Social influence

Explanations of conformity

Informational Social Influence (ISI) - We agree with the opinion of the majority because we believe it is correct, we accept it because we want it to be correct (need for certainty). This may lead to internalisation.

Normative Social Influence (NSI) – we agree with the opinion of the majority because we want to be accepted, gain social approval and be liked (motivated  by fear of rejection). This may lead to compliance due to conflict between internal and external beliefe systems.

- (Teevan et al): NSI does not affect everyone’s behaviour in the same way – people who are less concerned about being liked conform less than those who do not

+ (Lucas et al): ISI greater conformity to incorrect maths answers than easier ones, especially for those who rated their ability as poor. Shows that people conform when they don't know the answer – which is the outcome predicted by the ISI explanation.

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Types of conformity

Compliance –  temporary, conformity to majority, privately disagree, only lasts as long as in view of group

Identification – moderate conformity, public and partially private as long as identify with group. 

Internalisation – conform to majority, accapt as correct, permanent even in absensce of group.

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The Asch study

 Asch wanted to measure the strength of conformity effect using an ambiguous task (lines A B and C). There were between seven and nine confederates per semi circle. Naieve ptps were given an ambiguous task (lines). On the first two trials the confederates gave the correct answers but on the third they gave the wrong answers. The dependant variable was who would conform to the confederates and give the wrong answers having heard others first.

Results:  The naive ptps conformed to the wrong answer 36.8% of the time when alone with confederates. 25% never conformed and 75% conformed at least once. There was a control group were the ptps got the answer wrong only 1% of the time.

Asch concluded that some people's judgements and decisions by majority opinion, even when is is obviously wrong. Asch gave three reasons why the 36.8% conformed: distortion of perception, distortion of judgement and distortion of action.

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Asch evaluation

+ Reliability: Asch used standardised procedure, findings can be replicated +++ reliability

+ Internal Validity: no ambiguity in task so he was definately measuring conformity and not peoples perception ability

- External Validity: lacks mundane realsim

- Ethics: ptps were decieved

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Variables effecting conformity

Situational Factors

Group size: a majority of 3 or more created conformity. Bigger the group, bigger conformity (to a certain point)

Unanimity: if a ptps had a like minded rebel, they would be more liekly to resist the majority (fell to 1/4 of the originial level). However if they gained a rebel and then lost them, their conformity increased again

Task Difficulty: Asch made the difference between the lines more difficult in one variation and found that as task difficulty increased so did conformity (informational influence).

Dispositional Factors

Confidence and expertise: Perrin and Spencer repeated Asch's study with engineering students and found that their conformity was less as they thought their opinion was more correct. 

Gender: Eagly found in a meta-analysis of 145 studies that females are more conformist when presured to make decisions 

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The Stanford Prison Experiment - social roles

21 male college students screened from a pool of 75 for pre-existing mental and physical health and divided randomly into guards and prisoners. Guards arrived and set rules (no physical violence), shifts and home between. Prisoners arrested and fingerprinted and then taken to prison. Controlled observation. 

Prisoners became passive and submissive while guards became active. 5 prisoners released due to extreme reactions and all relased after 6 days. Guards showed pathology of power (pleasure in power over others). 

Situational vs Dispositional: Haney et al research tested hypothesis. Popular beliefe was that prisoners were bad by nature. Zimbardos study shows that situations such as prison can change normal people.

+ consent, control

- Ethics: psyshcologicla and physical harm

- Oberver bias:Zimbardo has admitted he lost objectivity as prison govenor and got too involved

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Milgrams Obediance study

To investigate obediance to authority using a lab based procedure. A naive ptp  (40 volunteer men) is shown the random allocation of roles of teacher and learner, but they alsways draw teacher. Shown 15v shock. The learner (confederate) pretends to be shocked when they get it wrong as the voltage increased. Experimenter wore labcoat. Voltage goes up in 15V increments to 450V. 


  • Signs of incredibel distress from teachers (one had a seizure)
  • All ptps wnet up to 300V
  • 14 defied the experimenter past this point (autonomous)
  • 26 obeyed to the end and gave 450V (agentic shift)

+ internal validity: Milgram craeted a situation which ptps believed to be real so real reactions 

+ ethics: debreif was very good and 84% said they were pleased to have taken part

- informed consent: no consent, ptps stressed

- low ecological validity

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Situational variables affecting obediance

Proximity to learner: proximity increases awareness of obeying an order 

  • voice feedback condition: teacher and learner in seperate rooms - obedaince 65%
  • Proximity condition: learner and teacher in same room - 40%
  • Touch proximity condition: teachers forces leaners hand onto shock plate- 30%

Proximity to Authority figure:

  • Baseline condition: experimenter a few feet from teacher - 65%
  • Absent condition: instructions over phone - 22.5% and some lied about shock levels 


  • Yale university: 65%
  • Office block: 48%


  • Lab coat: 65%
  • No uniform: 20%
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Explanations for Obediance

Agency Theory

  • Autonomous state: show free will and take responsibility for our actions 
  • Agentic State: follow the legitimate authority (learned through socialisation)

Hofling: test agency in Nurses in a hospital. They got 'doctors' to call nurses and tell them to administer twice the marked dose of the drug 'astroten' (sucrose water). 21/22 nurses obeyed against hospital rules. Control group of 22 nurses said they would not have acted without writen authroisation.

Legitimacy of Authority:

Milgram suggested society is hierarchal and we will obey those we belive to be a legitimate authority. Children are socialised to obey their parenst and this carries on in later life. 

My Lei: American soldiers ordered to shoot an entire Vietnamese village, even children. When put on trila they argued they were just following orders. They lost their autnomy.

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Dispositional Explanation of Obediance (Adorno)

Adoro's study: suggested authoritarian personality. 2000 american ptps agree or disagree on 6 point likert scale on statments. 100 interviewed in depth.

Found high correleations between anti-semitism and ethnocentrism. People developed an 'us and them' mindset, belive in rule of law etc.

Concluded that children who grow up with alot of dicsipline repress hostility to parents and idolise them instead. In later life they are submissive to authority. Misplaced hostility to minority groups and discrimination. 

  • Anti-semitism 
  • Ethnocentrism
  • Political and economic conservation
  • Personality for Fascism (F scale)

- interviewers were biased as they knew the f scale dimensions 

- F scale only measures right wing fascism, politically biased. 

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Resistance to Social Influnece

Locus of control (Rotter): how much people believ they are in control of their own lives

Internal LoC: always responsible for their own actions and look for information before making decisions (I am in control)

  • Chubb: longitudinal study of 174 students found get less exteral over a 4 year period.

External LoC: other factors are reposnible for actions such as luck or fate. More likely to obey authority (things happen to me)

  • Sherman: summarised 20 years of research found males are more liekly to become leadersm females seek links with others and gather information.

+ LoC slef-report inventory is standardised and used over many samples so v valid

Resisting social inluence through social support: When an authoruty is seen to act unjustly, there is oftena rebellion by people working together

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Minority Influence

Consistancy: for a group to influnec a majority, its views must be consistant across time and through the people in the group

Commitment: groups who show commitment through actions and personal suffering are more liekly to be believed

Flexibility: groups must be flexible while maintaining consistant, rigid beliefs are unappealing to the majority

Socio-crypto amnesia: a group not rembering when or where they accepted the view of the minority

Snowball effect: 1 person spreads to 2=4=8=16=32=64=128

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How social influence affects social change

Minority influence: a consistant minority challenges beliefs. For example, the IRA (irish) influenced people by showing consistancy and persisatnce in their beleifs which caused a cognitive conflict in society. 

Majority influnece: the power of the majority ti establish norms. For example, the ban on public smoking and obediance of smokers has led to a drop in number of people smoking (exmaple of social norma intervention).

-time scale for minorty influnce is often very long

- being seen as extreme limits the effectivness of minortys 

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