AS Psychology - Social Influence 1/4

Types of Conformity

3 ways that people conform:


  • This is the weakest level of conformity.
  • This is when the person may publicly show themselves going along with the behaviour of the group to gain their approval, or to avoid disapproval. 
  • Internally - opinions may be different and this conformity may happen only when in the presence of a group


  • An individual may adjust their behaviour and opinions publicly and privately due to accepting the group's viewpoint and wanting to belong to the group.
  • This may be temporary, however, their behaviour changes when they leave the group.
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Types of Conformity


  • This is when an individual adjusts their behaviour and beliefs because they come to accept a viewpoint as true.
  • This may occur when exposed to the beliefs of others, then having to decide themselves on their own viewpoint.
  • If they accept the groups view they adjust their behaviour even when not around the group anymore.

Examples are on Pg.11

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Explanations for conformity

Normative Social Influence (NSI)

  • Is a form of compliance and occurs when the main motivation is to be accepted, liked and respected by the group and to avoid disapproval, rejection or ridicule. 
  • The individual may fear punishment in some form such as exclusion. 
  • Even though they publicly agree with the groups viewpoints internally and in private settings they may disagree.


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NSI Key Study: Asch (1955)

NSI Key Study: Asch (1955) - Procedure

  • Asch gathered male student volunteers to take part in his laboratory experiment, for what they believed to be a test of vision.
  • Participants were shown a stimulus line and then three other lines known as A, B or C. 
  • They were asked one by one to say out loud which of the set 3 lines matches the original stimulus line they were shown.
  • All except one student were confederates, which were primed to give the same incorrect responses.
  • The real participant always answered last, in their response after having observed the confederates answer. 
  • Total of 123 American students were tested.
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NSI Key Study: Asch (1955)

NSI Key Study: Asch (1955) - Findings

  • In control trials, (without confederates):
    • Participants gave incorrect responses approximately 0.7% of the time. 
  • In critical trials:
    • Over 37% of real participants conformed to the majority groups incorrect answer. 
    • 75% of the real participants also conformed at least once in the experiments. 

NSI was the reason given by most participants for conforming to the majorities incorrect view. 

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NSI Key Study: Asch (1955) - Evaluation


  • This was a lab experiment which allowed for the control of extraneous variablesTherefore, Asch could hear be more certain the confederates were influencing the participant.
  • The study had a large sample of over 100 participants, and as it was a lab study it has been more easily replicated by others. The findings have been shown to be consistent and reliable and having validity. 


  • The use of students in this key study is not representative of the wider population and older age groups. Therefore, this study lacks external validity as we cannot say for certain the results would be similar when using a mixed age range which would be more indicative of real world settings.
  • The participants were American students. The behaviour may be subject to culturalbias. It is not clear whether similar behaviour may occur in other cultures beyond western society. 
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Informational Social Influence

Informational Social Influence (ISI)

  • Occurs when individuals are unsure about how to behave in a particular situation and, therefore, look to the opinions and behaviours of others to shape their opinions on how they should behave and act.
  • This occurs in unfamiliar settings with conformity to the crowd presenting a safe option.
  • It avoids standing out from the majority (embarrassment/rejection).
  • In Asch's study, a minority of participants stated they doubted their opinions and, therefore, agreed with confederate responses which showed informational social influence occurring. 
  • This before usually involves changing public behaviour and internally accepting the behaviour of others must be correct - an example of internalisation occurring. 
  • An example of ISI is when a person may be at an unfamiliar restaurant and presented with different cutlery to use for different dishes. If they are unaware of the correct dining etiquette, they may look to others to try to understand which cutlery is used for each dish.
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ISI Key Study: Sherif

ISI Key Study: Sherif - Procedure

  • Sherif placed participants into a dark room and subjected them to an optical illusion known as the audio-kinetic effect.
  • The illusion shows a still point of light operating to move.
  • Participants were then asked to estimate how far they believed the light had moved. 
  • They were then asked to estimate the movement first individually and then as a group, and finally as individuals again.
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ISI Key Study: Sherif

ISI Key Study: Sherif - Findings

  • Participants were seen to change from their initial individual estimate when working in the group and group norm appeared.
  • When estimating individually again after the group estimate. 
  • Participants were seen to change their initial individual estimates to reflect the groups estimate. 
  • There was no actual correct answer. 
  • Participants were seen to rely on each other for what they believed to be correct, highlighting how information social influence had occurred.
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ISI Key Study: Sherif

ISI Key Study: Sherif - Evaluation

  • Participants were deceived; this raises ethical issues. However, it could be argued that deception was minor and necessary for realistic results which many would regard as ethically sound.
  • Was conducted under laboratory settings and, therefore, lacked ecological validity as it was not indicative of real world setting. This raises the possibility of demand characteristics from participants due to being aware that they were being observed.
  • Lacks mundane realism, as trying to estimate the movement of light is unrealistic to real world situations where informational social influence could occur.
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Factors Affecting Conformity

Group Size

  • Research has found that as the majority group size increases so does influence, however, this is only up to a certain point. 
    • Asch found that with only one confederate conformity was only 3%.
    • With two confederates this raised it to 13%.
    • With three confederates conformity is raised to 33%. 
    • Up to 15 confederates led to no further increase in conformity with conformity highest where there is a 3-5 person majority.
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Factors Affecting Conformity


  • When all confederates gave the same incorrect response conformity was as high as 33%.
  • Asch investigated how important this unanimity was by introducing confederates that would go against the majority and give the correct answer. 
  • Asch placed a confederate 2nd to last, before the real participant was able to give their answer & instructed the confederate to give the correct answer. 
  • The other confederates before gave an incorrect response out loud. 
  • Results found that conformity dropped to 5.5%
  • If the confederate went against both the real participant and the other confederates conformity dropped to 9% 

Asch concluded that breaking unanimity through simply have a different point of view was enough to reduce conformity regardless of whether they supported the real participant or not.

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Factors Affecting Conformity

Task Difficulty

  • Research found that conformity increases as the difficulty of the task increases and the correct answer become less obvious.
  • This suggests that as individuals look to others for guidance on what the correct response is, informational social influence becomes the dominant force. 
  • Asch demonstrated this by increasing the task difficulty of the "line experiment".
  • He made the lines very similar in length. 
  • Results show an increase in conformity in most circumstances except in individuals who were deemed to have high levels of self-efficacy.
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Conformity to Social Roles - Zimbardos Prison Stud

Zimbardo's Prison Study - Procedure

  • Zimbardo recruited 75 male university students, who responded to a newspaper advert which asked for volunteers in a study investigating prison life.
  • The study paid $15 per day. 
  • The basement of Stanford University was converted into a mock prison. 
  • 11 of the students played prisoners, and 10 were given the role of guards = random allocation.
  • The prisoners were arrested at home, given prison uniform & an ID number.
  • Guards wore khaki uniforms, reflective sunglasses and issued handcuffs and keys.
  • Prisoners allowed certain rights: 3 meals per day, 3 supervised visits to the toilet.
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Zimbardos Prison Study

Zimbardo's Prison Study - Findings

  • Prisoners became submissive and did not question the guards behaviours with some even siding with the guards against other prisoners who rebelled. Deindividuation was apparent as prisoners began referring to one another by Prison ID's.
  • 5 prisoners were released early due to them displaying extreme behaviours such as crying, anxiety and rage. The study was stopped after only 6 days when it became clear the significant harm that was being caused by the aggressive behaviour of the guards and the submissive behaviour of the prisoners. 
  • Prisoners and guards settled into their roles, became more abusive. Guards taunted prisoners, and woke them at night to carry out demeaning jobs - cleaning toilets with their bare hands. Dehumanisation was apparent.
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Zimbardo's Prison Study - Evaluation

Zimbardo's Prison Study - Evaluation

  • Zimbardos study raised ethical concerns, considering the level of distress that some participants showed. Some reacted with crying, rage and anxiety. Zimbardo acknowledged the study should have ended sooner. Ethical concerns are the study that the study left long-term psychological effects on the participants although Zimbardo offered to debrief for many years after. In the studies defense, it was deemed ethically sound, as it had been approved by the Standford Ethics Committee.
  • Individual differences played a key role. 
    • Not all guards were sadistic and brutal; some were fair.
    • The behaviour of prisoners was not identical either; we cannot generalise the findings for certain. 
    • This is supported by the BBC study which recreated Zimbardo's experiment. 
    • It found that the guards did not identify with their role & prisoners challenged their authority which undermines Zimbardo's findings.
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Zimbardo's Prison Study - Evaluation

Zimbardo's Prison Study - Evaluation

  • Demand characteristics have been blamed for the behaviour in Zimbardo's study
    • Banuaziz & Movahedi presented the procedure for Zimbardo's study to a large sample of people.
    • With a vast majority of the people guessing the true nature of the study (that people would conform to their assigned roles). Participants also predicted the behaviour being hostile by guards.
    • While prisoners were likely to be possible and this highlights the possibility that Zimbardo's participants may have simply been "acting up" their roles. 
  • Zimbardo's study provided 'real world application'.
    • Such as improving conditions primarily in young offending institutions, overall Zimbardo believed his study was a failure as the conditions of prisons in the USA are considered worse than ever.
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Obedience: Key Study: Stanley Milgram - Procedure

Key Study: Stanley Milgram - Procedure

  • Milgram placed a local advert looking for male volunteers, he eventually selected 40 participants all from different backgrounds and occupations. 
  • They were deceived by being told they were taking part in a study on 'memory and learning' & were invited to Yale University
  • Volunteers were invited individually and introduced to an experimenter in a white coat & another middle-aged man, who was a confederate.
  • Were told the experiment was about how punishment affected learning.
  • They were placed in a room with a shock generator; the real participant was instructed to apply shocks of increasing levels to the confederate, each time a question was answered incorrectly to them. 
  • The real participant was given a shock of 45 volts to convince him this was authentic.
  • The confederate was strapped into a chair in the room next door; voltages increased from 15-450 volts.
  • In truth, the confederate didn't receive any shocks.
  • This was unknown to the real participant.
  • If the participant displayed resistance they were given a series of verbal prods to continue.
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Obedience: Key Study: Stanley Milgram - Findings

Key Study: Stanley Milgram - Findings

  • Out of 40 participants: 
    • 62% of them went on to give the maximum shock of 450 volts. 
    • 100% of participants went up to at least 300 volts. 
  • Only 5 participants stopped administering shocks of 300 volts. 
  • Some participants began to show signs of distress. e.g:
    • Laughing nervously.
    • Sweating. 
  • Some participants argued with the experiment, however, still continued to obey.
  • 14/40 of participants did manage to resist the pressure to obey and chose not to continue above 300 volts.
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Explanations For Obedience

Agentic State

  • Milgram proposed "Agency theory" - suggested people are socialised from childhood to obey rules, and this involves giving up some free will and autonomy.
  • When an individual feels they have complete control, they are autonomous.
  • They see themselves as responsible for their actions. 
  • However when an individual obey's an authority figure they enter the "Agentic State".
  • They no longer see themselves as responsible for their behaviour, but an agent of the authoritative figure, whose orders they're following.
  • + They see the authoritative figure as responsible for the consequences, and they become deindividuated.

People may enter the agentic state because: 

  • Of the concern around maintaining a positive self-image restricts behaviour, however, the fact that responsibility shifts to the authority figure means the perception of self is no longer relevant.
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Explanations For Obedience

Legitimacy of Authority

  • Agentic state can only be achieved through an individual believing the person giving the orders has legitimate authority to do so.
  • People are socialised from an early age to accept a hierarchy of power exists within society, with authority figures having power in social situations. 
  • Milgram believed that there was generally a shared expectation that most situations would have an appropriate authority figure controlling the situation. 
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Situation Variables Affecting Obedience


  • Milgram found that when the experimenter left the room and gave orders over a telephone.
    • More people were able to resist with only 20% of participants going all the way to 450 volts
  • When the teacher and learner were in the same room, and the teacher could see the distress, the learner was going through, due to the consequences of their actions.
    • Obedience rates declined to 40%.
    • When the teacher was tasked with forcing the learner's hand onto a shock plate obedience declined to 30%.

The closer people were to observe the consequences of their actions the lower the obedience rates as more people resisted.

When people are able to feel detached from the consequences of their actions, the higher the obedience.

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Situation Variables Affecting Obedience


  • Location + Environment affects the amount of perceived legitimate authority the person giving the orders has. 
  • In Milgram's study, it was conducted at Yale University, which added to the perceived legitimacy of the authority figure giving orders. 
  • Milgram recreated his obedience study in a run down office block in Connecticut and found obedience rates fell to 47.5%.
  • This suggests that the perceived legitimacy of the authority figure was lowered due to the location and it's context. 
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Situation Variables Affecting Obedience

The Power of Uniform 

  • In Milgram's obedience study, the researcher wore a white lab coat which is believed to have added to his perceived authority. 
  • Research has supported this assumption with Bickman. 
  • Found that when a research assistant dressed in normal civilian clothing & ordered people to pick up rubbish, loan money to a complete stranger or to move away from a busy stop.
    • Up to 19% of people obeyed. 
    • This decreased to 14% when the uniform was a milkman uniform.
    • It increased to 38% when the assistant was dressed as a security guard. 
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