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Types of conformity

Kalman (1958) - proposed two types of conformity:

Compliance = When exposed to the views or actions of the majority, individuals may engage in a process of social comparison, concentrating on what other say or do so that they can adjust their actions to fit in with them. If there is a difference between the individual's point of view and that expressed by the majority, they may simply go along with the majority without analysing why such a difference exists. This results in public compliance with little or no private attitude change.

Internalisation = when exposed to the views of others in a group, individuals are encouraged to engage in a validation process, examining their own beliefs to see if they or the others are right. Close examination of the group's position may convince the individual that they are wrong and the group is right, particularly if an individual has tended to go along with the group on previous occasions. This can lead to acceptance of the groups point of view both publicly and privately

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The difference between the types of conformity

Motivating factors - each of these types of conformity has a particular set of motivating conditions that leads to the conforming response. E.g of an individual's prime motivation is to fit in with the rest of the group they may comply rather than internalise the group's attitude on a particular issue.

Future behaviour - the two types also differ in the way they determine future responses relating to that issue. If an individual has adopted a particular response through compliance then they would only perform this in the future if they monitored by other group members. On the other hand, if they have adopted their response through internalisation, then this is likely to be performed whenever the issue arises regardless of whether or not they are being monitored by other group members.

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Ash (1956)

A - whether people would stick to what they believe to be true or cave in to the pressure of the majority and go along with its decision.

P - Ash carries out a laboratory experiment with an independent group design. 123 male American undergraduates were seated around a table and were shown a series of lines. The PPTs always answered in the same order, with the real PPTs always answering second to last or last. The confederates were instructed to give the same incorrect answers on 12 of the 18 trials.

F - on the 12 critical trials, 36.8% of the responses made by the true PPTs were incorrect - they conformed to the incorrect response given by the other group members. 1/4 of PPTs never conformed on any of the trials. To conform that the stimulus lines were indeed unambiguous. Ash conducted a control trial with no confederates giving the wrong answer. In this condition he found that people do make mistakes about 1% of the time.

C - the control continue showed that the task was easy to get right. However 37% were wrong on the critical trails. They conformed to the majority - this was normative social influence.

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Variations in the Ash study

Ash carried out many variations of his original study to find out which variables had significant effects on the amount of conformity:

The difficulty of the task - Ash made the differences between the line lengths much smaller. Under these circumstances the level of conformity increased. Further research by Lucas et al. found that the influence of task difficulty on conformity is moderated by the self-efficacy of the individual. They found that when exposed to maths problems in an Ash type task, High-self-efficacy participants, those who are more confident in their abilities, remained more independent than low-self-efficacy PPTs, even under conditions of high task difficulty. This shows that situational differences and individual differences are both important in determining conformity.

Size of the majority - Ash found that there was very little conformity when the majority consisted of just one or two individuals. However, under the pressure of a majority of three the proportion of conforming responses jumped to about 30%. Further increases in the size of the majority did not increase the level of conformity substantially, indicating that the size of the majority in important but only up to a point.

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Variations in the Ash study

The unanimous of the majority - when the real PPT was given the support of either another real PPT or a confederate who had been instructed to give the right answer, conformity levels dropped significantly reducing errors from 32% to 5.5%.
In another condition the lone dessenter gave an answer that was both different from the majority and different from the right answer. Here conformity rates dropped from 32% to 9%. This led Ash to conclude that it was breaking the group's consensus that was the major factor in conformity reduction.

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Evaluating research into conformity - criticisms o

Is the study a child of its time - it could be that the findings areuniques to one culture, particularly as all the PPTs were all men and all American and the research was conducted in 1950s, a period of string anti-communist feeling in American. This claim was made by Perrin and Spenser who repeated Ash's study in late 1970s using science and engineering students. They found only one conforming response out of 396 trials. In another study they used youths in probation as PPTs and probation officers as the confederates. They found similar levels of conformity to those found by Ash. Thus suggesting conformity is more likely when the perceived cost so nonconformity are high.

Unconvincing confederates - a problem for the confederates in Ash's study is that it would have been difficult for them to act convincingly when giving the wrong answer. Mori and Arai overcame this problem by using a techniques were PPTs wore glasses with special polarising filters . Three PPTs in each group wore identical glasses and a fourth wore a different set. This meant that each participant viewed the same stimuli but one participant saw them differently - this chased them to see a different comparison line a matched to the standard line. The results closely matched those of the original Adh study, thus the confederates did act convincingly in the original study.

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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 that PPTs resolutely stuck to thier original opinion despite being faced by an overwhelming majority expressing a different view. Ash believed that rather than showing human beings as overly comformist, his study demonstrated a commendable tendency to stick to what we believe thus showing independent behaviour.

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Culture and conformity: meta analysis - Smith and

There are important cultural differences in in conformity therefore we might expect different results dependent on the culture in which the study is done. It has long been held that conformity us to a degree a product of cultural conditions.
Smith and Bond analysed conformity studies carried out between 1952 and 1994 that had used the same procedures as Ash's original study. This results in a total of 133 studies carried out in 17 countries. Some countries (UK) were classified as individualist and other (Japan) as collectivist. For the second part of the analysis which was to investigate changes in conformity over time only studies carried out in the US were used.
Findings - collectivist countries showed higher levels of conformity than individualist countries. The impact of the cultural variables on conformity levels was greater than any other variable such as gender. Levels of conformity in the US had declined steadily since Ash's study, with the date of study negatively correlated with the level of conformity found in the study. It was consistent with the findings of Ash but conformity was significantly higher with a larger majority size, a greater proportion of femal PPTs and more ambiguous stimuli.

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Limitations of analysis

1) cultures are not homogenous and difference between individualist and collectivist values within different cultures have been established in other research. Drawing conclusions based on difference between cultures may therefore be an oversimplification.

2) in cross-cultural comparison, there is a problems of cultural differences in the 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.

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Why people conform

Normative social influence =is the result of wanting to be liked and be a part of a group by following social norms. Humans are social species and have a fundamental need for social companionship and a fear of rejection. It is this that forms the basis for normative social influence.


Bullying: Garandeau and Cillessen, have shown how groups with low quality of interpersonal friendships may be manipulated by a skilful bully so that victimisation of another child provides the group with a common goal, creating pressure on all group members to comply.

Normative influence and smoking: market campaigns aimed at educating young people about what is normative in a particular group have been successful in reducing the incidence of behaviour such as smoking or alcohol abuse. In a campaign aimed at 12-17 year olds in seven counties in Montana, USA. Only 10% of non-smoker took up smoking following exposure to a message that most children in thier age group did not smoke. In the control countries where the campaign did not run, 17% of non-smoker took up smoking, 41% difference that can be attributed to normative social influence.m

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Evaluation - Normative influence and conservation

Schultz et al. gathered data from 132 hotels and a total of 794 hotel rooms were guests were staying for 1 week. Rooms were randomly assigned to either a control condition or experimental condition. In the control condition, a door hanger informed guest of the environmental benefits of refusing their towels. In the experimental condition they had the environmental message and also were informed that 75% of guests choose to reuse their towels each day. The results showed that in comparison to the control condition, guests who had a message containing the normative information about other guests reduced their needs for fresh towels by 25%.

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why people conform

Informational social influence = is the result of wanting to be right - looking to others for the right answer. Individuals go along with others because they genuinely beeline hem to be right. As a result we don't just comply in behaviour alone, but we also change our view point in line with the position of those doing the influence. This is an example of internalisation as it involves changing both our public and private attitudes and behaviours. Informational social influence is most likely when:

  • the situation is ambiguous, the right course of action is unclear.
  • the situation is a crises and a rapid action is required
  • we believe others to be the experts


The development of social stereotypes - studies have demonstrated how exposure to toe he people's beliefs has an important influence on social stereotypes. Written rink and Henly found that PPTs exposed to negative comparison information a bout African Americans which they were led to belive was the view of the majority later reported more negative beliefs about a black target individual.

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Evaluation of informational social influence

Political opinion - Fein et al. showed how juspdgements of candidates performance in US presidential debates could be influenced by the mere knowledge of others' reactions. PPTs saw what was upposedly the reaction of thier fellow PPTs on screen during the debate. This produced large shifts in participants' juspdgements of the candidates' performance, demonstrating the importance of informational influence in shaping opinion.

Mass psychogenic illness - there was a well documented case of mass psychogenic illness in Tennessee school, were a teacher had noticed a petrol-like smell in her classroom and soon thereafter complained of a headache, nausea, shortness of breath and dizziness. The school was evacuated and 80 students and 19 staff members went to the emergency room complaining of the same symptoms. The reported symptoms appeared to be associated simply with the knowledge that a classmate was ill together with reports of an unusual odour at the school. As a reasonable explanation for the teacher's illness had emerged, the link between the two events had becom credible and more people had developed the same symptoms. This was despite the fact that the two things were in fact totally unrelated and could only be explained in terms of inappropriate informational social influence - Jones et al.

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