Types of Conformity - Kelman (1958)


  • Shallowest form of conformity
  • Public agreement with beliefs of a group; does not extent to private beliefs
  • Temporary change; caused only by the group's presence
  • Example: laughing at someone's jokes even if you do not find them funny


  • Change in public and private beliefs to fit in with a group
  • Temporary change; only while under the group's influence
  • Example: becoming vegetarian while in a group of vegetarians, but eating meat when they are not present


  • Deepest level of conformity
  • Permanent external change in behaviour to fit in with a group while also agreeing privately
  • Example: converting to a different religion
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Explanations for Conformity - Deutsch and Gerard (

Normative Social Influence (NSI)

  • A motivational force to be liked and accepted by a group
  • Tends to lead to compliance, so is only a temporary change
  • Example: smoking because your friends are smoking, not because you want to

Informational Social Influence (ISI)

  • A motivational force to look to others for guidance in order to be correct
  • Generally occurs in unfamiliar or ambiguous situations
  • Tends to lead to internalisation because the person is uncertain of what to believe, so they will adopt the viewpoint of those around them
  • Could have evolutionary basis - looking to others in new and potentially dangerous situations could have a survival value
  • Example: watching how someone else selects the correct cutlery to use in a fancy restaurant, then doing the same yourself
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ISI Experiment - Jenness (1932)

Aim: To investigate whether individual judgements of the number of beans in a jar would be influenced by group discussion.

Procedure: Participants made private individual guesses as to the number of beans in the jar. They discussed their estimates in groups and came up with a group estimate. They were then given the chance to change their private estimates.

Findings: Individuals' second guesses tended to converge towards the group estimate. The average change was greater among women.

Conclusion: The judgements of individuals are affected by majority opinions, especially in unfamiliar or ambiguous situations.


  • Considered ethically sound, despite the slight deception as to the aims of the study, when compared to other social influence studies
  • Lacks mundane realism - it is an artificial lab experiment with little relevance to real life
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Social Pressure Experiment - Asch (1955)

Aim: To investigate the degree to which individuals would conform to a majority which was obvoiusly incorrect.

Procedure: One participant was placed in a group with 7-9 confederates. They had to decide which of 3 comparison lines was the same length as the 'stimulus' line on 18 trials, 12 of which were critical trials, where all the confederates gave identical wrong answers. The real participant answered last or second-to-last. They also had a control group of 36 participants who were tested individually on 20 trials.

Findings: Control group: 0.04% error rate. Critical trials: 32% conformity rate. 75% conformed to at least one answer, and 5% conformed on all 12 trials. Three reasons for conformity were given in post-experiment interviews- distortion of action, perception and judgement.

Conclusion: Judgements of individuals are affected by majority influence, even if it is clearly wrong. Most participants only agreed publicly, suggesting they were affected by normative social influence.

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Social Pressure Experiment - Asch (1955)


  • Method became a paradigm for conducting conformity research
  • Uneconomical and time-consuming method- only one participant is tested at a time
  • Lacks mundane realism - artificial, unrealistic situation
  • Unethical - participants were deceived as to the aim of the experiment and some suffered psychological harm as they were under stress
  • As the overall conformity rate was 32%, this suggests the majority of people are actually not conformist, but independent
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Variables Affecting Conformity - Asch (1956)

Size of group

  • Research shows that a larger majority causes a higher conformity rate, but only to an point
  • Asch - highest conformity rate, 32%, was achieved with one participant & three confederates
  • Bond and Smith (1996) performed a meta-analysis on Asch-style studies from many different countries and found that conformity tends to peak at 4-5 people
  • Gerard et al (1968) found that adding more confederates does increase conformity rate, but the rate of increase declines as more people are added


  • Asch - adding a confederate who went against the other confederates meant conformity fell to 5.5%; if they went against the confederates and participant conformity still dropped to 9%

Task difficulty

  • Asch made the lines more similar in length and found that conformity increased
  • This may be due to ISI, as the participants looked to the others for guidance because they were unsure of the correct answer
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Conformity to Social Roles

  • Different social situations have their own social norms which individuals are expected to conform to
  • Social roles are the parts people play as members of a social group which meet the expectations of that situation
  • Conformity to social roles involves identification as people accept the behaviour required of them publicly and privately, but only temporarily, as they must adopt different social roles depending on the situation they are in
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Conformity to Social Roles - Zimbardo (1973)

Aims: To investigate the extent to which people would conform to the social roles in a simulation of prison life; to test the situational vs dispositional explanations of prison violence

Method: 21 physically and mentally stable male American students with no past record of anti-social or criminal tendencies were selected from those that applied. 10 were guards and 11 were prisoners as the result of random selection, with Zimbardo playing the role of superintendent. The prisoners were arrested outside their homes and taken to Stanford University, where a wing had been converted into a mock prison. They were dehumanised as they were assigned numbers instead of keeping their names. The guards were given khaki uniforms and sunglasses to prevent eye contract, as well as truncheons. The guards were allowed to do anything except physically punish the prisoners.

Findings: After an initial rebellion by the prisoners was quashed, the guards became increasingly sadistic and the prisoners became more submissive. De-individuation was seen as the prisoners referred to themselves and each other by their numbers, not their names, even in private. Three were released early after fits of crying and rage; one developed a severe rash. The experiment, scheduled to run for two weeks, was terminated after 6 days because of the damage to the prisoners' health.

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Conformity to Social Roles - Zimbardo (1973)

Conclusions: The situational hypothesis is favoured over the dispositional hypothesis, as none of the participants had ever shown such behaviour. They themselves were shocked at their conduct after the experiment. The experiment shows how readily people conform to their social roles even when they contradict their personal beliefs.


  • The experiment provided lots of information about social roles and blind obedience, which led to reforms in some prisons and other establishments
  • The careful choice of participants and the controlled lab setting means the experiment shows a clear cause and effect relationship
  • There are severe ethical issues with this experiment. The participants were initially refused when they asked to leave the experiment. They all suffered psychological harm, and for some this extended to physical pain.
  • Zimbardo may have over-exaggerated the guards' behaviour - only around a third of them acted brutally, but Zimbardo generalised the behaviour of these guards
  • There is poor internal validity due to observer effect - Zimbardo chose the participants himself so he would have been biased towards his own values
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