Conformity involves a change of behaviour or opinion in order to fit in with a group.
This may be a membership group (family or peers), or it may be a reference group (pop or sports stars). This group can be either a majority or a minority group.
Why People Conform
Two main processes have been identified in causing people to conform:
This type of influence often comes from peer pressure. Reasons include; fear of rejection, wanting approval, simply to be identified as part of a group and to show loyalty.
This type of influence is concerned with the fear of looking unintelligent and believing others know better, especially if the task is difficult or unfamiliar.
A minority group can also strongly influence an individual, this is more likely when the minority are the 'in group', possibly due to social status or age, or they are acting out of principle and have made personal sacrifices in the pursuit of their beliefs.
Moscovici designed an experiment to investigate the influence of a stooge minority, that is a group of people who have been 'planted' in the experiment. The stooges will already have been told what to say by the researcher.
In this experiment, volunteers had to judge the colour of slides that were blue-green. If the minority were consistent, for example, saying "green" all the time, they had a definite influence in changing the opinions of others in the group.
Zimbardo's Prison simulation experiment (1971)
This experiment was designed to show conformity to social roles, this is an an example of normative influence. Volunteers were given authority and asked to act as guards over other volunteers who were prisoners.
Aim: to see the psychological effects of making 'normal', 'good' people into prisoners or guards.
Volunteers: 24 middle class, male college students, mentally sound in tests and no criminal records, were paid $15 per day and divided into prisoners or guards by the flip of a coin.
Procedure: Prisoners were arrested at their homes at the start of the study, blindfolded and taken to Stanford University Psychology Department basement, which had been converted into a realistic prison! From then on the volunteers were treated as prisoners by the other volunteers who were guards.
End of the study: The study was stopped after six days because the guards became sadistic and the prisoners became extremely stressed.
Obedience is compliance with an order issued by an authority figure.
Obedience is not as general as conformity; it is related to specific instruction from another person.
Milgram's Obedience Experiment
Every psychology student has heard about Stanley Milgram's electric shock experiments.
Aim: Stanley Milgram was from a Jewish background he was interested in how easily ordinary people could be influenced into committing atrocities for example, Germans in WWII.
Volunteers: He decided to test ordinary Americans (over 1000 of them) from all types of backgrounds. They were told that the research was into the effects of punishment on learning.
Procedure: Volunteers were told to administer electric shocks of increasing voltage, up to 450V, to a 'learner' (actor) each time the learner made an error.
An 'experimenter' was overseeing the operation and dressed in a white lab coat. When the 'learner' started to make errors and the 'teacher' began to worry, the 'experimenter' reminded them of the need to continue.
Predictions: Milgram asked 40 psychiatrists to predict the results, they said that less than 1% would go all the way and that those who did would be psychopathic sadists.
Results: The psychiatrists were very wrong. Obedience rates were way higher. Two thirds of volunteers went up to 450V. No one stopped before 275V!