Conformity and Obediance

Breif detailing of studies and key ideas.

HideShow resource information
  • Created by: Jenna k
  • Created on: 01-04-14 20:20

Defining and explaining conformity

Conformity> The tendency to change our behaviour and attitueds in response to infulences or social pressure.

Type of conformity: Kelman's three stages of conformity

Compliance > When we directly change our behaviour and attitudes as a direct request of another induvidual.

Internalistation > This takes place when a induvidual changes both thier public view and privet veiw.

Identification > This occures when the individual changes and adopts thier behaviour and attitudes to fit into a group.

Explanation for conformity:

Informational social influence > This is when we are not sure of a situation so conform to the induvidual or group that has more information about the situation.

Normative social influance > This is when we change our behaviour and attitueds to fit into the crowd.

1 of 31

Outlineing Sherif's 1935 study into Compliance

Sherif conducted a lab exeriment with the aim of demonstrating that people would conform to group norms when doing an ambiguous task.

He did this by utilising the autokinetic effect which involves a small light being projected in a dark room. When placed in a dark room the light appears to be moving, although it does not.

They did two conditions. One where the participants individually made and estiment at how far the light had moved. This gave a large range of result. Then they were asked to say thier estimate outloud in a group of three people. However Sherif made the groups up of two participants with very similar distances and one with very different estimate. This resulted in a smaller range of results.

Sherif's conducted numerous trials and found that the groups came to a commen estimate. He also found that the participant that had a different esitmate conformed to the others estimates. From this he conculded that when in an ambiguouse task a person will look to others for guidance. They want to be right so will look at all the information given to them and evaluate their estimates. This is an example of Informational social influance.

2 of 31

Outline Asch's 1951 study into compliance

Asch believed that Sherif's study was not valid becasue his ambiguous task did not have a correct answer. So he divised a lab exeriment with the aim to investigate the extent of social pressure form a majority group on an induviduals conformity.

He did this by setting up an expermient involving 7 conferates  and one true participant. The experiment invovled them naming, outloud, which of the three given lines was the same length of the comparison line. The confederates had chose thier answer between them, which the participant was not aware of. The participant sat at the end of the group, so they heard all the confederates give thier answer. 18 trials were conducted and the confederate gave wrong answers for 12 of the trials.

Asch found that 32% of participants gave incorrect answers and conformed to the majority in each trial. 75% of participants conformed at least once throughout the 18 trials. Asch asked the participant why they conformed. Thier responses where that they either actually thought the answer was right or then went along becasue they fear being ridiculed.

He concluded that people conform to the majority in fear rather for them being right about something you are unsure of ( informations social influance )

3 of 31

Evaluate Sherif and Asch's studies into conformity

Thier studies lacked ecolgical validity becasue they were conducted in a lab however the task themselves has some validity, as these are the types of thing we would conform to on a daily bases. And these results can be applied to other sinarios, in different environments. Such as why we all dress a certian way.

There is little population vailidty as the samples of both studies where American males. So they are both culterally and sexulally biased and thus cant be generalised to other potulations and cultures of people.

The findings of both studies back each other up. Sherif found that the minority conform to the majority based on informational social influance. Asch found that the minority conform the the majority based on informational and normative social influance. Thus backing each other up, quite strongly.

Sherif's study is internally valid as participants natuarally change their answers based on the other participants aswers (clear cut conformity) They did not have the information themsleves to make the correct guess but there was also no place where they coud show demand charatoristics either. Sherif is similar but there were answers that were clearly correct but some change their minds to fit into the group. Over the 18 trials they must have worked out what they wanted they to do (Demad charactoristics) which would have effected the results majorly.

Extraneous variable where also controlled on both, due to the controlled environment. Also there is not much that can effect conformity, that we know of, such things a tempriture, what you ate for breakfast ect would not effect the way you act around others. Thus extraneous varibales arent a problem.

4 of 31

Ethical issues of Sherif and Asch's study into con

Both studies decived thier participants as they were not told the true aim of the studies. However if the participants had known the aim  of the study there would have been demand charactoristics.

Both studies has gained informed consent about the bogus aim and were willing to part take. This is a strangth as they had it and they agreed to take part in A stduy.

All the participants knew that they had a right to withdarw thoughout the study, however the study was not disterbing enough to have to withdraw.

In Aschs study particpinat may have gone though psychological harm  as they might have felt inferior to give a wrong or different answer so they conformed. However Sherif and Asch did not cause major harm. In addition the participants were kept anonomouse and their personal details confidential.

5 of 31

Variations to Asch's procedure.

Size of group > Confomity increases with the size of the goups. However there is a point where this does not occure. This is called optinal goup size. This tends to be arounf 4-5 people. He proved this by adding more confederates. With one confederate ocnformity was at 3%. With 2 confederates. 13% and Three or more confederates 32%. Which is the optimal amount.

Non-conforming role modle >When there was one confederate that defied the group and gave a differeant answer the conformity rate decreased by 80%, as more gave different answers.

Difficulty of task > The more similar the lengths the harder it was to judge the matching lines do more participants were relying on the others and gave answers the same as their's.

Giveing answers in private. > When asnwers could be writen down rather that anounced the confromity rate dropped.

6 of 31

Zimbardo 1974 - indentification

Zimbardo aimed to find if people would identify with new social roles. He conducted his experiment in the basement of Stanford University, quite a prestigious university in America. He collected a volunteer sample of 24 male participants that read a news paper advert for the study, in which they are played money just to be included in the study. He split the 24 participants into two groups, the prisoners and the guards. The guards where give a uniform, a night stick and reflective sunglasses, which is mint to suppress their identity and make them feel like they have no responsibility of what they are doing. Instead the responsibility would be put to the warden (Zimbardo). They were under the influence of Zimbardo, who is the warden in charge. They were instructed to keep the prisoners in order but not to use physical punishment. The prisoners were arrested at their homes and brought in to the made up jail. They were given plain smocks to ware and a number to dehumanize them and decrease their ability to be an individual.

7 of 31

Zimbardo continued

This experiment was meant to go on for 2 weeks. After the first day prisoners were rebelling and the guards were dishing out punishments that seemed to get progressively worse as they went on. Very quickly the punishment became crude and perverted in its manner. Prisoners very quickly started to refer to themselves and other prisoners as their numbers. This led one of the prisoners to have a nervous breakdown. When Zimbardo wife, a fellow psychologist, came to see what he was doing she was shocked and told Zimbardo he needed to call it off. And he did after six days.

The finding of this experiment show that internalization happen quickly, it turns people that have had no anti-social and aggressive tendencies before the experiment into the exact opposite. (Guards) The prisoners also showed a complete with draw and became apathetic even though they were distress.

8 of 31

Concustion of Zimbardo

Zimbardo conclude that the participant conform to social roles. This is when they change their behavior to suit the new situation. It also showed aspects of the Germans are different hypothesis. Which states that the Germans did what they did and did not take the blame but said ‘‘they were just following orders" The prison guards had this attitude and said they continued with the punishments because Zimbardo, the warden, didn’t tell them to stop, thus putting the responsibility on Zimbardo instead of claiming it themselves.

9 of 31

Limitations of Zimbardo

The limitations of this study are; it lacks ecological Validity. The prisoners only had a short sentence of 2 weeks and they were not witness to some of the horrible things that can occur in prisons, such as ****, threatening and beatings. However there is some ecological validity to this study as the prisoners were arrested from their houses, unexpectedly and the prison officers did their shifts and went home after their shifts, like they normally would.

Some would say that the participants did not believe that the situation was real. This is shown by the monitored conversations of the prisoners. 90% talked about the conditions in the prison where as 10% talked about their lives outside the prison. But they all forgot their right to withdraw and 2 of them had a nervous break downs. Also when in the presences of a Priest some asked for a lawyer to get them out. However all, when asked their name, referred to themselves by their number and not first name.

10 of 31

Limatation conctiuned

Finally the sample was biased. The participants were all white, middle class, male, American college students. This means it is very difficult to generalize the results to the rest of the target population as it was only American males that took place. In addition they were all of sound mind, which in a prison is not realistic at all.

There were many ethical issuses with this study including deception. The participants were not told that they were recruited for the experiment and were arrested on site. This breached the contract they had signed with Zimbardo. However Zimbardo wanted the experiance to be as realistic as possible so this was a nessesary breach. He dehumanised the paricipants and cause harm to them as I have explaind previousely. But all this was approved by the Office of Naval researcg, the Psychology department and the universitycommittee of Human Experimentation. However they did not anticipate to reaction of the prisoners and the gaurds. In addition the ethical guid lines we work by now were not in place in the 1950's and therefore it dis not brake any of the guidlines.

Finally Zimbardo made up for his harmful techniques by debreifing the participants separately and as a group. He followed them up, at first mothly intervals and questionnaires and then yearly follow ups. He did not find any long term psychological damage.

11 of 31

Clark 1989 - internalisation

Clark studied internalistation.

Aim: To show that the minority could influance the majority.

Method: He set up  a replica of th 12 angry men film with 220 psychology students. 129 women and 91 men arranged as a jurry. They were given a book with the evidance for the man's guit. From this they had to decide whether he was guity or not.There were defectors that said he was not guity but not many change their veiws.

In another version of his study he gave then the counter arguements as well as the evidance aqainst him. Here the defectants and information and proof.

Results: He found that only with the counter arguments did the minority saway the majoriy.

Concultion: With information the majority can be sawayed but there is a ceiling of influance.


Psychology students - demand charactoristics.  Culture biased and era biased.

12 of 31

What are the factors that make people conform?

Size of the majority > If there is a single person in a study and the rest of confederates trying to change that persons answer, they would succed if there was a small amount of confederate. For example in Asch's study he questionned the people allown, then with one comfederate and then all the way up tp 15 confederates. This showed that conformity decrease when they are by themselves. It increase to 3% with 1 confederate, 33% with 2 confederates. But over about 5 there is a cieling of influance and conformity stops.

Importance of time > There are social changes all the time. We accept new things and discredit others. Even our conformity has changed with the bright and brave new generations. So can these studies done in the 1950's and earlyer be applicable to our time now? The answer is NO.

Importance of place and culture > Whether the culture is induvidulistic or colloectivest seems to play a large part in the way they conform. Induvidulistic cultures have a lower confomity rate, as they strive for independace and autonomy. Where as Collectivest cutlures work as a group and support each other, and this is shown in the higher conformity rate.

The importance of modern technologies.  > It has been suggested that people that are unable to see the majority will not conform to it. So when on facebook there is more chance of not conforming than there is on Skype.

The importance of Sex and Gender > Sex and gender also impact on aour tendencies to conform. It was proven by Eagly and Carli in 1981 that females conform to normitive social influance more than men did. This is thought to be due to the social neediness that females exhibit when it comes to social status.

13 of 31

Majority Influence; Dual Process Dependaency model

The Dual Process Dependaency model was created by Deutsch and Gerard in 1955. It suggests that people conform for two reasons. Because they depend on the group and they are looking for social acceptance and information. We spoke earlier about Normitive and informational social influence. Well this is where is really comes into play.

Normitive social influence

This is when people conform becasue they want to be accepted. They comply with the norms of that groups becasue either they want to be accepted, they are afraid of the groups power to punish or they find the group rewarding.

Informational spcial influence

This is when people conform with a group becasue they don't know how to behave and as the majority iare acting that way then that is what I should do as I dont want to stand out. 

14 of 31

Majority Influence;Social identity explanations.

Social identity explanations was developed by Hogg et al in 1988 and 2003. They possed a confilcting argument to the duel process dependency model. They suggested theories based on Referent informational influence, which is when there are emothional ties within the group.

Tajfel conducted a study in 1971 on teenaged boys in Bristol. He separated them in to two groups based on their preferance of artists. He then got them playing a game where they could award points to thier own team and the other team. Then they could convert the points into cash. He found that the boys woud try and award more points to their own team even when awrding equal points would have gotten them more money. This showed that te boys favioured their own group and if they couldnt win by themsleves then they woudl try and make the team win.

This shows that there is a Soical indentity as well as a personal identity.

15 of 31

Majority influence; Social identity explanation

Social identity explanation suggests that people classify themsleves as belonging to a social group. This maximises the percieved differance between them and another group. This tendency to maximse differances in called meta-contrast priciple.

The group have certain norms and rules that the members have to obided by. However the question is why do the members of the group continue to live by the groups principles even when they are absent form the group?

16 of 31

Minority infuence; Moscovici and Clark

We have talked about Clark previousely. In terms of Minority influence he found that there are two factors effecting this: The amount of defectors (the more people chanigntheir mind the closer they get to the majority and the more likely people are to change their veiws and conform to the mnority.) and the persausive arguements that are shown (The more evidance you can find to back up your point the more information you have over the majority, making the majorty think that you have the ifrmation so you must e right, so im going to defect.)

Moscovici conducted a study that showed that the minorty are victoriouse if they are consistant with their arguements.

17 of 31

Minority Influence;Social impact theory and social

Social impact theory was developed by Lantane and Wol in 1981. They suggested that both the minority and majoriy have divided into sources (The people who influence) and targets (people who are likely to be influenced). There are a few factor that effect the amount of influence that can be exerted.

The status and importance of the source

The Immedicy, the social distance form the target

The number of sources.

They suggested that one source willhave the maxiumal effect but each defectant after that will have a progressingly minimal effect.

This was opposed by Tanford and Penrod in 1986, who said that there is a ceiling of influence when you reach 3-5 defectants.

18 of 31

Outling Milgram's 1974 study into obedience

Milgram was interested why the Germans obayed Hitler. This is called the German are different hypothesis, and states that they did what they did due to their personality (Authoritatiran personality). This also suggests a defering of responsibility on the Germans part as they siad "I was just following orders". This is called the Agentic state.

Milgram aimed to ivestigate the levels of obedience.

He did this by putting out an advert for male participants to take part in the learning study in Yale university. They would get payed just for turning up and trying to complete the task. On arrival they were met with an experimenter (wearing a white lab coat) and a Mr Wallace (confederate) whom the participants believed was another participants. They drew lots to see who would become the teacher and the learner. Mr Wallace was always the learner. The participant saw Mr Wallace being straped into the chair and hear him say that he has a heart problem. The participants were then taken to a room next door where they could not see Mr Wallace but could hear him. There was a shocks system with a range of voltaged ranging from 15 V to 450V. on the screen there were notes to which voltages did what (375v ***). The teachers were asked to read out pairs of word so Mr Wallace could learn them. When testing him they had to administer a shock every time he did not answer or gave an incorrect answer. If the participants questionned what they were doing the experimenter has 4 probs he used in sequence. "Please continue" "The experiment requires you to go on" "It is absolutely essential that you continue" and "you have no other choice you must go on."

The results showed that 100% of the participants went up to 300V. 65% went all the way to 450V. He conculded form this that situational factors do infact contribute to the obeidiance.

19 of 31

Evaluation of Milgrams study

The sample was unreprosentitive as it was all American males. This means it cant be gerneralised to the whole population. However this study has been repearted so many times in so many different cultures and different sanarios that it is safe to assume that these results can be generalised to the rest of the target population.

Some people say that the participants knew that the shocks werent real. But when asked 70% of the partipants believed the shock to be real. In addition some of the participants exhibited nervous laughing and sweating. One participant even had an epileptic fit, whcih shows you that they didnt knoe that the shocks werent real.

There are a lot of ethical issues that brake out guidlines today, but wouldnt have in the past. The participants were deceved as they though they were particpating in a study researching memory and learning. However in the breifing they were told that they would be admininstering shocks to Mr Wallace. They even saw him get strapped into the chair. They even tested the lowest voltage to see if it worked, which it did, just for them. So when they react the way they did it was not jsutified as they knew what they were going to do.

Some say that the participants were harmed in this study due to the realisation of what they were capable of doing to complet strangers. However when Milgram did a follow up a year later he found no long term effects. Infact most of the participants were glad they ad take part and said that they had learnt a lot form the experiance.

Finally, something good. The participants knew that they had the right to withdarw thoughout the study. However they were not reminded about this fact when the experimenter was prompting them.

20 of 31

Variations of Milgrams study

There are many different variations of Milgram's study. Each variation has a different effect on the level of obedience.

Moved to deralect offices in a near by town > The presitege of Yale university was lonst and obediance rate fell to 48%

Teacher and learner in the same room > The proximity of seeing what your actions are causeing caused the obedience rate to fall to 40%

Teacher forces learners had on to a plate to recive shocks > Forcing their hand onto the plate gave the teacher more responisbility and the obediance rates fell to 30%

Teacher get support form tow other teachers (Confederates) > There is now an elerment of social influence and conformity so the obediance rates fell to 10% as they were being judged by other people for their actions.

Experimenter left the room and sintructed the teacher by telephone. > Poximity of the authority further lowered the obedience rate to 21%

Teacher was paried with an assistant (confederate) who flicked the switch for the teacher. > The responisbity was defered making it less their fault and increaseing the obedience rate to 92%

21 of 31

Further studies of obedience; Sheridan and King

Puppy Love

Sheridan and King conducted a study in 1972 consisting of training a puppy to learn discriminations tasks by punising it with increasing server shocks when ever it made an error. The puppy only ever recieved small shocks the particpants could still hear and see it squeal.

After a while the puppy was put to sleep, without the knowledge of the participants. The participants were reminded that even this was failiure to respond and they should continue to shock it. 75% of participants administered the maximum shock possible.

This study supports the validity of Milgrams origonal experiment becasue the set up was reallistic, they could see the puppy suffering so knew what the consequences of their actions were. It also supports the fact that the participants thought that the shocks were real.

22 of 31

Further studies of obedience; Hofling and Rank and

Obedient Nurses

Hofling conducted a study in 1966 where he acted as Dr Smith calling into a psychatric ward and asking the nurse on duty to administer 20mg of a drug to one of his patients. He said that he was in a hurry and would sign the autherisation when he came in next.

The lable of the box said that 10 mg should be the maxium dose. If they were to obey Dr Smith then they would be braking protocal and exceding the limit of drugs.

Nurses did a questionnair before the study and they all said that in this case they would not obey the doctor. But 21 out of 22 nurses did obey. 11 of the nurses said they would not even notice the dosage.

Rank and Jacobson did a similar study in 1977 but they had a real known doctor call and ask for 3 times the amount of valium to be aministered. In this case the nurses could consult with others on duty about the doseage. This study showed that only 2 out of the 18 nurses administerd the commanded amount.  This change that way they acted, being in a group, becasue they had informitive social influence.

23 of 31

Further studies of obedience; Bickman

The power of uniforms.

Bickman conducted a field eperiment in 1974 on the streets of New York. He had three experimenter is different dress. One in civilian cloths, one in a milkmans uniform and one as a police officer. They asked 152 random passers by to do tasks. Such as "Pick up that bag for me" or "This man is battling for change for the parking meter would you give him a quater" ect.

He found that particpants were likely to obey the police officer (80% of the people asked obeyed) Where as the milk man and the civilian on 40% of the asked people obeyed.

24 of 31

Factor effecting obedience

Culture > Milgram has done many variations of his study in different cultures. He found that in collectivist cultures (Itally and Germany) the obedience rate increase to 85%. Where as in induvidualist cultures (UK, USA, Australia) the obedience rate is smaller. around 50-65%.

Gender > Genger does not play a large part when the learner is male. So with a all female and male teachers the obedience rate is 65%. However when you have a female teacher and learner the results repidly decrease to 16%.

Legitimate authority > Our societ id made up of a heierachy. We instictively obay the persn with more authority than we have, as they have more information or the power to punish us. For example, in Milgrams study he removed the white coat form the experimenter. This resulted in the obedience rate falling.

The Agentic state > This is when people carry out orders but they dont take the responsibility, instead theu differ the responsibility to the person that gave them the orders. (The Germans)

Gradual commitment > When commitmet to an experiment increases in stages. eg the shocks

25 of 31

Factors effecting obedience 2

Buffers > A separation or distance affecting our obedience. For example in Milgrams study he moved the researcher out of the room which decreased the obedience levels.

Uniform > Uniform can increase our perception of legitimate authority without is the obedience levels fall and with it they are high. For example when Bickmans police officer has 80% obedience and the milkman and the civilian only have 40%

26 of 31

Indepedant behaviour


Independant behaviour takes place when the individual does not responed to the norm of the group.                             Siutational factors > Situational factors go a long way to increasing or decreasing disobedience and non-conformity. In Mulgrams study situational factors such as the proximity of the victum and the physcial contact with the victum increase disobedience. Alternetively the conduction of the experiemnt at a less presteigous venue also increased disobediance of the the participants.

Personallity charactoristics > It has been found that people that tend to conform have lower self-esteam and look for social approval. Where as the people who tend to be disobedient tended to have more intelligence and higher sel-esteam. (Crutchfield) It was further sugestd by Oliner and Oliner that people that tend to disobay have a high internal locus of control and socred highly on social responsibility tests.

Locus of control (Rotter) > There are two suggested locus of control. External and Internal. Internal locus of control exhibit behaviour that faviour themselves and foctors controlled byt he self. . Where as External locus of control exhibit behaviours that favour luck and factors not controled by the self. For example. If I was to ge an A in this test I would say I worked hard for it. (Internal locus of control) However if i said that is was down to luck on the day and the aligment of the stars that would be an external locus of control.

Developing independant behaviour > Nemeth and Chiles (1988) conducted a variation of Moscovici's study. They had 48 male participants. In cindition 1 there were 4 niaves and 1 confederate. The confereate said all or some of the blue slides where green. In the second condition there were 4 confederates and 1 niave. All the confederates said the red slides were orange. They found that when presented with a minority first the participants would stick to their guns in the second condition.

27 of 31

Social Change; Moscovic

Aim: To investigate how consistent minority effect the opinions of a larger group.

Method: The all female group were tested to see if they were colour blind. They were then sectioned into groups of four participants and 2 confederates. They were all shown 36 slides that were different shades of blue they were asked to state out loud whether is was blue or green. In condition one the conferderates were consistant and answered grenn for every slide. In the second condition the confederates incosistant and snawered green 24 times and blue 12 times.

Findings: In the cosistent group 8.42% of the trails resulted in the participants saying green for every slide (Agreeing with the mnority) In the non-consistant only 1.25 % of the tiral resulted in the participants answering green on every slide.

Concultion: The study suggested that minotires can change the opinions of the majority, particularly if they are consitent.

28 of 31


Clark studied internalistation which is now applicable to social change.

Aim: To show that the minority could influance the majority.

Method: He set up  a replica of th 12 angry men film with 220 psychology students. 129 women and 91 men arranged as a jurry. They were given a book with the evidance for the man's guit. From this they had to decide whether he was guity or not.There were defectors that said he was not guity but not many change their veiws.

In another version of his study he gave then the counter arguements as well as the evidance aqainst him. Here the defectants and information and proof.

Results: He found that only with the counter arguments did the minority saway the majoriy.

Concultion: With information the majority can be sawayed but there is a ceiling of influance.


Psychology students - demand charactoristics.  Culture biased and era biased.

29 of 31

Social change

For the minority to change the behaviour of the majority they need to show commitment, consistancey and flexibility. They shoud do this by believing in their cause and maintain that belief. However they also need to be able to deal with other peoples views and make space for them.

Snow ball effect > Movement of a small part of the majority to the minority will eventually gain momentum and the minority will become the majority.

Social cryptoamnesia > Once something changes it becoames the norm and we forget what it was like before that change.

30 of 31

Social change

For the minority to change the behaviour of the majority they need to show commitment, consistancey and flexibility. They shoud do this by believing in their cause and maintain that belief. However they also need to be able to deal with other peoples views and make space for them.

Snow ball effect > Movement of a small part of the majority to the minority will eventually gain momentum and the minority will become the majority.

Social cryptoamnesia > Once something changes it becoames the norm and we forget what it was like before that change.

31 of 31


No comments have yet been made

Similar Psychology resources:

See all Psychology resources »See all Conformity resources »