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Social Influence

  • The process by which individuals and groups change each others attitudes and behaviours. 
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  • This is a type of social influence where a person gives into group pressure. It is also known as majority influence. 
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  • This is a type of social influence where a person gives into group pressure. It is also known as majority influence. 
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Why Do We Conform?

  • We conform to be accepted, liked or to fit in a group.
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  • This refers to instances where a person may agree in public, but actually disagrees privately with the person’s viewpoint or behaviour. This is a temporary change. 
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  • Publicly changing behaviour to fit in with the group while also agreeing privately. An internal and external change of behaviour. 
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  • This occurs when someone conforms to the demands of a given social role in society. It extends over several aspects of external behaviour. 
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Asch's Line Study

Aim: Asch wanted to investigate whether people would conform to the majority in situations where an answer was obvious.

Procedure: In Asch’s study there were 7 participants per group. Each group was presented with a standard line and three comparison lines. Participants had to say aloud which comparison line matched the standard line in length. In each group there was only one true participant the remaining 6 were confederates. The confederates were told to give the incorrect answer on 12 out of 18 trails.

Results: True participants conformed on 32% of the critical trials where confederates gave the wrong answers. Additionally 75% of the sample conformed to the majority on at least one trial.


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Evaluation of Asch's Study

  • Lacks Ecological Validity - Based on people’s perception of lines.
  • Gender Bias - Men - Lacks Population Validity 
  • Supports Normative Influence - People conform to fit in when privately disagreeing with the majority. 
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Counter Study for Asch's Study

Perrin and Spencer (1980) repeated Asch’s study with students in the UK. Only one subject conformed in total of 396 trials. He showed conformity wasn’t in British Students.

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Jennes Jar Experiment

Jenness Jar Experiment:

  • Jenness carried out a study into conformity, participants were asked to estimate how many beans they thought were in a jar.
  • He found when the task were in social groups, estimation values were similar but when he did it individually they were different. 
  • Study shows majority influence, therefore it shows individuals behaviour and beliefs can be influenced by a group.
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Explanations for Conformity

  • Group Size = An individual is more likely to confirm when in a larger group. 
  • Task Difficulty = The more difficult the gas the greater the conformity. 
  • Unanimity = A person is more likely to conform when all members of the groups are in agreement and give the same answer. 
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Normative Influence

  • Desire to be liked. 
  • Conform to fit in.
  • Don’t want to be left out.
  • Leads to compliance.
  • Temporary change in behaviour.
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Informational Influence

  • Desire to be right.
  • Conform because we are unsure of a situation or lack of knowledge. 
  • Leads to internalisation.
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Social Roles

  • Social roles are the part people play as members of a social group.
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What is Conforming to a Social Role Called?


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Zimbardo's Experiment Case Study

  • Wanted to investigate how readily people would conform to the social roles of guard and prisoner in a role-playing exercise that simulated prison life.
  • Zimbardo converted a basement of the Stanford University psychology building into a mock prison. He advertised for students to play the roles of prisoners and guards for a fortnight. Participants were picked randomly.
  • Prisoners were issued a uniform, they were referred to by numbers. 
  • Guards were issued dark glasses to make eye contact with prisoners impossible.
  • Zimbardo observed prisoners and guards and acted as a prison warden.
  • Guards harassed prisoners.
  • Behaved brutally by using a sadistic manner.
  • Prisoners adopted prisoner like behaviour
  • Guards became more aggressive, demanded greater obedience. 
  • Demand Characteristics explained the study.
  • Low ecological validity.
  • Lacks population validity - US Male Students.
  • Ethical Criticisms - Unpredictable
  • Prisoner had to be released after 36 hours because of uncontrollable bursts of screaming, crying and anger. 
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Counter Evidence to Zimbardo

Banuazizi and Mohvedi (1975) argued that the participants were play acting rather than genuinely conforming to role. There results were based on stereotypes on how prisoners and guards are supposed to behave. 


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  • Obedience is a type of social influence where a person follows an order from another person who is usually an authority figure.
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Why Do People Obey?

To avoid punishment and unpleasant consequences 

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Milgrams Case Study

  • He wanted to know why Germans were willing to kill Jews in the Holocaust. 
  • Milgram wanted to see whether people would obey a legitimate authority figure when given instructions to harm another human being.
  • There was a teacher, learner and confederate.
  • The teacher and learner were put into separate rooms. The teacher was then asked by the experimenter (who wore a lab coat) to administer electric shocks (which were actually harmless) to the learner each time he gave the wrong answer. These shocks increased every time the learner gave a wrong answer, from 15 - 450 volts.
  • The experimenter wore a grey lab coat - this gave him authority. 
  • Results were that all participants went to 300 volts and 65% were willing to go all the way to 450 volts.
  • Experimenter instructed and prompted the teacher by telephone from another room, obedience fell to 20.5%.
  • Lacks Ecological Validity 
  • Biased, Milgram only used males in his study.
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Ethical Issues of Milgram's Study

  • Deception – the participants actually believed they were shocking a real person, and were unaware the learner was a confederate of Milgram’s.
  • Signs of tension included trembling, sweating, stuttering, laughing nervously, biting lips and digging fingernails into palms of hands. Three participants had uncontrollable seizures, and many pleaded to be allowed to stop the experiment.
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Agentic State

  • A mental state where we feel no personal responsibility for our behaviour because we believe ourselves to be acting for an authority figure. 
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Autonomous State

  • People act according to their own value, and take responsibility of the results.
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What does Agency Theory Say?

  • Agency theory says that people will obey an authority when they believe that the authority will take responsibility for the consequences of their actions. 
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Legitimacy of Authority Figure:

  • People tend to obey others if they recognise their authority as morally right and / or legally based.
  • An explanation for obedience which suggests that we are more likely to obey people to have authority over us.
  • Shift from autonomy to agentic is called agency. 
  • Milgram suggested agency may occur when a person perceives someone else as authority. This person has more due to there position in a social hierarchy. 
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Depositional Explanations

  • F - Scale measures the tendency towards an extreme form of rightwing ideology.
  • People who have scored low are likely to show independent behaviour (Crovile and Manow)
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Situational Factors

  • Dependant on current circumstances. 
  • Environmental Factors. 
  • Milgram could identify which situational factors affected obedience. Obedience was measured by how many participants shocked to the maximum 450 volts.
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Authority Figure - Wearing a Uniform

  • Milgram’s experimenter wore a laboratory coat which gave him a high status. But when the experimenter dressed in everyday clothes obedience was very low. The uniform of the authority figure can give them status.
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Authority Figure - Status of Location

  • Milgram's obedience experiment was conducted at Yale, a prestigious university in America.
  • The high status of the university gave the study credibility and respect in the eyes of the participants, thus making them more likely to obey. 
  • When Milgram moved his experiment to a set of run down offices rather than the impressive Yale University obedience dropped to 47.5%. This suggests that status of location effects obedience.
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The physical closeness or distance of an authority figure to the person they are giving an order to. 

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Independant Behavoiur

Independent behaviour is a term that psychologists use to describe behaviour that seems not be influenced by other people. This happens when a person resists the pressures to conform or obey.

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Social Support

Resists conformity, it refers when the presence of people who resist pressures to conform or obey can help others to do the same.

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Depositional Explanations

Any explanation of behaviour that highlights the importance of the individuals personality.

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Authoritarian Personality

Type of personality that Ardano argued was especially susceptible to obeying people in authority.

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Locus of Control

Measured along a dimension of high internal to high external. 

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Locus of Control

  • The term ‘Locus of control’ refers to how much control a person feels they have in their own behaviour. A person can either have an internal locus of control or an external locus of control.
  • People with a high internal locus of control perceive (see) themselves as having a great deal of personal control over their behaviour and are therefore more likely to take responsibility for the way they behave. For example I did well on the exams because I revised extremely hard.
  • High external locus are active seekers.
  • Internal locus of control are less obedient
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CrutchField (1965) proposed that people who ate more are likely to show independent behaviour have higher self esteem and intelligence than people who obey and conform.

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Minority Influence

Minority influence occurs when a small group (minority) influences the opinion of a much larger group (majority). This can happen when the minority behaves in the following ways.

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  • Moscovici stated that being consistent and unchanging in a view is more likely to influence the majority than if a minority is inconsistent and chops and changes their mind.
  • A distinction can be made between two forms of consistency:
  • Diachronic Consistency – i.e. consistency over time – the majority stocks to its guns, doesn’t modify its views.
  • Synchronic Consistency – i.e. consistency between its members – all members agree and back each other up.
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  • Moscovici conducted an experiment in which female participants were shown 36 blue slides of different intensity and asked to report the colours. There were two confederates (the minority) and four participants (the majority).
  • In the first part of the experiment the two confederates answered green for each of the 36 slides. They were totally consistent in their responses. In the second part of the experiment they answered green 24 times and blue 12 times. In this case they were inconsistent in their answer.
  • When the confederates were consistent in their answers about 8% of participants said the slides were green. When the confederates answered inconsistently about 1% of participants Said the slides were green.
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  • If the consistent minority are seen as inflexible, rigid, uncompromising and dogmatic, they will be unlikely to change the views of the majority. 
  • However, if they appear flexible and compromising, they are likely to be seen as less extreme, as more moderate, cooperative and reasonable. 
  • As a result, they will have a better chance of changing majority views.
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Social Change

  • Social change occurs when a whole society adopts a new belief or behaviour which then becomes widely accepted as the ‘norm’. Social influence processes involved in social change include minority influence, internal locus of control and disobedience to authority.
  • Social change is usually a result of minority influence. This is when a small group of people (the minority) manage to persuade the majority to adopt their point of view.
  • Moscovici found that consistency is the most important factor in deciding whether the minority are influential or not. This means that the minority must be clear on what they are asking for and not change their minds, or disagree amongst themselves. This creates uncertainty amongst the majority.
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Snowball Affect/ Crypto Amnesia

  • It has been found that once the minority begin to persuade people round to their way of thinking, a snowball effect begins to happen. This means that more and more people adopt the minority opinion, until gradually the minority becomes the majority. At this point, the people who have not changed their opinion are the minority, and they will often conform to the majority view as a result of group pressures.
  • The majority opinion then becomes law, and people have to obey this law. Once this happens, the minority opinion has become the dominant position in society, and people do often not even remember where the opinion originated from. This is a process known as crypto amnesia.
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