Conformity: Types and Explanations

  • Created by: IB122
  • Created on: 10-12-15 18:36

Informational Social Influence

Informational social influence is the theory that people conform due to the fact that they would like to have “the better” information. This means that our conforming nature is due to our basic human need of wanting to be right.

This is a cognitive process that occurs within the human brain.

It is more likely to occur in situations where a task is difficult or where there is ambiguity about a certain topic.

It also occurs in “crisis” situations where an individual or group are is regarded as the expert and therefore conform to their ideas.

Lucas et al (2006) proved this theory by asking a series of mathematical questions. The general trend displayed that as the difficulty of the task increased, the conformity rates rose too proving that people are in need of the correct answer in situations that are unfamiliar. Those who also rated their mathematical skills as poor were more likely to conform because the situation was unfamiliar and believed that others had the right knowledge rather than themselves.

Perrin and Spencer proved that informational social influence differs from person to person depending on their experience, status and social role. When they conducted Asch’s experiment but with engineering students, they found that conformity rates had fallen dramatically proving that existing knowledge may alter the circumstances of when conformity may occur. The engineering students were very experienced in measuring lines therefore they felt as though they possessed the correct answer.

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Normative Social Influence

Normative social influence is the theory that people conform according to their need of being socially accepted. This means that people naturally conform so that they are not rejected by a certain social group.

This is an emotional process that occurs within the human brain.

This is most likely to occur in situations where we are with strangers as we do not want to be frowned down upon or rejected by their group. As a human, we want to merge in with everyone therefore we tend to conform to succeed in this.

We may also conform in crisis situations as we may need social support.

McGhee and Teevan (1967) proved that normative social influence played a major role in conformity however the results from their experiments expressed that normative social influence effected people in different ways depending on their personalities. For example those who are in high need of affiliation are more likely to conform than those who are not.

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Research support for ISI

Lucas et al (2006) was interested in the explanations for conformity and decided to conduct an experiment in order to identify which explanation is most dominant.

He discovered that when the difficulty of mathematical problems increased, conformity rates especially for students who rated their mathematical skills as poor.

This clearly demonstrates that we conform in order to feel right as we assume that others may be right, proving the informational social influence theory.

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Research support for NSI

In Asch’s experiment, it was discovered that people conformed due to the fact that they wanted to be accepted by society.

This was proven by the experiment as regardless of the fact that the answers to the questions were unambiguous, the participants still conformed to the wrong answer in order to avoid judgment and confrontation.

From this we can deduce that people conform in order to be liked by others and therefore proving the normative social influence theory.

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Individual differences in ISI

Perrin and Spencer (1980) repeated Asch’s experiment however this time, with a group of engineering students.

They found out that informational social influence had affected these students less as only one student conformed in 396 trials.

This clearly shows that profession may develop confidence within an individual in terms of their answers. Since the engineering students are very good at measuring lines, they knew that regardless of what others thought, they would be right.

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Individual differences in NSI

Normative social influence may occur more in those who are in high need of affiliation.

McGhee and Teevan (1967) found out that those who have a great need to be liked by others are more likely to conform than those who are not necessarily bothered about whether others like them or not.

This shows that the personalities and dispositions of individuals may affect conformity rates.

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ISI and NSI working together

Some may argue that the “two process” approach may be invalid and that informational social influence and normative social influence work together.

For example, in Asch’s study, when a dissenter was present, it reduced the power of normative social influence as the dissenter provided social support and increased the power of informational social influence as there was another source of information.

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