psychology AQA Social influence: conformity

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  • Created by: Katryna
  • Created on: 20-02-13 15:39

Conformity (Compliance) Majority Influence.

Types of conformity:

Compliance: social influence where a person publicly goes along with public views, despite privately disagreeing and not changing his/her attitude. e.g.: taking maths as an a level (despite disliking the subject) because his friends choose it.

Internalisation: social influence which makes the person change their attitude by taking views of the group at the deep and permanent level, accepting the views both privately and publicly e.g: starting to enjoy math. 

Identification: going along with others because of the desire to be like them.

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Asch study (Majority influence)

AIM- to investigate the effects of conformity to a majority when the task is ambiguous


  • 123 males 7-9 groups of students from local colleges
  • Told psychological experiment on visual judgement asked to compare lengths of lines
  • in each group all but one ps were confederates
  • ps were asked to look at 3 lines of different lengths and the identify which one was the same length as "standard" line (it was obvious which line was correct)
  • Verbally report which lines matched this was repeated 18 times in the same order
  • Naive ps always answered last or second last
  • Confederated gave incorrect answers 12 out of 18 critical trials
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Asch study (Majority influence)2.


Of the 12 critical trials (where the confederates gave incorrect answers)

  • conformity rate was 37%
  • 25% remained completely independent and were never influences by confederates
  • 5% conformed on every critical value

Why did people conform: 

Distortion of perception: a small number of ps came to see the lines in the same way as the majority.

Distortion of judgement: ps felt unsure about the accuracy of their own judgement and so went along with majority.

Distortion of Action: the majority of ps privately though everyone else was wrong and trusted their own perceptions, but changed their public behaviour giving incorrect answers to avoid disapproval from the other group members.  

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Factors affecting conformity (ASCH)

The difficulty of the task > differences between line lengths decreased, so that correct answer was less obvious ans the task was more difficult > Results of conformity are HIGHIER (supported by Lucas et al, ps who were confident in their (self-efficacy) ability remained more independent in Asch style studies involving difficult maths problems) > tasks that are more difficult led to higher conformity

Size of the majority > reducing number of confederates > found very little conformity when there were just 1 or 2 confederates. however having 3 confederates conformity rates increased dramatically to 30%. > Conformity is LOWER > little affect of decreasing the size of the group further.

Unanimity of the majorityone confederate gives the correct answer > one confederate gives the correct answer, conformity drops to 5.5% or dropped to 9.9% if confederate's answer was too different from the majority and incorrect > conformity rate is LOWER > breaking the group consensus, is the major factor in reducing group conformity.

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Evaluating Asch's study

Generalisable: Sample size cannot be generalised to the whole populationOnly 143 American males were tested.+was conducted under the influence of McCarthy Therefore sample size is not representative of the population as it only concentrates on American males of a curtain age + people have different views now.

Reliability: easily repeated and has been repeated a lot. It is a systematic method, rules are simple so can be repeated by other psychologists. The reliability of the study is high. 

Application: can be applied to juries. in 37% cases ps conformed to the confederates answers. This is because it shows that people are affected by the majority even if they don't agree. 

Validity: Valid because (HIGH INTERNAL VALIDITY) it tested what it was intended to test.+(LOW ECOLOGICAL VALIDITY) may have been valid in 1991 but not now. Results showed that 37% of ps conformed and 5% of people conformed al the time. This therefore, supports Ashes hypothesis on why people conformed. Found 3 reasons why they conformed 

Ethics: Ps were deceived about the aim of the experiment, but it was necessary for the experiment to work. The issue was solved by debriefing ps after. This meant that no psychological harm was caused. 

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Sherif (research into majority influence)

Name: Experiment into conformity (majority influence) using the auto kinetic affect.

Aim: To investigate weather people would conform in an ambiguous situation. 

Method: lab experiment on white American ps. 

2 conditions:

1: ps tested individually in a dark room with one point of light displayed on a screen. In the dark the point appears to move although it doesn't really (auto kinetic affect). Sherif asked the ps to estimate how far the light moved

2:ps repeated the task several days later, ps were put into the groups of 3. 2 of the ps gave similar results onto how far the light moved and 1 gave very different estimate. Each person in the group had to say out loud how far the light moved.

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Sherif 2


  • over numerous estimates (trails), the group conformed to a similar estimate.
  • the person whose estimates was very different to the others, conformed to the view of the other two.
  • Sherif said that this showed that people would always tend to conform 

Conclusions: in an ambiguous situation (such a the auto kinetic affect), a person will look to others for support . They want to do the right thing but lack appropriate information, Observing other can provide this information. 

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Dual process dependency model (Deutsch & Gerard)

• Normative Social Influence (NSI) (compliance) - people conform out of a desire to be liked and accepted. 

• Informational Social Influence (ISI) (internalisation) - people conform out of a desire to be right. Going along with others because they genuinely believe them to be right. This need for information on how to behave is especially true in: ambiguous situations (the right course of action is not clear), in crisis (rapid action is required) or when we believe others to be experts (we believe that others are more likely to know what to do). 

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Dual process dependency model (Deutsch & Gerard) e

A strength of Normative social Influence is that there is evidence to support it. For example Asch of ambiguous task, in which ps wanted to fit in. This suggests that people conform of a desire to fit i and not be the odd one out.  

A strength of Informational Social influence is there is evidence to support it. For example, Sherif used auto kinetic affect. This suggests when people are placed in ambiguous situations they conform to majority in desire to be correct. 

Opposing research: However a weakness of the dual-process dependency model is that there is evidence that contradicts the theory. For example Rohrer et al (1954) found that even a year after being involved in  such a study, participants who made the estimates alone would use the group not established so long ago. This indicates that the participants genuinely believed that their estimates were accurate; they were not simply making a judgement similar to that of others in order to  avoid embarrassment-  their change of opinion was internalised. In very ambiguous situations such as this, people strive to be accurate  by using the judgements of others.

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Dual process dependency model (Deutsch & Gerard)

Different theory: 

Furthermore there are other theories, that explain why people conform. For example, social impact theory which states that people conform depending on the size of the group (the bigger the group the stronger the urge to conform), importance of individual (the more important the people in the group are to the individual, the more likely people are to conform). This suggests that people conform to social roles (Zimbardo). it was a situation that created the context in which conformity to social roles occurred. 

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Moscovici et al Study 1969 (Minority Influence)

Aim: Effect of a consistent minority on the judgement of majority using a ambiguous task


  • 128 naive female participants-tested for good eyesight
  • Six at a time were asked to name coloured slides- 36 slides varying in brightness
  • Control group tested to see what colour was chosen in the absence of social influence
  • Consistent Condition- 6 asked to name colour of slides- 2 of 6 were confederates answered ‘green’ on every trial
  • Inconsistent Condition- 2 of 6 were confederates with confederates answered green on 24 trials


  • Control group named slides blue 99.5% of trials
  • Consistent condition names slides green in 8.42% of trials- 32% said green at least once
  • Inconsistent condition participants named slides green on 1.25% of the trials
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Moscovici et al Study 1969 (Minority Influence) 2


  • Study took place in controlled setting and artificial inconsequential task with no serious consequences
  • Low ecological validity-not possible to generalise results to real life
  • Nemeth et al 1987- inflexible minority is less influential
  • Female undergraduates limits the generalisation
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social impact theory

Latane and Wolf 1981 – developed theory to explain why people conform in some situations and not others- both minority and majority influence

 Several principles

  • Number- the more people present the more the influence will be on the individual- rate increase impact grows less as new individual is added
  • Strength- more important people are to individual more influence
  • Immediacy- individual can influence others- more people present less influence on any individual

 Sedikes and Jackson 1990- test of social impact theory- high strength and high immediacy sources exert more impact resulting in more conformity than low strength

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Milgram's study (Obedience)


Investigate how far ordinary people go in obeying orders of an authority figure which involved inflicting harm on another person


·      Took place in a lab at Yale University(America)

·      40 American male volunteers- told they were taking part in an experiment on "learning" (ethics deception) 

·      Participant always assigned role of ‘teacher’- confederate role of ‘learner’

·      Participant sat with electric shock machine- told to give ‘learner’ electric shock when they made a mistake on simple learning task. Shocks ranged from 15 (slight shocks) to 450 (danger - severe shocks) volts increasing 15 each time

·      Learner in another room- mainly gave wrong answers (on purpose)-received shocks in silent until 300 volts- pounded on wall then after the learner did not respond

·      when teacher refused to administer a shock and turned to the experimenter for guidance, he was given the standard instruction: prod 1: please continue/ prod 2: the experiment requires you to continue/ prod 3: it is absolutely essential that you continue/ prod 4: you have no other choice but to continue, 

·      Participant did not know shocks weren't real

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·      All participants continued to at lease 300 volts

·      65% went up to max of 450 volts

·      Most complained stating did not want to continue

·      Became very anxious/distressed

·      5 stopped at 300 volts



·      Study lacked ecological validity- participant/experimenter relationship unlikely

·      Not possible to generalise reflect unique relationship/setting- done in limited time in lab setting

·      Unethical- distress physically/psychologically – no informed consent- deception- right to withdraw(Verbal prods)

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locus of control 1(individual differences in indep

Refers to a person’s perception of personal control over their behaviour. - Measured over dimension of high internal and high external

Internal: Belief behaviour is caused by own actions<<<<>>>>External: Belief behaviour is down to fate, luck and other external factors

Internal and external locus of control

Research has uncovered characteristics of internals/externals that are relevant to independent behaviour

  • High internals are active seekers of information therefore less likely to rely on  opinion of others
  • High internals tend to be achievement orientated therefore are more likely to become leaders/entrepreneurs
  • High Internals able to resist coercion from others
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locus of control research (individual differences)

 Research supporting Locus of Control :Research has suggested individuals with internal locus of control are more likely to become leaders. Individuals who attribute responsibility for actions to themselves assume they can change situations in their environment.


The concept of locus of control applied to independent behaviour is supported by research by Elms & Milgram, who found that disobedient participants score higher on social responsibility scale and had a high internal Locus of control. This suggests that high internals are more likely to resist pressure of social influence and remain independent. 

However, research evidence into Locus of Control and independent behaviour is not consistent. For example, Williams & Warchal found that ps who conformed (in the task based on Ash's experiment) the most were significantly less assertive, but did not score differently on the Locus of Control Scale. This suggests that assertiveness not ..................................... is important in resisting social influence. 

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locus of control research (individual differences)

The concept of an authoriterian

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Why do we OBEY?

Why do people obey (Milgram)

¨Gradual commitment – as participants have already given lower level shocks, it becomes hard to resist the experimenters requirement to increase the shocks as the experiment continues. No shock administered is ever more that 15 volts more than the previous level. This is a foot-in-the-door method of persuasion.

¨Agentic Shift – this is a state where ‘the condition a person is in when he sees himself as an agent for carrying out another person’s wishes’ the individual comes to see themselves as an agent for executing the wishes of another.

¨The role of buffers –  any aspects of situation that protect the individual from the consequences of their actions. Buffer may help people to reduce the psychological strain of acting in an immoral way and therefore increase obedience. When the learner was in the same room the effect of buffers was reduced, as was the tendency to obey the commands of the experimenter.  

¨Legitamate Authority – amount of social power held by the person who gives the instruction. Responding to authority figure is learnt from an early age. Through socialisation within the family and at school we learn that we are more acceptable if we obey. We may obey the authority figure because we trust them or because they have the power to punish us. 

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