Social influence


Conformity - Asch's study

Aim: Investigate conformity through responses of ppts to group pressure in an unambiguous situation

Method: 123 American male students tested in a group of six to eight confederates. Two large cards were shown, one with a single standard line and the other with 3 comparison lines. Ppts were asked to select the matching line. The confederate went last or next to last. 18 trials, 12 were 'critical' where confederates all selected the wrong line.

Results: On the 12 critical trials, the ppts gave the wrong answer 1/3 of the time, agreeing with the confederates. 25% of the ppts never gave a wrong answer.

Conclusion: Shows that people are influenced by group pressure. Also shows a high level of independence as, despite group pressure, the majority went against group opinion

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Evaluation for Asch

Child of the times: Weakness. May only reflect conformity in 1950s America. Perrin and Spencer repeated Asch's study in 1980 in the UK and found just one conforming response in 396 trials. Suggests that the Asch effect is not consistent over time.

Artificial task: Weakness. The task and situation are artificial. Being asked to judge the length of a line with a group of strangers isn't reflective of everyday life. Therefore, the results may not explain more serious real-world conformity situations.

Cultural differences: Weakness. Research is more reflective of conformity in individualist cultures. Studies in collectivist cultures such as China produce higher conformity rates than those carried out in individualist cultures such as America and the UK. Suggests that Asch's findings cannot be generalised to collectivist cultures.

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Conformity - Social factors

'Social' means other people. Conformity occurs because of real or imagined pressure from others. Group size: The more people there are in a group, the greater the pressure is to conform. Asch found that with 2 confederates, conformity was 13.6% but with 3 confederates, conformity was 31.8%. More than 3 confederates made little difference - Evaluation: Effect of group size depends on the task. When there is no obvious answer people don't tend to conform unless the group size is 8 or more people. Anonymity - When ppts could write down answers conformity was lower - Evaluation: If ppts are friends expressing opinions anonymously they conform more. Task difficulty: If comparison lines are more similar to the standard, the task becomes harder and conformity increases - Evaluation: People with more expertise are less affected by task difficulty.

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Conformity - Dispositional factores

'Dispositional' characteristics of a person. Personality: Internal locus of control leads to lower conformity. When asked to rate cartoons, Burger and Cooper found that ppts with a high desire of control (internals) were less likely to agree with a confederate's ratings of the same cartoons - Evaluation: Control is less important in familiar situations. Expertise: More knowledgeable people tend to be less conformist. E.g. self-confessed math experts were less likely to conform to others' answers to maths problems - Evaluation: No single factor to explain conformity e.g. maths experts may conform in a group of strangers in order to be liked.

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Obedience - Milgram's study

Aim: See if people would obey an unreasonable order (deliver electric shocks).

Method: 40 males, aged 20-40, volunteered for a study on memory. 'Teacher' paired with 'learner' (confederate). The learner was strapped in a chair and wired with electrodes which could give an electric shock. The teacher was instructed by the experimenter (in a lab coat) to give a shock when the learner made a mistake. Experimenter gave 'prods' to continue. Intensity increased from 15 to 450 volts.

Results: No ppts stopped below 300 volts. 5 ppts (12.5%) stopped at 300 volts when the learner pounded the wall. 65% continued to 450 volts. Ppts showed extreme tension, e.g. 3 had seizures.

Conclusion: Obedience has little to do with disposition. Factors in the situation made it difficult to disobey e.g. the experimenter wearing a lab coat (authority figure), location (prestigious university), uncertainty (being in a novel situation).

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Evaluation for Milgram

Lacked realism: Weakness. Ppts may not have believed that the shocks were real. Milgram's ppts voiced suspicions about the shocks. Suggests that Milgram's ppts just went along with the study but weren't really obeying orders.

Supported by other research: Strength. Other studies have found similar obedience levels. Sheridan and King found that 100% of females followed orders to give what they thought was a fatal shock to a puppy. Suggests that Milgram's results were not faked but represented genuine obedience.

Ethical issues: Weakness. Milgram's ppts experienced considerable distress. Could have caused psychological damage to his ppts because they thought they were causing pain to the learner. Such ethical issues question whether his research should have been carried out.

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Milgram's agency theory (Social factors)

Milgram's agency theory - explains obedience in terms of the power of others and social factors. Agency - Agentic state: a person follows orders with no sense of personal responsibility. Autonomous state: Person makes their own free choices and feels responsible for their own actions. Authority - The term 'agentic shift' is used to describe the change from autonomous to an agentic state. The shift occurs when a person sees someone else as a figure of authority. Culture - the social hierarchy - Societies have a hierarchy with some people having more authority than others. This hierarchy is agreed on by all members. The culture we live in socialises us to respect the social hierarchy. Proximity - In Milgram's further studies, if the teacher was physically closer to the learner, the teacher was less obedient.

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Evaluation for Agency theory

Research support: Strength. Blass and Schmitt showed a film of Milgram's study to students who blamed the 'experimenter' rather than the 'teacher' for the harm to the learner. Therefore, the students recognised the legitimate authority of the experimenter as the cause of the obedience.

Doesn't explain all findings: Weakness. Agency theory can't explain why there isn't 100% obedience. In Milgram's study, 35% of ppts didn't go up to the full amount. This means that social factors cannot fully explain obedience.

The obedience alibi: Weakness. Agency theory gives people an excuse for 'blind' obedience. Nazis who were racist and prejudiced were doing more than just following orders. Therefore, agency theory is potentially dangerous as it excuses people.

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Adorno's theory (dispositional)

Adorno's theory - Explaining obedience in people's personality. Authoritarian personality - Some people have an exaggerated respect for authority. They are more likely to obey orders and look down on people with inferior status. Cognitive style - 'Black and white', rigid style of thinking. They believe in stereotypes and don't like change. Originates in childhood - Originates from overly strict parenting and receiving only conditional love from parents. The child identifies with the parents' moral values. Also feels hostility towards parents which cannot be directly expressed for fear of reprisals. Scapegoating - Freud suggested that people who have hostility displace this onto others who are socially inferior in a process called scapegoating. You offload anger to something else, relieving anxiety and hostility.

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Evaluation for Adorno

Lack of support: Weakness. Theory based on a flawed questionnaire. The F-scale has a response bias as anyone who answered yes to each question would end up with a higher authoritarian score. Challenges the validity of the theory because it is based on poor evidence.

Results are correlational: Weakness. The evidence is based on correlational data. We cannot claim that an authoritarian personality causes greater obedience levels. Therefore, other factors may explain the apparent link between obedience and the authoritarian personality.

Both social and dispositional: Weakness. The authoritarian personality cannot explain all cases of obedience. Millions of Germans displayed highly obedient and prejudiced behaviour but didn't have the same upbringing and same personality. This means that there are probably social factors that affect obedience as well as dispositional ones.

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Prosocial behaviour: Piliavin

Prosocial behaviour: Acting in a way that promotes the welfare of others and may not benefit the helper. Bystander behaviour (bystander effect): the presence of others reduces prosocial behaviour.

Aim: To investigate if certain characteristics of a victim would affect whether people will help a bystander in a natural setting.

Method: A male confederate collapses on a New York City subway train, either drunk or disabled. 103 trials. 1 confederate was a 'model' if no help was offered. 2 observers recorded key info.

Results: 'Disabled' victim was given help in 95% of trials. 'Drunk' victim was helped 50% of trials. Help was forthcoming as much in a crowded carriage as in a carriage with very few people.

Conclusion: Characteristics of the victim affect whether they will receive help. In a natural emergency willingness to help is not related to the number of witnesses.

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Evaluation for Piliavin

High realism: Strength. Ppts didn't know their behaviour was being studied. The subway train passengers didn't know they were in a study and behaved naturally. The results are high in validity.

Urban sample: Weakness. Ppts mostly came from the city. They may have been used to emergencies. This means that their behaviour may not have been typical of all people.

Qualitative data: Strength. The study also collected qualitative data. The two observers on each trial noted down the remarks they heard from passengers. This offered a deeper insight into why people did or did not offer help.

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Prosocial behaviour: Social factors

Presence of others: Bystander behaviour/effect states that the more people are present the less likely that help is given. Darley and Latané asked ppts to have a discussion on an intercom with others (confederate). One had an epileptic seizure and asked for help. If ppts thought they were alone 85% reported the seizure compared to 31% if they thought four others were present. Evaluation - It depends on the situation and the cost of not helping. In very serious emergencies help is given. Cost of helping: Decision of whether to help depends on costs:

  • Cost of helping includes: danger to self or embarrassment.
  • Cost of not helping includes: guilt, blame, leaving another in need.

Cost-reward model: Balance between costs and rewards of helping. Evaluation: Help also depends on how the situation is interpreted, e.g. man and woman arguing, 65% intervened when the woman shouted, 'I don't know you' but only 19% when shouting 'I don't know why I married you'

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Prosocial behaviour: Dispositional factors

Similarity to the victim: If you identify with a characteristic of the victim you are more likely to help. Man U football fans were more likely to help a runner who had fallen over if they were dressed in a Man U shirt as opposed to a Liverpool one. Evaluation: Similarity may increase helping but, for example, if the costs are too high or the situation is ambiguous it is not sufficient to guarantee to help. Expertise: People with specialist skills are more likely to help in emergency situations that suit their expertise. Registered nurses were more likely than non-medical students to help a workman who had fallen off a ladder. Evaluation: In contrast, people who had received Red Cross training were no more likely to help a victim who was bleeding a lot than people who had received no training - though the Red Cross people gave higher quality help.

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Crowd and collective behaviour: Deindividuation

Crowd and collective behaviour: Le Bon suggested that being in a crowd creates anonymity, leading to anti-social behaviour. Behaviour is ruled by social norms. When not identifiable, we lose our sense of responsibility and behave irrationally/aggressively.

Aim: Zimbardo aimed to investigate deindividuation in a study similar to Milgram's.

Method: 4 female students had to deliver a fake electric shock to another student. G1: Individuated group - Person delivering shock wore normal clothes, name tags and could see each other. G2: Deindividuated group - Person delivering shock wore large coats with hoods, never referred to by name.

Results: G2 was more likely to press the button to shock the 'learner' in the other room. They held to shock button down twice as long as G1.

Conclusion: Supports the view that both anonymity and deindividuation increase the likelihood of antisocial behaviour.

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Evaluation for Deindividuation

Not always antisocial: Weakness. Deindividuation doesn't always lead to antisocial behaviour. Johnson and Downing found that ppts dressed as a nurse gave fewer and milder shocks than those dressed in a KKK outfit, but more shocks than those in their own shocks. Shows that people take on group norms.

Real-world application: Strength. Understanding deindividuation can be used to manage crowds. At sporting fixtures, crowd control can be achieved by using video cameras so people are more self-aware. This can reduce aggressive behaviour of the crowd.

Crowding: Weakness. Antisocial behaviour may be due to crowding rather than collective behaviour. When animals are packed together they feel stressed and act aggressively. So it may be overcrowding that creates antisocial behaviour as well as deindividuation.

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Crowd and collective behaviour: Reicher

Aim: Reicher aimed to investigate the behaviour of a crowd to see if their behaviour was ruly or unruly.

Method: Analysed newspaper, TV, radio and police reports of the St Paul riots in 1980. Interviewed 20 people immediately after the riots to understand what happened, including six interviews in depth.

Results: Riots were triggered by policemen raiding a cafe for drugs, an action which was seen as unjustified. A crowd of 300-3000 gathered and attacked the police and other properties, throwing stones and bricks, burning police cars. Attack intensified and spread. When the police left, rioters calmed down and never moved beyond the St Pauls area.

Conclusion: Shows that the crowd's behaviour was rule-driven and anger was only expressed towards predictable targets, based on the social attitudes of the area.

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Evaluation for Reicher

Supported by research: Strength. Other research has come to similar conclusions about crowd behaviour. Research on football hooligans also found that violence didn't escalate beyond a certain point. Supports the view that crowd behaviour is rule-driven and not out of control.

Issues with methodology: Weakness. The case study is based on subjective data. Reicher based his account on the eyewitness testimony of reporters and members of the crowd who may have had a biased perspective of the events they witnessed. Means that the conclusions may lack validity.

Real-world application: Strength. Provides ideas about how best to police such riots. Reicher's analyses suggest that increasing the police presence in riots does not always lead to a decrease in violence so it may be better to let local communities 'police' themselves. Shows that this research can have a positive effect in the real world.

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Crowd and collective behaviour: Social factors

Deindividuation: Group norms determine the behaviour of the crowd - either prosocial or antisocial. Evaluation: Antisocial effects may be due to being packed together in a small space, as researched by Freedman with rats. Social loafing: In a group, people individually put in less effort. Being in a group reduces personal identity so individual effort not known. Latané found ppts made less noise individually when shouting in a group of six than when on their own. Evaluation: Social loafing is not a problem for creative tasks - in fact, more people mean greater individual output. Culture: Individualist cultures focus on individual needs. Collectivist cultures focus on the need of the group. Social loafing lower in collectivist cultures. E.g. Earley found Chinse but not US people put in the same amount of effort on a group task regardless of whether they could or could not be identified. Evaluation: Making generalisations about cultures may be a simplification of the way people behave since they are influenced by multiple factors.

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Crowd and collective behaviour: Dispositional fact

Personality: People with an internal locus of control are less likely to be influenced by others in a crowd. Evaluation: Not all research shows that personality matters. E.g. in one study 'whistle-blowers' had similar scores on a personality test as non-whistle-blowers. Morality: Morals are our sense of right and wrong. Those with greater moral strength are more likely to have their behaviour guided by these morals than being influenced by the opinions/behaviour of others. Evaluation: Supported by history when the German Sophie Scholl was executed for distributing anti-Nazi literature. She resisted the group norm and was willing to sacrifice her life for her moral values.

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