Social Influence


Types of Conformity

Compliance: "going along with others" but not privately changing behaviour. Temporary conformity.

Identification: we admire something about the group and want to become like them so we internalise their views and behaviour. Temporary conformity.

Internalisation: genuinely accepts the group norms. Results in a private and public change of opinions/behaviour. Permanent conformity.

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Explanations for Conformity

Informational social influence: people conform because they want to be right.

Normative social influence: people conform because they want to be liked.


Informational social influence:

+ Lucas et al found that there was more conformity to incorrect answers when the problems were more difficult.

Asch found that students were less conformist than other participants.

Normative social influence:

When Asch asked participants to write their answers down conformity levels dropped.

The desire to be liked underlies conformity and one theory does not cover all the differences.

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Asch's Research for Conformity

Procedure: 123 American male students were tested individually with a group of 6-8 confederates. On each trial they identified the length of a standard line. Confederates scarted to make obvious mistakes on 12 of the 18 trials.

Results: Naïve participants gave a wrong answer about a third of the time. 25% of participants never gave a wrong answer, and 75% conformed at least once and gave the deliberate incorrect answer.

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Evaluation of Asch's Research for Conformity

Variables Affecting Conformity:

Group size: with 2 confederates conformity was 13.6%, and with 3 it was 31.8%. Adding more made little difference.

Unanimity: Presence of a dissenter reduced conformity to 25%.

Task difficulty: Making the task more difficult increased conformity.


Asch's findings may be a "child of the time".

The situation and task were artificial.

Findings may only apply to certain situations.

Ethical issues

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Zimbardo's Research for Conformity

Procedure: A mock prison was set up in the basement of the psychology department at Stanford University. 24 "emotionally stable" students were recruited and randomly assigned to the roles of prisoner or guard.Prisoners were arrested from their homes and delivered to the prison blindfolded, *****-searched, deloused and issued a uniform and number.

Prisoner's daily routines were heavily guarded and rules were enforced by guards working in shifts, three at a time. Prisoner's names were never used, only their numbers.Guards had their own uniform with mirror sunglasses so you couldn't see their eyes (de-individuation).

Results: Within 2 days. prisoners rebelled. They ripped their uniform and souted and swore at the guards, who retaliated with fire extinguishers. Guards harassed the prisoners constantly and highlighted the differences in social roles. Giards took up their roles with enthusiasm; theur behaviour threatening the prisoners' psychological health. Prisoners became subdued, anxious and depressed.

3 prisoners were released early due to fragile mental health. One prisoner went on a hunger strike. The study was closed down after 6 days instead of 8.

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Evaluation of Zimbardo's Research for Conformity.

+ Researchers had some control over variables. This increases the internal validity.

- It lacked realism.

- Zimbardo understated dispositional influences.

- It lacks research support. Other reproductions have found different results.

- Ethical Issues

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Milgram's Research for Obedience

Procedure: Milgram recruited 40 male participants. He advertised it as a study into memory. Participants played the 'teacher'; a confederate played the 'learner' and there was an 'experimenter' in a lab coat.

The learner was strapped to a chair and wired with electrodes in a separate room than the teacher. Every time the learner got an answer wrong the teacher had to give them an electric shock. The participants did not know that the learner was really recieving no shocks. Shocks varied from 15V to 450V. The learner pounded on the wall at 315V and then did not respond again.

If the teacher was unsure about leaving, the experimenter would give them prods to stay in the experiment: "please continue" or "please go on", "the experiment requires that you continue", "it is absolutely essential that you continue" or "you have no other choice, you must go on."

Results: No participants stopped below 300V. 12.5% stopped at 300V, and 65% continued to the maximum 450V.

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Evaluation of Milgram's Research for Obedience

+ it had good external value.

Replications have supported his findings.

- It lacked internal validity.

Ethical issues.

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Situational Variables for Obedience


Location was changed to a run down building: obedience fell to 47%.


Proximity variation: teacher and learner were in the same room: obedience dropped to 40%

Touch Proximity Variation: teacher had to force the learner's hand onto a shock plate: obedience dropped to 30%.

Remote-instruction proximity variation: experimenter left the room and gave instructions via telephone: obedience dropped to 20.5%.


The experimenter was called away and the role of the experimenter was taken over by an "ordinary member of the public" in everyday clothes: obedience dropped to 20%.

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Evaluation of the Influence of Situational Variabl

Research support for the influence of situational variables (Bickman and Hofling).

It has been replicated in other countries.

+ It has control over variables.

- It may lack internal validity.

He underestimates participant variables.

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Social-Psychological Factors that Affect Obedience

Agentic State:

Obedience occurs because people become an 'agent' for someone else. They act in place of another and feel no personal responsibility.The autonomous state is to be independent and people act according to their own principles. People go through the agentic shift where one goes from the autonomous state to the agentic state. There are binding factors; aspects of a situation that allow people to minimise and ignore the damagind effect of their behaviour.

Legitimacy of Authority:

We obey people at the top of the social hierarchy. Authorities are percieved as legitimate in the sense that it is agreed by society. We hand over control of our behaviour to authority figures due to trust. Charasmatic leaders, such as Hitler, use their legitimate powers for destruction.

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Evaluation of Social-Psychological Factors Affecti

It is a useful account of cross cultural differences in obedience.

It can explain real-life obedience.

- It can provide a justification for behaviours that are harming to others.

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Dispositional Explanations of Obedience

The Authoritarian Personality:

Unquestioning obedience is a psychological disorder and could be a personality type. People with an Authoritarian Personality have exaggerated respect for authority and submissiveness towards it. They express contempt for people of inferior social status and they have conventional attitudes towards race and gender. It originates in childhood from "Harsh Parenting". They feel fear of parents and they become hostile and displace it onto those who are inferior.

Research into the Authoritarian Personality:

Adorno et al (1950) developed the F scale in order to investigate the unconscious attitude towards other racial groups of middle-class white Americans.


Authoritatians identified with "strong" people and were contemptuous of the "weak". They were conscious of other status and showed excessive respect to those of a higher status. They had a cognitive style where there was no "fuzziness" between categories of people. They were extremely stereotypical.

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Evaluation of Dispositional Explanations of Obedie

+ There is support for the link between authoritarian personality and obedience.

- The explanation is limited.

The F-Scale is politically biased.

It uses correlational research.

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Resistance to Social Influence

Social Support:

Conformity is reduced by a dissenting peer. The effect is not long lasting. Obedience is reduced by one other dissenting partner.

Locus of Control:

Internal Locus of Control believe they are in control of their own actions.

External Locus of Control believe that things are outside of their control and that they are not to blame.

Internals show greater resistance to social influence as if someone takes personal responsibility they are more likely to base their actions on their own beliefs. They are more self-confident, more achievement-oriented, have higher intelligence and less need for social approval, which leads to greater resistance.

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Evaluation of Resistance to Social Influence

Social Support:

+ Research evidence supports the role of the dissenting peer in both conformity and obedience.

- There is no cross cultural research.

Locus of Control:

+ Research support for the link between Locus of Control and resistance to be obedience.

- The role of Locus of Control may be exaggerated.

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BBC Prison Study for Conformity

Procedure: This was a controlled observation set in a mock prison. It was filmed for broadcasting on TV. 15 male volunteers took part. There were 10 guards and 5 inmates. Compliance, stress and depression levels were measured daily. The inmates were told that on day 3, a random prisoner would be promoted to a guard. An ethics committee was set up, which could stop the experiment at any time.

Results: The guards did not form a group, did not always use their authority and did not identify with their assigned role. The unequal system eventually failed because the guards had a weak group identity, and the prisoners formed a strong group identity.

Days 1-3: all prisoners acted in ways they thought would allow them to be promoted to guards. 

Day 4 onwards: the prisoners formed a stronger identity because they knew they couldn't get promoted.

Day 6: the prisoners rebelled, participants formed a democracy.

Day 6 onwards: the democracy eventually failed because of group tensions. Some ex-prisoners tried to establish a hierarchy. The ethics committee stopped the experiment early due to particpants' stress levels.

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Evaluation of the BBC Prison Study for Conformity

No deception: the participants were told what was going to happen.

+ Protection: the ethics committee could stop the experiment at any time.

Debriefing and counselling offered.

- Artificial situation: gives the experiment low ecological validity.

Staged for TV: some (including Zimbardo) argue that parts of the study were staged and that participants were influenced by the cameras.

- Lack of empowerment: Zimbardo's guards were prompted to keep order, whereas Reicher and Haslam's guards were not.

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