Social influence - conformity

notes and checklist.

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  • Created on: 12-04-12 13:21
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Explain what is meant by the term conformity
Explain the difference types of conformity, including internalisation and compliance.
Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of explanations of why people conform, including
normative and informational social influence.
Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of research studies into conformity e.g. Sherif, Asch,
(majority influence studies)
Evaluate studies of conformity (in terms of methodology and ethical issues they raise)
Apply knowledge and understanding of the above.
STUDIES: You must be show knowledge and understanding of at least two studies into conformity
(the tendency to change our behaviour and/or beliefs/attitudes in response to the influence of
others) including research method. For example: Sherif and Asch. You should know more studies e.g.
Perrin and Spencer.
You must know procedure and findings for each study.
Sherif (1935) ­ autokinetic effect.
o This is where in a completely dark room a stationary pinpoint of light appears to
o People were asked initially on their own how much the light moved and again in
People's perception conformed to a group norm when asked together.
HOWEVER: this study was criticised because the task was ambiguous.
o Example of informational social influence.
Asch (1956)
o Aim was to see if individuals would conform to a majority when presented with an
unambiguous task.
o One participant and 7-9 confederates who were instructed to give the same wrong
answer unanimously on 12 of 18 trials.
The participant was always last or last but one to answer.
Repeated with 50 male students.
o Found: naïve participants conformed to the incorrect answer provided by the
majority on 37% of the critical trials.
74% of participants conformed to the incorrect answer provided by the
majority at least once.
26% of participants never conformed at all.
During debriefing ­ Asch found that a few participants had experienced
distortion of perception and did not believe they had given the wrong

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Some said they did not want to upset the experimenter so gave the
favourable answer.
Most participants said they knew they were giving the wrong answer, but
could not bear to be in a minority of one.
o Conclusions: Strong group pressure to conform, different reasons for conforming:
Normative social influence: to avoid rejection.
Informational social influence: they can't all be wrong.
o Criticisms: Lacks ecological validity ­ artificial setting ­ artificial behaviour.
Cannot be generalised.…read more

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You could know about Zimbardo's research into conformity to roles.
The Stanford prison experiment (Zimbardo, 1973)
In 1960s America there were many concerns about the treatment of prisoners by prison guards. Many
complaints were made by prisoners of violent and brutal attacks by the guards that were meant to be
protecting and caring for them.…read more

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Ethical considerations. Zimbardo has been criticised for carrying out an unethical study as he
deliberately put participants into a situation that caused them physical and psychological harm.
Zimbardo argued in his defence that he stopped the experiment when he realised it had become
dangerous, and that he did everything he could to minimise psychological harm by holding
extensive debriefing sessions with participants. The study did however provide a valuable insight
into human behaviour.
Ecological validity.…read more

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Cross-cultural validity ­ different societies have different cultures. To some extent people
from different cultures see the world differently. Culture can affect results of experiments in
two main ways:
o First, people from different cultures may have a different interpretation of the
experiment. They may give different meanings to the tasks they are asked to
perform. They may therefore respond differently to the same stimulus. If so the
results of experiments may reflect cultural differences.…read more


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