Sherif (1935) Conformity and the autokinetic effect


Sherif researched whether people are influenced by others when they're doing an ambiguous task (one where the answer isn't clear).

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  • Labratory experiment.
  • Repeated measures design.
  • Used visual illusion called the autokinetic effect, where a stationary spot of light, viewed in a dark room, appears to move.
  • They had to estimate how far it had moved.
  • In first phase, individual participants made repeated estimates.
  • Put into groups of 3 and made estimates with others present.
  • Then tested individually.
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  • When alone participants had their own stable estimates (personal norms).
  • When in groups estimates tended to converge and became more alike.
  • Tested on their own again and their estimates were more like the group estimates than their personal norms.
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Participants were influenced by estimates of other people, and a group norm developed.

Estimates converged because participants used info from others to help - affected by informational social influence.

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  • Labratory experiment - good because variables strictly controlled, meaning that a cause and effect can be identified as there's little chances of extranous variables messing with the results. 
  • Method can be easily replicated.


  • Repeated measures design may mean that participant variables could affect the results.
  • Artificial situation - lacks ecological validity.
  • Sample limited so can't be generalised to everyone.
  • Ethics - deception as the light wasn't moving but was told that it was.
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