Conformity Revision Cards

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What is conformity?

Conformity- The tendency to change behaviour or attitudes in response to the influence of others or social pressure. The pressure can be real or imagined.

Kelman’s 3 Types of Conformity

Compliance- Going along with others to gain approval or avoid disapproval. There is no change in the person’s underlying attitude, only their public behaviour. Saying they like a show because all of their friends like it- listening to ‘popular’ music but not actually liking it. Changing public behaviour but not private. 

Identification- Going along with others because of a desire to be like them. An individual feels more a part of the group by adopting the attitudes and behaviours of others (private change). People change their view publically and privately after being exposed to others views to fit in with them. Behaviour is not permanent.

Internalisation- Going along with others because of an acceptance of their point of view. Often permanent. The deepest form of conformity. Eg. A student becomes a vegetarian because they live with an animal rights activist and may retain this view for the rest of their life. People can internalise views of minority groups. It is a personal choice.

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Asch's Study of Conformity

123 male students asked to take part in a task of visual perception. They were put in a group of 7-9 and were shown two cards one of a standard line and the other showing three comparison lines. Ps were asked to call out which of the comparisons matched the standard line. Asch used confederates who were told to give the wrong answer. The one real participant was sat last at the table so they were exposed to the wrong answers before giving theirs. 25% remained completely independent. 5% conformed on every trial.

Some felt their eyes/perceptions were wrong. Others conformed because they did not want to stand out.


  • Asch found that as trials progressed, ps became increasingly anxious and self-conscious regarding their answers and some reported feelings of stress- protection of participants. 
  • Deception- Ps were not fully aware of the aim of the study
  • Study is gender biased to men
  • Variety of cultures and ages
  • Lacks validity as it was a lab experiment, but easily repeated
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Zimbardo Prison Experiment

Zimbardo wanted to see if the brutality found in prisons at the time was a consequence of the personality of the guards, or identification with the social roles in which they were placed. He used 24 male student volunteers who were randomly allocated role of guard or prisoner. Prisoners were arrested at their home, searched and dressed in prison uniforms and referred to by number. Within a day prisoners began to rebel and were punished severely by the guards. Prisoners quickly became depressed with some showing serious stress-related reactions to the experience. The experiment was called of after 6 days rather than two weeks. The implications of these findings were that ordinary, stable individuals can abuse power and behave in violent, anti-social ways if placed in a situation that facilitates this. 

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Zimbardo Prison experiment (Evaluation)

Evaluation: Demand characteristics- As the participants knew they were taking part in an experiment and they knew they were being observed, they could have simply been playing what they believed was the role expected of them. In a real life situation they may not have behaved in the same way. However the level of brutal behaviour by the guards was far more extreme than would be expected when simply acting a role, and individual guards were sometimes even more sadistic to prisoners when they were alone without an audience.

Ethical considerations- Zimbardo has been criticised for carrying out an unethical study as he deliberately put participants into a situation that caused them physical and psychological harm. Zimbardo argued in his defence that he stopped the experiment when he realised it had become dangerous, and that he did everything he could to minimise psychological harm by holding extensive debriefing sessions with participants. The study did however provide a valuable insight into human behaviour.

Ecological validity- There are some key differences between the study and real life. For example, prison officers apply for jobs as prison officers and not as participants in an experiment where they could be either guard or inmate. Prisoners have all committed crimes and are in prison because they have been convicted, not because they are taking part in an experiment. And prison officers have families they go home to, they do not work 24 hours a day.

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