trial. When Asch interviewed the participants after the study they gave a
range of explanations for their conforming. Some said they thought they may be seeing the lines
wrong, whereas others admitted they knew the answers were wrong, but did not wish to stand out
from the group.
Both of these studies were conducted in a highly controlled environment, especially Asch's with the
use of confederates. This can therefore establish a cause and effect, for example whether a larger
majority causes more people to conform. As the experiments were both conducted in a laboratory
with very controlled procedures, it would be quite easy to repeat the experiment, for example to
see whether majority influence was more prominent in another culture.
As these studies are both created for the laboratory experiment, they lack validity. In everyday life
people tend more to conform when they are around friends rather than strangers, as they are in the
study. It also lacks ecological validity, as neither of the tasks are ones we are likely to have to take
part in in real life. It is also difficult to generalise the results as Asch's took part in 1950's America, so
we couldn't generalise to other cultures or times. Although this creates a problem, it can be
overcome by repeating the experiment at a later date or in another culture, as mentioned earlier.
Informed consent couldn't be given in either of these studies as deception was necessary for the
experiment, however if they were debriefed after this shouldn't be a major ethical issue. We may
also see Asch's study as unethical as participants may have felt temporary stress or discomfort in the
situation. This is unlikely to have a lasting effect on the participants, and as long as they are debriefed
it shouldn't cause problems.
Following Asch's study a "dual-processing dependency model" was proposed by Deutsch and Gerard
in 1955. This gave two possible reasons for the effects of majority influence on the individual. The
Other pages in this set
Here's a taster:
first of these is Normative Social Influence. This means the person conforms because they need to be
accepted and belong to a group. The next is Informational Social Influence in which people are unsure
how to behave so look to others for guidance.…read more