Social Influence

Explanations for Conformity

  • Jenness(1932) investigated whether individual judgments of jellybeans in a jar was influenced by discussions in groups. The judgments of individuals are affected by majority opinions, especially in ambiguous or unfamiliar situations. Discussion is not affective in changing the opinion, unless the individuals who enter into the discussions become aware that the opinions of others are different to theirs. 
  • Asch(1951) found that many of his participants went along with a clearly wrong answer just because others did. Some participants said they felt self-conscious giving the correct answer and they were afraid of disapproval. When asked to write their answer, conformity rates dropped to 12.5%
  •  Lucas et al.(2006) asked students to give answers to mathematical problems that were easy or more difficult. There was a greater conformity to incorrect answers when they were difficult rather than when they were easier ones. The study shows that people conform in situations where they feel they don’t know the answer, which is the outcome predicted by the ISI explanation. 
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Situational Variables affecting Obedience

  • Milgram(1974) found that when the teacher and the learner were in the same room as each other, so that the teacher could see the learners distress, obedience declined from 62.5% to 40%.
  • Milgram(1974) performed a variation of his study in an office block in a run-down part of town and found obedience dropped from 62.5% to 47.5%. This suggests the change in location from Yale University reduced the perceived legitimacy of the authority figure giving the orders, leading to a significant drop in the obedience rates. 
  • Other studies have demonstrated the influence of these situational variables on obedience. In a field experiment in New York City, Bikman (1974) had three confederates dress in three different outfits – jacket and tie, a milkman’s outfit and a security guards uniform. The confederates stood in the street and asked passers-by to perform tasks such as picking up litter or giving the confederate a coin for the parking meter. People were twice as likely to obey the assistant dressed as a security guard than the one dressed in a jacket and tie. 
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Agentic State

  • Blass and Schmitt (2001) carried out a study in which students were shown a video of the Milgram study and asked to identify who they felt was responsible for the harm to the learner, Mr. Wallace. The students blamed the ‘experimenter’ rather than the participant, arguing he had responsibility due to his authority.
  •  When Milgram’s participants were debriefed after the original electric shock experiment (Milgram, 1963), many reported that they knew it was wrong to deliver dangerous electric shocks, but that they felt the experimenter was responsible and not them. This provides support for the agentic state explanation of obedience 
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Legitimacy of Authority

  • The power of a uniform has to make people more likely to obey orders was shown by Bickman (1974) in New York. Bickman used three male actors dressed in normal clothes, as a milkman, or as a security guard. The actors asked passersby to do things like pick up a paper bag that had been thrown in the street, or to give them a coin for a parking meter. Passersby were most likely to obey the actor dressed as a security guard and least likely to obey the actor in normal clothes 
  • In Milgram’s 1963 experiment, the authority figure was an experimenter dressed in a light grey laboratory coat. The coat was a symbol of legitimate power and experience, and possibly led participants to believe that the experimenter was a legitimate authority figure. 
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Dispositional Explanations

  • Adorno et al(1950) investigated the causes of the obedient personality in a study of more than 2000 middle class, white Americans and their unconscious attitudes towards other racial groups. They developed several scales for this, including the F-scale which is still used today to measure authoritarian personalities. 
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Dispositional Explanations

  • Adorno et al(1950) investigated the causes of the obedient personality in a study of more than 2000 middle class, white Americans and their unconscious attitudes towards other racial groups. They developed several scales for this, including the F-scale which is still used today to measure authoritarian personalities. 
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Resistance to Social Influence

  • Holland(1967) repeated Milgram’s study and measured weather people were internals or externals. He found that 37% of internals did not continue to the highest shock level whereas on 23% of externals did not continue. (Internals showed greater resistance to authority) This increases the validity of the LoC explanation and our confidence that it can explain resistance.
  • Allen and Levine(1971) found that conformity decreased when there was one dissenter in an Asch-type study. This occurred even if the dissenter wore thick glasses and said he had difficulty with his vision. This supports the view that resistance is not just motivated by following what someone else says but it enables to be free of the pressure of the group. 
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Minority Influence

  • Moscovici et al(1969) demonstrated minority influence in a study where a group of 6 people were asked to view a set of 36 blue colour slides that varied in intensity and then state whether the slides were blue or green. In each group there were two confederates who consistently said the slides were green on two-thirds of the trials. The participants gave the same wrong answer on 8.42% of the trials, 32% gave the same answer as the minority on at least one trial. A second group of participants were exposed to an inconsistent minority and agreement fell to 1.25%. For a third control group there were no confederates and all participants had to do was identify the colour of each slide. They got this wrong on just 0.25% of the trials. 
  • Wood et al(1994) carried out a meta-analysis of almost 100 similar studies and found that minorities who were seen as being consistent were most influential. This suggests that consistency is a major factor in minority influence. 
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Social Change

  •  Moscovici’s conversion explanation of minority influence argues that the minority and majority influence involve different cognitive processes. This is, minority influence causes individuals to think more deeply about an issue than majority influence. Mackie (1987) disagrees and says that it is majority influence that may create deeper processing if you do not share their views. This casts doubt on the validity of Moscovici’s theory. 
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