Social Influence

Conformity Definitions

Conformity - Yeilding to group pressure and when behaviour/beliefs are influenced by larger group.

Compliance - Individual conforms publicly but not privately. Therefore, fairly weak form of conformity as dependent on group pressure.  

Identification - Individual conforms publicly and privately, and conforms because membership of group is desirable. However, usually temporary and not maintained when individual leaves group.

Internalisation - Individual conforms publicly and privately, and genuinely adjusts behaviour and opinions to those of group. Not dependent on presence of group and known as 'true conformity'.

Normative Social Influence (NSI) - Individual conforms due to desire to be accepted/ liked and related to compliance, so only occurs in presence of group. Due to humans being social species and having fundamental needs for social companions, so fear rejection.

Informational Social Influence (ISI) - Individual conforms due to desire to be right/correct and relates to internalisation, as invloves change in point of view (public and private). Due to humans needing to feel confident in decisions and perceptions. If humans can't check they are correct, they will rely on opinions of others. Most likely to occur if situation ambigious or if with 'expert'. 

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Supporting Research

Jenness (1932) -

Asked participants to give indiviual estimates of how many jellybeans were in a jar. Then discussed estimated as a group and made seocnd individual estimate. 

Second individual estimate was closer to the group estimate so supports internalisation and ISI.

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Key Study

Asch (1951, 1955, 1957) -

Investigated if people would conform to majority and give obviously wrong answer. Used sample of 123 male college students. Each participant put in group with 6 confederates (part of study but pretends to be participant), and participant placed last or second to last in order. Asked to call out, in order, which of the three lines was same length as test line. Confederates gave unanimously wrong answers on 12/18 trials (critical trials). 

Found 32% conformity rate to wrong answers across critical trials across all participants. 75% conformed at least once, and 5% conformed every time.

Concludes that people conform to be accepted by the group, even if the answer is obviously wrong. Three reasons given by participants for conforming :

  • Distortion of action - Conformed publicly, but not privately, to avoid ridicule (NSI)
  • Distortion of perception - Conformed because believed their perception was wrong (ISI)
  • Distortion of judgement - Conformed because doubted accuracy of their judgement (ISI)
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(-) Sample was androcentric (all men), ethnocentric (all same culture), and all students, which reduces population validity.

(-) At time, America in grip of McCarthyism, so strong anti-communism period when people scared to go against majority and more likely to conform.

(-) Individual differences as Crutchfield found conformist people tend to be 'intellectually less effective', submissive, inhibited, feelings of inferiority, and less mature social relationships.

(-) Role of culture :

  • Perrin and Spencer (1980) repeated experiment 30 years later using Biritish students, found only 0.25% confomity level, which suggests Asch's research lacks temporal validity. 
  • Smith and Bond (1998) analysed 31 conformity studies and found conformity levels highest in Fiji (58%) and lowest in Belgium (14%). Average rate 25% for individualistic cultures, 37% for collectivist cultures. This due to collectivist cultures being more social and fear rejection more.
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Factors that Affect Conformity

Difficulty of task - Asch made lines more similar in length, conformity levels increased. ISI as individuals looked to others for guidance.

Size of majority - Asch increased and decreased number of confederates, conformity levels 13% with 2 confederates and 32% with 3 confederates. However, increasing number of confederates beyond 3 had no effect on conformity levels. NSI as when size increases, more pressure to be accepted by group.

Non-unaninous majority - Asch made one confederate go against unanimous majority, if same answer as participant levels dropped to 5%, if different answer to confederates and participant levels dropped to 9%. NSI as reduction in majority agreement.

Crutchfield (1955) tested this by having participants give answers in private. Similar levels at 30%, so suggests participants conforming due to ISI.

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Social Roles

Social roles - The way individuals play as members of a social group which meet expectations of the situation. Examples include students, customers, and guards.

Social roles are important as individuals can learn how to behave in situations by looking at the roles other people play and then conforming. The social rules become learnt internal scripts that tell individuals how to behave appropriately in different settings.

It involved identification as attitudes are accepted publicly and privately, however it isn't as strong as internalisation as individual only conforms when in the social situation.

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Dispositional vs Situational Hypothesis

Zimbardo's study was to understand the crutal and dehumanising behaviour in American prisons by epxloring two explanations for behaviour :

The Dispositional Hypothesis - Violence of prisons was due to the 'nature' of the people in the prison system (both guards and prisoners had sadistic and aggressive characteristics)

The Situational Hypothesis - Violence of prisons was a product of the prison environment.

To investigate, Zimbardo built a mock prison and used people with no record of violence to play guards and prisoners. If there was no brutality, it would support the dispositional hypothesis because individuals had no record of violence. If there was brutality, this would support the situational hypothesis as it would suggest situational factors were causing the violence.

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Key Study

Zimbardo et al. (1973)

Investigated the extent to which people would conform to social roles, and to see whether it was the situational or dispositional hypothesis that caused brutality in American prisons. 75 male university students volunteered but only 21 who were rated most physically and mentally stable used as participants in the student. The Stanford University psychology department basement was converted into a mock prison, with 3 prisoners to a cell and regular routine preestablished. Participants were then arrested by local police, fingerprinted,stripped, and deloused. Also forced to wear numbered smocks and chain around one ankle. All participants were dehumanised by removing individual identity (guards wore uniforms and sunglasses). Study was supposed to run for 2 weeks.


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Key Study Continued

Found that guards and prisoners conformed to social roles quickly. Initial prisoner rebellion crushed and dehumanisation became apparent. Guards became sadistic/abusive by taunting prisoners and giving them meaningless tasks. Prisoners became submissive, and some sided with guards against any protesting prisoners. Deindividualisation observed as prisoners referred to each other and themselves by prison numbers. After 36 hours, one prisoner released after crying fits. Three more acted similarly and were released. A fifth prisoner developed a rash when parole denied. Study ended after 6 days as Zimbardo realised the damage and harm caused. In later interviews, prisoners and guards said they felt surprised at the uncharacteristic behaviour observed.

Results support the situational hypothesis as none of the participants had shown violent traits before the study. Therefore, it was environment of mock prison and social roles that led to uncharacteristic behaviour. This suggests participants gained knowledge of social roles from media sources and based behaviour on that, and shows that individuals conform to social roles of a situation even when they override individual's moral beliefs about their own behaviour.

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(-) Ethical issues as fits of crying and rage displayed by prisoners, one developed severe rash. Guards became more aggressive so some prisoners experienced psychological harm, may be long term.

(-) Individual differences as not all guards were violent. While some were brutal, others showed little dominance. Prisoner behaviour also varied. Suggests participants didn't all conform to social roles, implies dispositional factors may also play part determining behaviour.

(-) Demand characteristics as participants may have shown uncharasteristic behaviour that they thought the experimenters would want to see. Banuazizi and Movahedi (1975) presented details of experiment to large sample of students who had never heard of study before. Majority of students correctly guessed purpose of study, therefore cannot be sure to what extent the behaviour of participants was natural.

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German are Different Hypothesis

Milgram (1963) wanted to test the 'Germans are different' hypothesis. It states that Germans are highly obedient by nature and Hitler wouldn't have exterminated so many minorities without co-operation of German population. This supports dispostional hypothesis (nature), over the situational hypothesis (situation/environment).

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Key Study

Milgram (1963)

Investigated 'Germans are different' and see if participants would obey authority firgure even if consquences of actions went against morals. Sample of 40 American males aged 20-50 who volunteered for what they thought was a study on effects of punishment on learning at Yale University. Met by confederate experiementer (wore lab coat to show authority), and confederate participant (gentle man in late 50s). Confederate participant always given role of learner and real participant always given role of teacher, but told it was random. Learner strapped up to chair and electrodes and teacher taken to separate room with shock generator. Teacher given 45V shock so they thought shock generator was real.Teacher had to read out paired-associate word tasks, and they recieved prerecorded answers from learner. Teacher told to shock learner with every wrong answer, from 15V to 450V (with 15V intervals). At 150V learner protested, at 300V learner refused to answer any more questions and says he has heart problem, at 315V learner screamed loudly, and at 330V nothing more was heard from learner. If teacher didn't want to continue, given verbal prods by confederate experimenter and told there would not be any lasting damage.

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Key Study Continued

Obedience rate measured as percentage of participants who gave up to 450V shocks. In original study, obedience rate was 62.5%, but earlier 'remote victim' version had obedience rate of 65%. 100% participants gave up to at least 300V. However, many showed distress (twitching, sweating, nervous giggling, digging mails into hands, verbally attacking experimenter), and three participants had uncontrollable seizures. On the other hand, some showed very little signs of discomfort and simply followed orders.

Suggests 'Germans are different' hypothesis is false as participants were 40 'ordinary' Americans and still showed high levels of obedience. Results suggest obeying those in authority is normal behaviour in hierarchically organised society. We will obey orders even if they cause us distress and go against moral code.

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(+) Practical applications as shows conditions for destructive obedience and helps understand dictatorships, etc. However, just because it has given understanding, doesn't mean a change has been made.

(+) Highly controlled as procedure was standardised (e.g. environment, pre-recorded responses, questions) which means cause and effects can be observed.

(-) Lack of ecological validity as lab environment not realistic (artificially constructed situation). Findings may not apply to 'everyday' life. However, destructive obedience not always 'everyday' life experience.

(+) Could be argued that results lack temporal validity, however replicated in 1999 by Blass and found similar obedience levels. Burger (2009) found almost identical obedience rates, suggesting results still apply today.

(-) Internal validity criticised by Orne and Holland (1968) as suggested that participants may know that shocks aren't real. However, 75% of participants thought shocks were genuine in post-study interview. Extreme physical responses also suggest participants believed they were inflicted real pain. 

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Ethical Issues

Psychological harm - Participants exposed to severe stress and several claims that full debriefing not carried out. However, only 2% expressed regret. Milgram said that full debriefing did occur and there was no long term damage.

Deception - Participants not told true nature of study and deceived, so couldn't give fully informed consent. However, participants had to be deceived to get valid results otherwisew there would be demand characteristics.

Lack of right to withdraw - Verbal prods implied participants were unable to withdraw from study as made to believe they had to continue. However, Milgram argued that they did have RTW as 35% of participants refused to continue.

Burger (2009) conducted more ethical study. Maximum shock was 150V, participants screened for mental health issues, and stated that they could withdraw from study many times.

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Obedience Explanations - Agentic State

Milgram (1974) proposed idea of agency theory which states we are taught from early age that obeying rules is necessary for stability within society, but to achieve this, individual has to give up some free will. Autonomous state is when an individual acts independently. On other hand, agentic state is acting due to the wishes of another and acting as their 'agent' even if you personally disagree. May also involve assigning responsibility for own actions onto authority figure.

Milgram (1974)

Changed original study by giving orders over telephone to see if participant would be more autonomous. Found that obedience rates fell to 20.5%. Suggests that when experimenter is more remote, the participant is less likely to be in the agentic state, while proximity of experimenter increases feelings of acting as their 'agent'. Participants also admitted during debriefing that they felt their behaviour was wrong, but felt they had to obery authority, which supports claims of agentic state. 

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Obedience Explanations - Legitimacy of Authority

Perception of legitimacy of authority is required for a person to be in the agentic state. Many situations have a socially controlling figure, so the power of legitimate authority comes from their perceived position in a social situation. 

Milgram (1963)

Found that some participants ignored distress of learner and instead focused on following the procedure. Demonstrates they were recoginising legitimacy of authority figure's orders. When Milgram moved location of study from Yale University to run-down office block, obedience fell to 47.5% which supports idea that perceived power and legitimacy of authority increases obedience.

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Proximity involves how aware individuals are of the consequences of their actions in obeying authority figures. 

Milgram (1974)

When teacher and learner were placed in same room as each other, the teacher could see the learner's distress, and obedience fell to 40%. When teacher had to force learner's hand onto shock plate, obedience fell to 30%. Suggests that the closer someone is to the consequences of actions, less likely to obey.

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Location of the environment can affect the amount of perceived legitimate of authority someone is seen to have. In places that seem to have more power, the authority figure also has more legitimate authority, so obedience rates are higher. Highest obedience rates often in institutionalised settings, such as schools or colleges.

Milgram (1963)

Moved location of study from Yale University (impression of power) to run-down office block (no impression of power). Found that obedience fell to 47.5%.

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Wearing uniforms can add to the perception of legitimacy of authority. In original study, confederate experimenter was dressed in lab coat which increased levels of obedience.

Bickman (1974)

Had research assistant order people on New York Street to pick up rubbish, loan coin to stranger, or move away from bus stop. 19% obeyed with civilian clothes, 14% obeyed with milkman clothes, and 38% obeyed with security clothes. Supports power of uniform as when in more important uniforms, individual is more likely to obey.

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Authoritarian Personality

Authoritarian personality characterised by absolute obedience, submission to authority, and domination of minorities. May be result of childhood experiences and authoritarian parenting. Recently suggested that they're motivated by thought processes that underpin desire to reduce fears of social change, and strict obedience to authority is seen as help. Adorno et al. (1950) found that people with authoritarian personality had insecurities, were hostile to non-convential individuals, and believe in need for power/toughness that leads them to be highly obedient to authority figures. Also created 'F-scale' that measures an individual's degree of authoritarian personality based on 30 questions.

Zilmer et al (1995) made reports of 16 Nazi war criminals, and found they scored highly on 3 out of 9 dimensions on F-scale. However, limited support as did not score highly on all 9 dimensions.

Elms and Milgram (1966) found those who were highly obedient in orginal study scored significantly higher on F-scale. This supports link between personality factors and obedience.

Altemeyer (1988) found individuals with authoritarian personality and told to give themselves shocks gave higher shocks than those without personality type.

However, issues with F-scale as authoritarian 

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Explanations of Resistance

Resistance to social influence involves disobedience and non-conformity. Non-conformity can be independence (lack of movement and doing own thing), or anti-conformity (consistently moving away from majority). Research suggests that if there are others who resist social influence in a situation, it becomes easier for individual to resist too.

Asch added a dissenter to his study and found that when dissenter gave different wrong answer conformity fell to 9%, and fell to 5.5% when dissenter gave correct answer. This helped participant as provided moral support as not the only individual not to conform. If dissenter gave correct answer from start, conformity dropped to 5.5%, but if dissenter gave correct answer in study, only dropped to 8.5%. Shows that early social support is more influential.

Presence of disobedient model is source of social support with obedience, as reduces unanimity and shows disobedience is possible.

Milgram added 2 confederates with who left study early on, and found only 10% participants gave 450V.

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Locus of Control Scale

Rotter (1966) identified personality dimension (Locus of Control) that shows extent that people perceive themselves as being in control of their own lives.

High Internal LoC - Believe they affect outcomes of situations and things happen as result of individuals choices.

High External LoC - Believe things turn out certain way regardless of actions and things happen as result of luck, fate, or other uncontrollable external forces.

Rotter believed high internal LoC makes individuals more resistant to social influence as seeing themselves in control makes them more likely to have perceived control and free choice.

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Locus of Control Research

Shute (1975) exposed undergraduates to peers with conservative or liberal views on drugs. Found those with internal LoC conformed less to others with pro-drug attitudes which suggests having internal LoC increases resistant to conformity.
Moghaddam (1998) found Japanese people conform easier than americans and have more of external LoC. Suggests differences in resistance to social influence across cultures can be explained by LoC.
Avtgis (1998) conducted meta-analysis invloving LoC and conformity and found individuals with internal LoC less easily persuadable or likely to conform. Suggests LoC links to ability to resist social influence.
Holland (1967) tested link between LoC and obedience but found no link. However, Blass (1991) reanalysed data and found participants with internal LoC were more able to resists obedience. Individuals with internal LoC especially resistant if thought researchers trying to force/manipulat them to obey. Suggests personal control and therefore internal LoC in important in resisting obedience.
Schurtz (1985) asked Australians to give highest level of what they thought was a painful ultrasound to learner and found no relationship between obedience and LoC. However, individuals with internal LoC took more responsibility for actions which suggests feelings of personal control may relate to social resistance.

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Minority Influence

Minority Influence - Social influence that motivates individuals to reject current majority group norms. Achieved through conversation where majorities are gradually won over by minority viewpoint. Involves viewpoint being acceptes publicly and privately and is form of internalisation. . Usually occuts through ISI where minority provide new information and ideas to minority.

  • Black rights
  • Women's rights
  • Environmentalism

Majority Influence - Seen as resistant to change and generally keeps things the same (maintains status-quo) and involves compliance.

Snowball Effect - Minority viewpoint taken on by more and more people, gains momentum until it becomes majority viewpoint

Social Cryptoamnesia - Dissociation between source of belief and belief itself which makes it stronger as it separates source is source has bad connotations.

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Key Study

Moscovivi et al. (1969)

Investigated role of consistent minority on opinions of minority in unambiguous situations. 36 groups of 6, and 4 participants and 2 confederates in each group. All female sample as thought they would be more interested in task involving identifying colour, so gender bias. Told study was about perception, and each group shown 36 blue slides in different shades. In first condition (consistent), confederates wrongly answered that slides were green. In second condition (inconsistent), confederates said slides were green 24 times and blue 12 times.

In consistent condition, 8.2% of slides called green, and 32% of participants reported green slide at least once. In inconsistent condition, only 1.25% of slides called green. Concludes that although minority influence is small, consistency is important.

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(-) Mundane realism as situations is not one that individuals would come across in everyday life, so may not be able to be applied to everyday situations.

(-) Not a lab study so lacks ecological validity and results may not be accurate representation.

(-) All female sample so lacks population validity and results aren't representative.

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Factors that Affect Minority Influence

Minority must be consistent, flexible, acting from principle, and seen to have made sacrifices. 

Moscovivi and Nemeth (1974) argue than minority of one may be more influential than minority of two or more as it's easier to be consistent. However, Arbuthnot and Wayner (1982) found that minority of one is less effective than minority of two or more.

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Minority influence will be more persuasive if they're consistent as shows confidence in beliefs and appears unbiased. Consistency is most important factor as it shows commitment, especially if minority had to resist social pressures.

Moscovivi et al. (1969) investigated role of consistent minority on opinions of minority in unambiguous situations. 36 groups of 6, and 4 participants and 2 confederates in each group. All female sample as thought they would be more interested in task involving identifying colour, so gender bias. Told study was about perception, and each group shown 36 blue slides in different shades. In first condition (consistent), confederates wrongly answered that slides were green. In second condition (inconsistent), confederates said slides were green 24 times and blue 12 times.

In consistent condition, 8.2% of slides called green, and 32% of participants reported green slide at least once. In inconsistent condition, only 1.25% of slides called green. Concludes that although minority influence is small, consistency is important.

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Minority influence will be persuasive if they're felxible and demonstrate ability to be moderate, co-operative, and reasonable.

Nemeth (1986) investigated importance of flexibility. Groups of 3 participants and 1 confederate had to decide how much compensation to give to victim for accident. When confederate was inflexible and argued for low amount, had no effect on majority. When confederate flexible and argued for slightly higher amounts than initial low amount, majority changed opinion to lower amount. Shows minorities need to be flexible to be persuasive, however does question importance of consistency.

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