Psychology Revision: Social Influence

  • Created by: Hope
  • Created on: 15-12-14 17:12

Obedience: Milgrams Experiment

The Experiment:

  1. Participant was introduced to another participant they became learner and teacher. 
  2. Learner was put in room with electric shock chair and another with generator and ''experimentor'
  3. The teacher had to administer a 'shock' when the learner got it wrong. Voltage increased each time
  4. There were 4 prods if they did not obey:
  • Please continue 
  • The experiment requires you to continue 
  • Its essential you continue 
  • You have no other choice but to continue 


65% of participants continued to 450 volts


People are likely to follow orders if the orders are given by an authority figure. They will obey them if they recognise their authority is morally right. 

1 of 28

Obedience: Milgrams Variations

Milgram conducted 18 variations to the original study and found:

Proximity of the Victim:

In this study both teacher and learner were seated in the same room. The obidience rate dropped to 40% as the teacher could now witness the learners anguish directly. It removed the psychological buffer between action (giving shocks) and the consequence. 

In the touch proximity study where they had to force the learners hand onto the shock plate it dropped to 30%.

Proximity of Authority Figure:

In origninal study the experimenter sat a few feet away  which made teacher feel they were constantly watched. In the experimenter absent study he left the room and gave instructions over phone. Now the majority defied the authority with only 21% going onto maximum shock level. 

Presence of Allies:

In this study there were 3 participants (2 accomplacies and one real participant). Teacher 1 read list of words, teacher 2 told learner whether it was correct and teacher 3 (real participant) administered the shocks. When the 2 fake teachers refused almost all the 'real' particpants withdrew their co-operation. 

2 of 28

Obedience: Milgrams Variations continued

From the variations we can see:

Obedience goes down when it is not a legitimate setting  - location moved to run down office

Obidience goes up whent he authority figure is in close proximity 

Obedince goes down when the authority figure is not in close proximity 

Obedience goes down when there is an ally 

3 of 28

Why do people obey? - Gradual Commitment

When participants get locked into odiedience in small steps. Once you have made some sort of commitment its hard to go back on it.

E.g. If your friend asks for 1 pound and you have 1 pound, 2 pound and a 5 pound note you give them a pound and then they see the 2 pound which you have to give them as well, now they ask for the 5 pound note which you kind of have to give them because you''ve already given them 3 pounds. But if they just straight out asked you for 5 pounds you would have said no. 

How did this work for Milgram?

Its very easy to commit to drawing a straw...seeing the person electricuted might put you off but youve already said yes....then once you administer 15 volts what is 30, 45, 60, 300... because once you've gone so far, whats the little bit mroe?


P- Evidence to support the gradual commitment explanation of obideience comes from miglrams experiment

E- For example, the participant was required to give shocks starting from 15v increasing in 15v

J- This is a strength because milgrams research demonstrates that increasing in small stages makes it difficult for someone to disobey. 

4 of 28

Why do people obey?- Legitimate Authority

We obey because we believe that the person giving the order has authority over us. 

The amount of social power held by the person who gives the instruction.

From early childhood we are taught that we should obey those who have authority over us. 

We obey legitimate authority because: Trust (e.g. Doctors) or Punishment (e.g. Teachers)


P- Evidence to support legitimate authority explanation of obidience comes from Milgrams experiment 

E- For example, obidience rates were much higher when the research took place at Yale with the experimenter wearing a lab coat compared to the variation in a run-down office block with the experimenter in 'normal' clothes. 

J- Therefore we can see that people trust those who look like they have authority over them.

5 of 28

Why do people obey?- Agentic Shift

Individuals become 'agents' for an external authority. 

It is easy to deny personal responsibility when an order has come from an authority figure. 

Obidience occurs because of a conflict between internal and external authority. 

Internal Authority (own conscience) Autonomous- Direct own behaviour and take responsibiility for consequences. 

External Authority (Authortity Figure) Agentic - Allowing someone else to direct their behaviour, passing responsibility onto them. 


P- Evidence to support the agentic shift explanantion of obedience comes from Milgrams experiment.

E- During the experiment when the teacher began to refuse to do the experiment Mr Williams would say 'that man is my responsibility' which made people continue. 

J- This supports the idea of the agentic shift as the participants demonstrated that they would obey the authority figure when they consiedered themselves to be an agent/worker for an external authority. 

6 of 28

Why do people obey?- Buffers

We are more likely to inflict harm on someone if we can distance ourselves from the victim.

  • Remove the persons individuality (e.g. removing face, name)
  • Dehumanisation makes it easier to remove/avoid moral responsibility


P- Evidence to support the dehumanisation explanation of obedience comes from Milgrams experiment

E- In Milgrams experiment the teacher was seperated from the learner and so they couldn't see eachother. In another of Milgrams experiments they were sat together and obidience decreased. 

J-Therefore we can see that people are less lielly to do something to inflict pain if they can actually see the person. 

7 of 28

Obedience: Evaluation (Ethics)


Milgram didnt tell the the participants what the experiment was actually about. He lied and said the experiment was on punishment and learning, they were actuallly on how authority effects obedience. Milgram argued that is was essential to the experiment that the participant didnt know what was happening. 


Lack of Informed Consent- 

No consent was given by participants. THey didnt know the true nature of the experiment. So couldn't give full consent.


Protection From Harm- 

THey where misled and told they were hurting people. This could could psychological damage. This is unethical. 


Right to Withdraw- 

THey had the right to leave the experiment. Although people suggested them not too when given signs they wanted to stop. Various prods where given suggested they not withdraw. 


8 of 28

Obedience: Evaluation (General)


Orne and Holland (1968) doubted the internal validity of Milgrams research. (He hadn't researched what he'd wanted to). They think that people distrust experiments because people know that the true meaning is often disguised. THey thought this could be why so many people carried on with the experiment, they thought they weren't actually hurting anyone. 


Hofling did an experiment and pretented to be a 'Dr Smith'. He asked nurses to give 20mg of Aestroen. Which went against restrictions it was twice over normal dosage. 21/22 (95%) of them still did it. 

Rank and Jacobsen (1975) asked nurses to perform an irregular order. 16/18 refused. This is because it was a familiar drug and they were able to consult with mmore nurses. 

Obedience Alibi:

David Mandel (1998) says that Milgrams conlusions about the situational determinanants of obidience are not born out of real events. It has low mundane realism - lowers external validity. 

Proximity of Victim - In 1942 Major Trapp ordered soldiers to kill a group of Jews on village outskirts only small minority of men didnt go. Proximity of Authority- At Jozefow massacre killers where alone. Each killer was also face to face with victim. Presence of Allies- Majority of men continued even though some men stopped. Increasing Teachers discretion- Killers didnt stop when they had the chance too. 


Carried out 50 years ago. Burger (2007) odidience levels are almost identical to Milgrams 54 years ago. 

9 of 28

Conformity- Jenness

Conformity is: A form of social influence that results from exposure to majority position. It is the tendency for people to adopt the behaviour, attitudes and values of other members of a reference group. 

Jenness (1932)

Aim: To investigate the effects of conformity

Procedure: Jenness did the jelly bean experiment

Findings: He found that after being given the opportunity to discuss their estimates, participants who were asked to give their individual estimates tended to coverge to a group norm. 

Conclusion: In an ambigious situation (when there isnt a known answer- when you have to estimate),, people look to others for answers. 


Lack of Ecological Validity - It was done in a lab so there is not a real life setting/environment therefore has low external validity

Lack of Mundane Realsim- This does not happen in a real life situation therefore has low external validity

Highly unlikely there was informed consent - this is because it would have ruined the experiment. Therefore it hasnt follow ethical guidelines. 

10 of 28

Conformity- Asch

Asch (1956)

Aim: Wanted to investigate how people who have behave in an unambigious situation (where there is an answer)

Procedure: Used 123 American male university students. Asch showed them a series of lines. All of the participants were seated in a semi circle. Only one of them was not a confederate. The confederaates were instructed to give the same wrong answer on 12 trials. There were 18 trials. The true participant was always the last or second to give answer.

Findings: On the critical trials, there was 36.8% conformity (gave the wrong answer) and 75% conformed at least once. 

Conclusion: People will conform in an unambigious situation


Low mundane realism - people do not judge lines in everday life. 

It only tells us about conformity in special circumstances- On a more important task we would expect conformity to drop. They had to say answers out loud. 

It is culturally relative- Only used white, american males, and was conducted in the 1950's which was a highly conformist era. This means it is the child of its time.

Perrin and Spencer did another test and found only 1 student conformed out of 396 trials. But they did another one where they found similar levels to Asch. 

11 of 28

Conformity-Asch... AO2 (Ethics)

Deception- The participatns did not know they were being tricked. Didnt know real purpose of study. However, the deception was necessary. 

Informed Consent- As the participants did not know the real purpose of the research they were not able to give their informed consent. Weakness

Protection- The true participant could have found the experience distressing or at least felt uncomfortable. Those who conformed must have experienced pressure to do so and may have felt distress at having to behave like a 'sheep'

Debriefing- Once an experiment has taken place, a post research interview is done. IN this the experimenter tries to restore the participants back to the same psychological state they were in when they started the experiment. 

12 of 28

Conformity- Sherif

Sherif (1935)

Aim: To investigate how people would conform in an ambigious situation by using the autokinetic effect

Procedure: The Autokinetic Effect: In this experiment, a single point of light in a dark room seems to move. When the participants were tested individually their estimates on how far the light moved varied considerably. They were then tested in groups of 3. The groups were made up of 2 people whos estimates of the light when alone was similar and 1 person whos was very different. Each person in the group had to say aloud how far they thought the light moved. 

Findings: Sherif found that over numerous trials of the movmeent of the light, the group converged to a common estimate.

Conclusion: Sheif claimed that he had shown conformity. The indiviuals were experiancing informational social influence.


There was no right or wrong answer, they were all likely to change their minds anyway.

Doesnt take into account extraneous variables, there may have been people with bad eyesight. This lowers internal validity. 

There was a low mundane realism- people dont do this in everday life.

Low ecological Validity- it was done in a lab

13 of 28

Why do people conform?- Normative Influence

Normative Influence- Compliance. 

This type of influence often comes from peer pressure. Reasons include: 

  • Fear of rejection 
  • Wanting approval 
  • To be identified as part of the group
  • To show loyals 

It is known as compliance as it does not involve really accepting their point of view. 

SHERIF'S EXPERIMENT - The desire to be liked, it involves altering our behaviour in order to be liked an accepted by the group. 

Normative Influence- The Research.

Bullying: Cillessen (2006) Research emphasises the role of normative influence in bullying. Groupd who arent really close friends can be easily manipulated by bullies. Victimisation of one person gives group common goal to comply. 

Smoking: Linkenbach and Perkins (2003) If someones friends smoke you are more likely to smoke. Only 10% of students took up smoking when they were told no one else smoked. 17% of people werent told anything about who smoked/who didnt and took up smoking. Low population validity-only studnets-cannot be generalised.

Towels: Schlutz et al (2008) A hotel wanted people to reuse towels. They told people that 75% of people reuse their towls. There was a 25% reduce of the amount of towels being washed. High internal validity-it worked-succeeds in showing how normative influence changes behaviour. 

14 of 28

Why do people conform?-Informational Influence

Informational Influence-Accepting the majority's viewpoint.

This type of influence is concerned with the fear of looking unintelligent and believing that others know better, especially if the task is difficult or unfamiliar. This is known as acceptance as people change their view point. 

ASCH AND JENNESS EXPERIMENT- The desire to be correct, in situations in which we are not sure about how to behave we look at others in order to decide what to do. 

Informational Influence: Research-

Stereotypes: Wittenbrink and Henly (1996) Gave people negative stereoypes of African Americans and the majority believed them. When they (those exposed to stereotype) were asked to describe African Americans they made negative comments. Not very reliable-everyone has prior beliefs-findings can be effected by people beliefs before experiment 

Political Opinion: Fien Et Al (2007) Judgements of the candidates performance in the US presedential debates could be influenced by majoritys reactions. THey has a screen as they showed participants reactions. 4 opinions changed due to majority infleunce.

Illness: Jones et al (2000) A school had a petrol smell in a classroom. 80 students and 9 teachers went to the local hospital complaining of symptoms. There was no casue found. The link between the illness that had emerged and the smell were unconnected. High external validity-everyone gets ill-findings can be applied to everyone.

15 of 28

How do people conform?-Types of Conformity


Going along with others to gain their approval or avoid their disapproval 

It is when a persons public opinon changes to that of the majority but their private opinion doesn't change. There is no actual change.


Going along with others becausr you have accepted their point of view because it is consistent with your own. It is when a person's public and private opinon changes to that of the majority. This involves a true change. 


Going along with other s bedcasue you have accepted their point of view but only because you desire to be like them.

16 of 28

Independent Behaviour- Resisting Conformity


Asch's variations showed that if the participant had a fellow dissenter who gave them social support the conformity rates went down.

The social support provided by an ally provides the individual with more confidence with their own decision. 

Allen and LEvine did a lab experiment using an independent group design. There were three conditions.

  1. The supporter had extremely poor vision 
  2. The supporter had normal vision
  3. They had no supporter. 

Both conditions 1 and 2 reduced conformity comapred to condition 3. But condition 2 had more of an impact.


P- Research has demonstrated that the presense of an ally results in a drop in conformity.

E- For example...Allen and Levines Experiment 

J- This is a strength becasue Allen and Levine support Asch's findings that an ally can decrease conformity leading to independant behaviour. 

17 of 28

Independent Behaviour- Resisting Conformity


Asch's variations showed that if the participant had a fellow dissenter who gave them social support the conformity rates went down.

The social support provided by an ally provides the individual with more confidence with their own decision. 

Allen and LEvine did a lab experiment using an independent group design. There were three conditions.

  1. The supporter had extremely poor vision 
  2. The supporter had normal vision
  3. They had no supporter. 

Both conditions 1 and 2 reduced conformity comapred to condition 3. But condition 2 had more of an impact.


P- Research has demonstrated that the presense of an ally results in a drop in conformity.

E- For example...Allen and Levines Experiment 

J- This is a strength becasue Allen and Levine support Asch's findings that an ally can decrease conformity leading to independant behaviour. 

18 of 28

Independent Behaviour- Resisting Conformity

Conformity: Moral Considerations

Aschs research showed that people will conform even if they think the majority position is wrong, because it avoids unwanted attention. 

In the experiment the people did not have a problem abandoning their personal thoughts as the consequences were seen as minor compared to the benefits of fitting in. If the experiment was asking someone to abandon their morality peopel will be more liekly to stick to their own judgements. 

Hornsey found little movement towards the majority on attitudes that had a moral significance for the individual (cheating) even when this involved saying it publically. 


P- THe moral considerations is good as it has high mundane realism 

E- This is because having to not go along with the norm because of moral beliefs can be an everyday occurance. For example Miep Gies and her family did not conform with the Nazi's and instead helped hide Anne Franks family.

J- This supports the theory as it shows that moral considerations ahev played a role in real life situations

19 of 28

Independent Behaviour- Resisting Conformity

Conformity: Nonconformist Personality

People will not conform if they have a non-conformist personality. They can be predisposed not to conform but it is usually a result of an in-difference towards the group norm 

When men and women are seeking a partner, women are more liekly to conform to what they think others want whereas men tend to become more non-conformist in their behaviour. 


P- A strength of the non conformist personaliy is that is has high ecological validity 

E- This is because in real life we can see that people often go against social norms. For example Rosa Parks would not get up and move to the back of the bus even though it was the socia norm for an african american to sit at the back of the bus.

J- This is a strength becasue it shows that the theory has been true in real life and as such has real life applications.

20 of 28

Independent Behaviour- Resisting Obedience


Milgram investigated the situational conditions under which people felt able to defy the orders of an authority figure.

Status - For example, when the study was moved away from the presitgious setting of Yale University to a downtown office, more people felt able to resist authority. This tells us that status is a key factor in resistance/obedience. 

Proximity- Resistence was also increased when the victim could be seen, or when other confederates were present. This shows us that being made aware of the effects of your actions and having social support are means of increasing resistence. 


P- The Buffers explanations for resisting obidience is good as it has been proved by Milgrams many different expeirments

E- When the study was moved away...and when other people where around

J- This supports the theory as it has been proven and it therefore correct.

21 of 28

Independent Behaviour- Resisting Obedience

Obidience: Moral Consideration 

Kohlberg presented a group of Milgrams volunteers with a set of imaginary moral dilemmas.

These dilemmas determined not so much what people who do in situations like Milgrams shock experiment but why they would behave that way.

He found that those who based their decsions on more gneeral moral principles were more defiant in the Milgram study, while those at a more restircited level of moral development obeyed the experimenter completely.

Milgram found that age, martial status and occupation had no effect on persons ability to resist but educational history and religious preference did. 

Less educated participants were less likely to resist the experimenter than those with college degree. Like catholics were more likely to obey the experimenter than prodestants. 


P- Uses retrospective data 

E- Conducted 6 years after expeiment so they have to use memory which  is reliable 

J- Reduces internal validity 

22 of 28

Independent Behaviour- Resisting Obedience

Obidience: Autonomous State 

If the agentic state (when person carries out actions to make someone happy) leads to higher levels of obidience then it makes sense that the autonomous state leads to higher levels of resistence. 

The autonomous state is where the individual sees himself acting on his own and therefore responsible for their actions.


P- The theory tries to put everything into one explanation without considering other factors.

E- For example someone could resist becaus eof moral considerations

J- Therefore the theory is reductionist. 

23 of 28

Independent Behaviour- Locus of Control

The location of the control- Parents? God? Yourself?

Rotter (1966)

Developed a questionaire to measure locus of control. It indicates how much personal control people believe they have over events in thier lives. 

The questionaire involved chossing between paired statements e.g.

  • Misfortune is usually brought about by peoples own actions
  • Things that make us unhappy are largely down to bad luck 

If you chose A you have an internal locus of control and if you chose B you have an external locus of control. 

Internal - People with an internal locus of control feel they have influence over their lives. They are confident, feel secure, having a positive outlook and little need for approval from others. They are less likely to feel the need to conform and less likely to obey authority.

External- PEople with an external locus of control feel they have little or no influence over their lives and things occur because of luck or face. They have a greater need for approval and they are more prove to normative social influence. They are more likely to conform and obey.

24 of 28

Independent Behaviour- Locus of Control

Twenge Et Al - External Locus of Control 

Found that young Americans increasingly believe their lives are being controlled by outside forces rather than their own behaviour. 

Researches found that locus of control scores has become substantially more external in student and child samples between 1960 and 2002. 

Twenge et al sugested that this is negatvie as externality is correlated with poor school achievement and decreased self-control and depression.


P-Twenges evidence supports the idea of locus of control 

E- As he found that young Americans who had a more external locus of control where more likely to be depressed. 

J- Therefore this shows that locus of control effects behaviour

25 of 28

Independent Behaviour- Locus of Control

Linz and Semykina-

Used survey data from 2,600 Russian employees between 2000 and 2006. 

They found that men are more likely to exhibit an internal locus of control and women more likely to exhibit an external locus of control. 


P- Linz and Semykina supports locus of control 

E- 2,600 Russian employees were surveyed between 2000 and 2006 he found women where more likely external.

J- SHows that there were gneder differences. 

26 of 28

Social Change

Social change: When a whole society adobt a new belief or way of behaving which then becomes widely accepted as the norm. 

How does Conformity lead to social change?

Nemeth (1986) states that conformity is the easiest option and due to this minoity positions are not always listened to. 

Whilst conformity often does not consider alternative ideas, the non-conformist are more likely to show independent thinking and have a more internal locus of control. They are more effective problem solvers and risk takers. 

P- There is evidecne to support Milgrams research 

E- Hornsey Et Al found there was little conformity due to the morally significant attitude change.

J- Therefore it is a valid arguement because there is supported evidence. 

Locus of Control-

Those with strong moral convictions and an internal locus of control are less likely to be influenced by others. This suggests that children should be encouraged to act on moral principles and develop a sense of repsonsibility in order to resist an un-just influence. 

P- Support for locus of control creating social change comes from Twenge.

E- HE found that externality is increasing

J- Therefore we can see evidence of social change. 

27 of 28

Social Change

How does Obidience lead to social change?

Disobidience- In a variation of his original study Milgram placed the participants with 2 peers who went against the experimenter and refused to punish the victim against his will. 36 out of 40 defied the experimenter, Milgram believed in the baseline study, the participants were near defiant, but the additional pressure of 2 others carried them over the threshold. 

P- Support for obedience explanation for scial change comes from Kholberg

E-He found that resistance is greater in those who base decsisions on moral principles

J- THerefore suggested that obedience can play a role in social change. 

How does Minority Influence lead to social change?

Miniroities that are consistent and persistent can make individuals question their own thinking and subsequenctly change their views. The change might be private and then majority (snowball effect)

P- Support fror minority influence comes from the suffragettes

E- They demonstrated 3 principles of minority for example they were consistent, they chained themselves to rails. 

J- Therefore suggests that minority influence can play a part in social change. 

28 of 28


No comments have yet been made

Similar Psychology resources:

See all Psychology resources »See all Social Psychology resources »