Psychology UNIT TWO Social Influence


Why do we conform? + Sherif

Social influence is the effect other people have on our behaviour. 

Conformity is a change in a person's behaviour as a result of group pressure.

The need to be liked- when we are in a social situation, we have a strong desire to be accepted by the rest o the group. We are likely to do or say things that make us popular within that group.

The need to be right- when we are in a situation that is 'ambiguous', we will see what other people are doing and assume they are right, leading us to copy them.

Aim: -discover the effect on judgement of listening to other people

Method: -asked participants to estimate how far a spot of light moved (appeared to move due to an optical illusion called the autokinetic effect)

Results: -participants gave a variety of estimates individually which differed widely -when asked in groups of three, their estimates became more similar 

Conclusion: -participants use other people's opinions to help them form a judgement

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Conformity- Asch

Aim: -can people be influenced by others to give an answer they know to be wrong?

Method: -partipants shown sets of four lines -had to say whether line A, B or C was the same length as the test line -when tested alone, participants rarely made a mistake (<1% error) -also had to give their answers as part of a group, who had been intsructed to give incorrect answers for some of the tests

Results: -on 32% of trials when the rest of the group gave the wrong answer, the participants copied them -74% of participants gave at least one wrong answer

Conclusion: -people said they knew their answers were wrong but didn't want to go against the rest of the group, demonstrating conformity 


-both studies conducted in a lab (lacks ecological validity but has lots of control)

-carried out with university students (may behave differently)

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Obedience- Milgram

Obedience is following the orders of someone we believe to have authority

Aim: Milgram wanted to see how far people would obey an unreasonable order

Method: 40 male participants took part in an experiment they thought was abiut memory and learning. They were told to give an electric shock to a 'learner' (who was an actor, the shocks weren't real) everytime he got an answer wrong. The shock generator had 30 switches marked from 15 volts (slight shock) to 450 volts (***). As the shocks increased, the participant heard the learnre groan in pain, protest amd yell to be released- this was just a recording. When the participant wanted to stop, the experimenter would provide verbal prods such as 'the experiment requires you to continue'.

Results: Before the experiment, psychiatrists said that no more than 1% of participants would deliver a 450 volt shock. However, they all delivered 300 volts and 65% of them went to 450.

Conclusion: People are prepared to obey quite extraordinary orders if they think the person giving them is in a position of authority

Evaluation: unethical, lacks ecological validity, partipants may have realised shocks were fake

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Obedience- Hofling et al

Hofling et al

Aim: to see if people follow an unreasonable order in their normal environment

Method: contacted 22 nurses by phone, claiming to be a doctor. He insrtucted them to give a patient twice the maximum dosage of a drug called 'Astrofen'

Results: of the 22, 21 were prepared to follow his orders, despite the maximum dosage being marked on the bottle

Conclusiob: nurses are likely to obey the instructions of a doctor even when there may be bad consequences for a patient


  • lacks ecological validity- the drug was not real and the nurses weren't allowed to discuss the request with everyone
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Obedience- Bickman

Aim: He wanted to know if people would be more likely to obey an order if it came from someone in a uniform

Method: He had actors dress as either a security guard or just in a casual jacket. They each asked people sitting in a park to pick up some litter

Results: What he found was that 80% of people obeyed the 'guard' compared with 40% when the actor wasn't wearing a uniform

Conlcusion: Wearing a uniform will increase the sense that a person is a legitimate authority figure

Evaluation: high in ecological validity because it is in a natural setting, unethical because confederates were used

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Reasons for Obedience

Socialisation: throughout our lives, we are taught to obey authroity figures, such as parents and teachers so it beomes a normal thing to do.

Legitimate authority: the experimenter wearing a lab coat and the prestige of Yale University made the participants put faith in what the person was telling them to do. We might unquestioningly obey a doctor because we have faith in their superior knowledge.

Gradual commitment: as the shocks in Milgram's study started quite low and increased by such small steps, it was difficult for the participants to know where to draw the line. 

Buffers: the participants could not directly see the victim of their actions, so they were shielded from the consequences of what they did making it easier to deal with

Not feeling responsible: the situation caused people to lose their sense of responsbility for their own actions, because they were acting on behalf of someone else. They were just doing as they were told and felt like they couldn't be blamed for what they did

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Deindividuation is the state of losing our sense of individuality and becoming less aware of our responsibility for our actions.

Individuality refers to who were are: our personality, our values, our conscience etc.

When deindividuation occurs, people lose their sense of right and wrong.

Deindividuation is most likely to occur in a crowd because we become anonymous, so we cannot be indetified as an individual and therefore cannot be punished.

This is why deindividuation leads to antisocial behaviour, such as mobs.

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Deindividuation- Zimbardo studies

Aim: to see if people in a big city behave in a more antisocial way than those in a small town.

Method: parked a car in each place with its bonet up as if it had broken down, and observed what people did as they passed by.

Results: people began stealing parts off the car in New York straight away and within two weeks there was very little of it left. In Palo Alto, the only time the car was touched was when someone lowered the bonnet to stop the engine getting wet when it was raining

Conclusion: Deindividuation caused by living in a big city leads to antisocial behaviour

Aim: see the effect of hiding the idenity of partipants on the size of electric shock they give

Method: female university students were put into two groups: one had to wear lab coats with hoods to hide their faces, the second group wore their own clothes and name badges

Results: shocks given by the first group were twice as great as those given by group 2.

Conclusion: being able to hide their identity leads people to behave in crueller ways 

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Factors affecting deindividuation

Being able to hide one's identity: people are able to conceal their identities and therefore maintain anonymity. This removes the threat of punishment as well as losing a sense of your own identity.

Wearing a uniform: we are often encouraged to behave like other people by the roles we have to play- we wear uniforms to make us like everyone else. When we belong to a group, we are expected to behave like the others in that group. There may even be written guidelines or 'codes of conduct' for us to follow- in these cases we don't make our own decisions on how to behave. We are discouraged from being individuals.

Being part of a gang or clearly identifiable group: If we dress/appear as someone from a particular group (eg dress like a goth)people expect us to behave like others in that group. Deindiviudation occurs when we behave like the group we are in rather than like an individual. When people are in grows, they adopt the mood of that crowd and change the behaviour accordingly.

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Practical applications:

  • prevent situations in which people can remain anonymous- eg by using CCTV to monitor
  • being able to identify individuals in a crowd helps to reduce antisocial behaviour

Practical implications

  • when people are wearing unifroms in the workplace, they don't behave like individuals they behave like members of a business or firm
  • people wearing uniforms are easily identifiable and less likely to try to be different
  • wearing school uniforms makes it harder for children to act indepedently, and easier to be controlled by a set of rules that apply to everyone
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Social Loafing + Latane et al

Social loafing is putting less effort into doing something when you are with others doing the same thing

When a group of people are all perfoming a task together, every person is being helped by others. As a result it is not possible to identify an individual person's performance, so they do not need to work as hard as they do on their own.

Aim: to see whether being put into a group affects how much effort participants put into tasks

Method: 84 participants were asked to shout and clap as loudly as they could while they were alone or in groups of up to six. Each participant wore headphones so they couldn't hear the others.

Results: the larger the group size, the less noise the participants made

Conclusion: people put less effort into doing something when they know others are contributing effort to the same task than they do when they are the only one.

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Social Loafing- Earley + Evaluation

Aim: to see if culture makes a difference to social loafing

Method: participants from the US and China had to complete tasks alone and in groups. The level of social loafing was measured by how much effort was put in to the tasks in each condition. 

Results: the American participants reduced the amount of effort they put in to the task when they were in groups, but the Chinese did not

Conclusion: Social loafing does not exist in all cultures; in some cultures people are prepared to work just as hard for the good of the whole group even when they don't need to

Evaluation: all the people from the Latane study were from the same culture, and in the Earley study only two countries were compared- people from Africa eg may behave differently

Factors that affect social loafing: the size of the group, the nature of the task and your culture

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Bystander intervention- Kitty Genovese + Latane

In 1964, a young woman named Kitty Genovese was attacked in New York. She was only yards from her home, and the attack continued for over half an hour before she was eventually killed. Only afterwards did someone call the police, who arrived within four minutes. When the neighbours were questioned, 38 of them were able to say what happened and gave a description of the murderer. This means that any one of them could have prevented the murder by calling the police straight away but none of them did.

Aim: to see if people are less likely to react in an emergency when there are others present

Method: participants sat in a room either alone or in threes while completing a questionnaire. While they were doing this, smoke began pouring into the room.

Results: of the participants, 75% of those sitting alone went to tell someone about the smoke within six minutes, whereas only 38% of those in groups of three did

Conclusion: if there are other people around you, you are less likely to react in an emergency.

Evaluation: lacks ecological validity (took place in a lab), sometimes it is hard to decide when a situation is an emergency- if other people don't react, you are unlikely to do so

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Bystander intervention- Piliavin

Aim: to see if the appearance of a victim influences helping behaviour

Method: an actor pretended to collapse in a train carraige. His appearance was altered several times and the amount of help he received was recorded by an observer.

Results: when the victim carried a walking stick, he was helped within 70 seconds, 90% of the time. When he had an ugly facial scar, this dropped to 60%. Appearing drunk = 20%.

Conclusion: appearance of the 'victim' will affect whether and how quickly they get help

Aim: to discover if the similarity of a victim to the bystander will affect whether they receive help

Method: participants watched a woman who they thought was receving electric shocks. They were made to think she was either like them or not like them, and were given the opportunity to take her place to stop her suffering

Results: more participants were prepared to take her place if they felt similar to her

Conclusion: people are more likely to offer help to someone who seems similar (empathy)

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Bystander intervention + Schroeder

Bystander apathy is doing nothing in an emergency when someone is in need of help

When faced with a situation that requires action, people assess what it will cost them to help and what kind of reward they might expect to gain- if the costs arae higher than the rewards, they might decide to do nothing. Altruism occurs when someone doesn't consider the costs at all but help people purely because they need help, although some claim this doesn't exist.

Diffusion of responsibility is when there is less need for an individual to react in a group of people because someone else who is present could also do something

Aim: to explore different reasons for bystanders not helping (meta-analysis)

Method: studied the findings and conclusions from many previous pieces of research 

Results: they provided an alternative explanation for why bystanders did nothing to help when others were present

Conclusion: bystanders are distressed and concerned about victims but when other people are present, they believe that someone else might be more capable of helping or can help more easily.

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Social influence in the real world (implications)

Conformity- it is hard for individuals to act differently from the rest of the group. This could be serious in the process of the jury- if 11 people believe the defendant to be guilty, the final juror may agree with them even if they privately believe otherwise, because it is difficult to disagee with a majority.

Obedience- the research explains why the space shuttle Challenger was allowed to explode when it could have been prevented. It has been well documented that some engineers anticipated the breakage of the part that caused the explosion but they were persauded to do nothing by authority figures. It is easy to do as your are told and hard to disobey in this case.

Social loafing- social loafing may occur when playing team games (eg football or rugby), and some individuals may not try as hard as others/as hard as they would if they were playing alone. We can also predict that when students are given presentations to do in groups, some will do most of the work while others will be able to get away with making very little contribution.

Bystaner intervention: People who witnessed James Bulger being dragged through the streets crying for his mother did not do anything. When lots of people are around, it reduces the chance of someone helping and it is hard to realise there is an emergency. Diffusion of responsbility would probably stop people from getting involved.

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