Social influence

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Explanations of conformity (AO1)

Deutsch and Gerrard

Normative social influence

This is about norms. People conform because they have a need to be liked by other people.

Informative social influence

This is about who has the better information, you or the rest of the group. People conform because they are not sure how to behave look to the majority as asource of information.

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Explanations of conformity (AO3)

Research to support - Lucas tested whether informational social influence occurred in maths students. He asked students to give answers to maths questions which were easy or difficult. There was greater conformity to incorrect answers when they were difficult than easier ones. Therefore, people conform in situations where they feel they don’t know the answer.

Individual differences in NSI 

Naffiliatiors are people who have a greater need for “affiliation”- need a relationship with others. McGhee and Teevan found that students high in need of affiliation were more likely to conform. Therefore, this shows that the desire to be liked underlies conformity for some people more than others.

NSI and ISI work together     

Both of these processes are involved in conformity. For example, conformity reduced in Asch’s experiment, when there as one rebellious participant. This participant my educe the power of NSI or reduce the power of ISI. Therefore, this shows that this isn’t always possible to be sure that NSI or ISI is at work and casts doubt over NSI and ISI as two processes operating independently.

Research to support  - In Asch’s line judging study, p`s clearly knew the answer was wrong as there was only a 1% error rate. However, 75% of p`s conformed at least once. Therefore, there must be another reason why people conformed. Many people were overheard saying that they conformed because they didn’t want to stand out from the crowd. Therefore this shows that people conform due to NSI. 

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Variables affecting conformity (AO1)


Wanted to investigate the effect that a majority would have if the test was very obvious and unambiguous (clear). 


  • Used 123 male American undergraduate students.
  • The naïve participant didn’t know that the rest of the people taking part were all confederates. 
  • There were between 7 and 9 people in a group.
  • All participants sat around a table with the real participant last or second to last.
  • All participants were shown 2 cards; one card with a standard line on it and another card with three comparison lines on it that differed in length, (labelled A,B and C.) 
  • Participants had to choose which line (A, B or C) was the same as the standard line.
  • Confederates gave the correct answer on 6 out of the 18 trials (neutral trials), but on 12 of the trails the confederates all agreed on the same incorrect line. (critical trials). Asch wanted to see if the participant would agree with the majority and go for the obvious wrong line. 
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Variables affecting conformity (AO1 Continued)


  • 37% of the answers given were incorrect 
  • 25% of the participants never conformed at all.
  • 75% conformed at least once.
  • 5% conformed on every critical trial.
  • To make sure the answer was obvious Asch did the study using all real participant’s. he found that people make mistakes about 1% of the time. 
  • When interviewed the participants said they conformed to avoid rejection.


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Variables affecting conformity (AO1 Continued)

Variations on the original study 

Group size- Asch then repeated his study with different sized majority groups. He found that when there was only 1 or 2 people in the majority group, there was little conformity. But when there was majority of 3 conformity jumped to 31.8%. further increases in the size of the majority did not increase this level of conformity substantially, indicating that the size of the majority is important but only up to a certain point.

Unanimity- Asch wanted to know if the presence of another, non-conforming person would affect the naïve participant’s conformity. He introduced a confederate who disagreed with the others- the confederate answered incorrectly on all trials before the genuine participant. The presence of a confederate who gave the wrong answer reduced conformity- figure was on average 5.5% conformity. Presence of nonconformist allowed the naïve participant to act more independently- therefore the influence of the majority depends on group being unanimous.  

Task difficulty- Asch made the line judgement task more difficult- he made the standard line similar to other lines. He found that conformity increased under these conditions. This suggested that informational social influence plays a greater role when the task becomes more difficult. This is because the situation is more ambiguous as were more likely to look for other people for guidance to assume they’re right. 

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Variables affecting conformity (AO3)

Child of it’s time – In 50s America there was a strong sense of anti-communism where people were scared to against the majority. Perrin and Spencer (1980) repeated Asch’s original study but with engineering students in the UK. Only one student conformed in a total of 396 trials. It may be that engineering students felt more confident about measuring lines than the original sample therefore conformed less. Therefore, this is a limitation of Asch’s research, it has temporal validity because it means that the Asch effect is not consistent across situations and time and is not a fundamental feature of human behaviour.

Demand characteristics – Participant knew they were in a research study and may simply have gone along with the demands of the situation. The task was not trivial (not important) and therefore there was really no reason to conform. Moreover, the confederates weren’t trained actors so it could be that the naïve p`s may have realised what was happening and just pretended to conform as that is what they thought the researcher wanted them to do. Furthermore, although naïve participants were members of a “group”, it didn’t resemble groups we are part of in everyday life. Fiske (2014) suggested that Asch’s groups were not very “groupy” Therefore, this is a limitation because we cannot generalise to everyday situations. 

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Variables affecting conformity (AO3)

Limited application – Only men were tested by Asch. Other research suggests that women might be more conformist- possibly because they are more concerned with social relationships than men are. (Neto, 1995). Men in Asch’s study were from the USA which is an individualistic culture. Therefore, Asch’s findings may only apply to American men and therefore be androcentric/ lacks population validity and lacks cross cultural validity because he didn’t take gender/ cultural differences into account. This means we cannot apply it to other cultures.

Ethical issues – The naïve p`s were deceived as they did not know that the other p`s were actually confederates. He also told them that they were taking part in a vision test, meaning that Asch did not gain informed consent. This could put the P`s under stress during the experiment and also could have caused embarrassment to the p`s once they discovered the true nature of it afterward, which could lead to psychological harm. Therefore, the experiment can be said to have ethical limitations, however without deception the experiment could not have taken place so it was necessary in order to generate valid results.

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Conformity to social roles (AO1)

Zimbardo - Investigated whether prison guards behave brutally because of their aggressive personalities, or whether it is he situation that influences their behaviour.

  • Zimbardo set up a mock prison at Stanford uni and advertised for students willing to volunteer and selected those who were deemed “emotionally stable” after psychological testing.
  • 75 people responded and 24 were chosen
  • Students were randomly assigned roles as prisoners or guards.
  • Zimbardo himself was the prisons superintendent 
  • “prisoners” were arrested at their homes and delivered to the “prison”
  • “prisoners” were blindfolded, finger printed, *****- searched, de-loused and issued a uniform and a number.
  • Social rules of G + P were strictly divided and there were 16 rules they were to follow which were enforced by the guards.
  • Prisoners names were never used, only their numbers and they had to were smocks and nylon stockings to resemble a shaved head.
  • Guards had their own uniform, wooden club, handcuffs, keys and mirrored glasses. Told had complete power over prisoners, even deciding when they could go to the toilet.
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Conformity to social roles (AO1)


  • G+P settled into their social roles quickly. Guards took their roles with enthusiasm, some taking on extra shift without pay.
  • Within two days- prisoners had rebelled against the harsh treatments of the guards. They ripped their uniforms, shouted and swore at the guards.
  • Guards crushed the rebellion by dehumanising the prisoners through taunting them, waking them up in the middle of the night, giving them meaningless boring tasks to do, even forcing them to clean the toilets with their bare hands.
  • One prisoner went on a hunger strike and the guards tried to forced feed him, they then put him in “the hole” 
  • One prisoner was released on the first day after showing symptoms psychological disturbance. Four more were released on the fourth day.
  • Guards identified more with their role and became more brutal and aggressive with some appearing to enjoy the power they had over the prisoners.
  • Their behaviour became a threat to the prisoners psychological and physical health study stopped after 6 days instead of the intended 14 days.
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Conformity to social roles (AO3)

Control over variables – A strength the SPE is that Zimbardo had some control over variables. The most obvious example of the was the selection of P`s – emotionally stable individuals were chosen and randomly assigned to the roles of guard and prisoners. This is one way researchers tried to limit individual personal differences as an explanation of the findings. guards and prisoners behaved very differently but were in those roles only by chance, then their behaviours must have been due to the pressures of the situation. Therefore, high control over variables is a strength as it means the experiment has high internal validity, so we can be more confident in drawing conclusions about the influence of roles on behaviour.

Lacks realism – Banuazizi and Mohavedi (1975) said participants were play-acting rather than conforming to their roles. Their performances were based on stereotypes of how prisoners and guards are supposed to behave.  E.g. one of the participsnts said he based his role on a brutal character from the film “cool hand Luke”. Demand characteristics could explain the findings of the study. Most of the guards later claimed they were simply acting. Because the guards and prisoners were playing a role their behaviour may not be influenced by the same factors which affect behavior in real life. This means the study’s findings cannot be reasonably generalized to real life, such as prison settings. I.e the study has low ecological validity. However, Zimbardo pointed out that the situation was very real to the participants. Therefore giving the study high internal validity.

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Conformity to social roles (AO3)

Ethical Issues – Zimbardo’s study was considered ethical because it followed guidelines and the Stanford university ethics committee approved it. However, he didn’t tell them the specifics of the study nor did he tell them that they would be arrested at home so he didn’t get true informed consent. Zimbardo suggested that the study should have been stopped earlier as so many P`s were experiencing emotional distress and therefore suffering from psychological harm. He attempted to make amends for this by carrying out debriefing sessions for several years afterwards and concluded that there were no lasting negative effects. Another major ethical problem arose because of Zimbardo’s dual role in the study, on one occasion a person asked him to be released, however Zimbardo spoke to him as a superintendent rather than a researcher with responsibilities towards his p`s. Therefore, Zimbardo’s study may lack validity as his behaviour affected the way in which events unfolded.  

Lack of research to support – Riecher and Haslam conducted a partial replication of SPE known as BBC prison study. Their finding was very different to Zimbardo’s- it was the prisoners who eventually took control of the mock prison and subjected the guards to harassment and disobedience. The researchers used social identity theory to explain this outcome, hey argued that the guards failed to develop a shared social identity as a cohesive group but the prisoners did. Therefore, the validity of Zimbardo’s study can be questioned, it could be social identity theory that explains this behaviour and not the power of the situation  

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Explanations for obedience (AO1)


Milgram want to see whether ordinary people would follow the orders of an unjust authority figure. He wanted to test the hypothesis that the Germans who followed Nazi orders were different: he hypothesised that anyone would have followed the orders in the same situation. He used 40 male participants by advertising for volunteers from a newspaper. Offered them $4.50 to take part in a study on “punishment and learning” at yale uni. There were three roles in the experiment. The experimenter played by a confederate, the teacher would test the learner and administer punishments played by the real P and the learner who would receive punishments if they got questions wrong- played by a confederate. Participant thought they were fairly assigned roles. P`s were then told they had to ask questions to the learner and if the learner answered incorrectly the teacher had to give them an electric shock that would increase in voltage (starting at 15v going in 15V incensements to 450v) so that the teacher realised what they would be “doing” to the learner, they were given a test electric shock. The learner sat in another room and gave mainly incorrect answers. The learner remained silent until 300v. at this point he didn’t respond but pounded the wall. He did this at 315v and after that he said/did nothing. If the teacher refused to continue the experimenter had some verbal “prods” that he used to try to get the teacher to carry on. These included “it’s absolutely essential that you continue”, “please continue” and “you have no other choice then to continue.”

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Explanations for obedience (AO3)

Other research supports this –Hofling studied nurses who worked in hospitals. Hofling rang the nurses pretending to be doctor and asked them to give double dose of a drug “astrofen”. If they did this, they would be breaking several rules- giving twice the stated dose, taking orders over the phone and not having consent forms signed by the Dr.  he found that 21/22 nurses obeyed Hofling and gave the drug. Therefore, research in natural settings shows that people will obey legitimate authority figures. This supports Milgram’s findings and therefore Milgram’s research is more reliable.

P’s could have guessed the aim – AO3Orne and Holland suggests that as the experimenter was cold and distant and showed no compassion for the screams of the learner, the p`s must have worked out that the situation was fake this is why they administered the shock; they knew they were not actually harming the P. this would have been supported by the fact that electric shocks are not are not believable punishment for getting questions wrong. Therefore, we cannot be sure that the IV (authority figure) is the thing that has affected the DV (obedience) as it is possible that P`s guessed the aim and demand characteristics is the thing that caused their “obedience”. Therefore, Milgram`s research may actually lack internal validity.

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Explanations for obedience (AO3)

Can be critisised for being unethical

Baumrind criticises Milgram saying that p`s were under a great feal of stress as they thought they were hurting another person. the evidence of ithsi is that p`s were seen shaking and stuttering.

Therefore, P`s were not protected from harm. 

Has internal validity 

this is because the research was conducted in a controlled artifical lab conditions. this means that the EV`s could be controlled and therefore he was able to identify that the IV was the thing that affected the DV rather than other EV`s havig an effect. 

Therefore, Milgrams research has internal validity

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Situational variations in Milgram`s study

Proximity- In Milgram’s original study, the teacher and the learner were in adjoining rooms, so the teacher could hear the learner but could not see him. In the proximity variation, they were in the same room. In this condition, the obedience rate dropped from the baseline 65% to 40%. In an even more dramatic variation- the teacher forced the learners hand on to a “electroshock” plate when h refused to answer a question- obedience dropped to 30% in this condition. In the third proximity variation, the experimenter left the room and gave instructions to the teacher by telephone. This reduce the obedience further to 20.5%- participants pretended to give shocks or gave weaker shocks than they were told to.

Location- In another variation, Milgram changed the location of the obedience study – he conducted a variation of the study in a run-down building rather than the prestigious university setting (Yale uni). The experimenter had less authority and obedience levels fell to 47.5%- this is still a high level of obedience but lower than the original study (65%).

UniformIn the original study the experimenter wore a white lab coat as a symbol of his authority. Milgram carried out a variation were the experimenter was called away because of an inconvenient telephone call right at the start of the procedure. The role of the experimenter was taken over by an “ordinary member of the public” who wore everyday clothes rather than a lab coat. The obedience rate dropped to 20% the lowest o these variations.  

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Situational variations in Milgram`s study (AO3)

Research to support - Other studies have demonstrated the influence of these situational variables on obedience. In a field experiment in New York City, Bickman (1974) had three confederate dress in three different outfits – jacket and tie, a milkman’s outfit and a security guards outfit. The confederates stood on the corner of the street and asked passers-by to perform tasks such as picking up litter of 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 a tie. Therefore, this supports Milgram’s conclusion that a uniform conveys the authority of its wearer and its situational factor likely to produce obedience.

Lack of internal validity – Orne and Hollands criticism of Milgram’s original study was that many of the participants worked out that the procedure was faked. Participants in Milgram’s variations realised this because of extra manipulation. A good example of this is the variation where the experimenter was replaced by “an ordinary member of the public”. Even Milgram recognised that this situation was so contrived that some p`s may have worked out the truth. Therefore, this is a limitation of all Milgram’s studies because it is unclear whether the results are genuinely due to the operation of obedience or because the participants saw through the deception and acted accordingly.

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Situational variations in Milgram`s study (AO3)

Cross cultural replications –A general strength of Milgram’s research that applies to his variations is that his findings have been replicated in other cultures. The findings of cross-cultural research have been generally supportive of Milgram. E.g. Miranda found an obedience rate of over 90% amongst Spanish students. This suggest that Milgram`s conclusions about obedience are not limited to American males, but are valid across cultures. However, Smith and Bond (1998) make the crucial point that most replications have taken place in western, developed countries. These are culturally not that different from the USA, so it would be premature to conclude that Milgram’s findings about proximity, location and uniform apply to people everywhere. 

Creates an obedience albi – Mandel argues that this explanation is dangerous and offensive as it offers an excuse for evil behaviour. In his view, it is offensive to the holocaust to suggest that Nazis were simply obeying orders and were victims themselves of situational factors beyond their control. We must therefore be careful when applying the explanation to obedience as it is somewhat limited. It ignores dispositional factors such as personality that can explain why people do evil things.

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Explanations of obedience with reference to agenti

Agentic state - A mental state where we feel no personal responsibility for our behaviour because we believe ourselves to be acting for an authority figure. This free us from the demands of our consciences and allows us to obey even a destructive authority figure.

Autonomous state - This is the opposite of being in the agentic state. “autonomy”- being independent or free. So a person in the autonomous state is free to behave according to their own principles and therefore feels responsible for their own actions. This shift from autonomy to “agency” is called the agentic shift. Milgram said this occurs when a person perceives someone else as a figure of authority. This other person has greater power because of their position in the social hierarchy.

Self - image and agntic state- people adopt an agentic state to maintain a positive self image, p`s may feel that shocking the learner may have a negitive impact on their image, however as they are in an agentic state the action is no longer their responsibility and therefore no longer reflects their self-image. Actions are therefore preformed guilt-free however inhummane they maybe.

Binding factors -Milgram then raised the question of why the individual remains in the agentic state. Milgram observed that many of his participants wanted to quit but were unable to do so. The answer is binding factors – aspects of the situation that allow the person to ignore or minimise the damaging effect of their behaviour and thus reduced “moral strain” they`re feeling. Milgram suggested a number of strategies that individuals use to reduce “moral strain”- shifting responsibility to the victim or denying the damage they were doing to the victims. 

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Explanations of obedience with reference to agenti

Research to support - Blass and Schmitt showed a film of Milgram’ study to students and asked them to identify who they felt was responsible for the harm to the learner. Students blamed the experimenter rather than the participant. Students also indicated that the responsibility was due to legitimate authority but also due to expert authority. Therefore students recognised legitimate authority as the cause of obedience, supporting this explanation.

Limited explanation – Agentic shift does not explain many research findings- for example why people choose not to obey. The agentic shift explanation also does not explain the findings from Hofling study. The agentic shift explanation predicts that, as the nurses handed over the responsibility to the doctor, they should have shown levels of anxiety similar to Milgram`s participants, as they understood their role in a destructive process. But ths was not the case. Therefore, this suggests that agentic shift can only account for some situaions of obedience. 

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Legitimate authority (AO1)

Legitimate authority

This suggests that we are more likely to obey people who we perceive to have more authority over us. This position is justified by the individual’s position of power within a hierarchy. In order to shift to the agentic state, they need to have perception that the other person has legitimate authority.

Destructive authority

Problems arise when legitimate authority becomes destructive. E.g. Hitler. Powerful leaders can use their legitimate powers for destructive purposes. Legitimate powers for destructive purposes were shown in Milgram’s study, when the experimenter used verbal prompts to order participants to behave in ways that went against their consciences. 

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Legitimate authority (AO3)

Cultural differences – A strength of the legitimacy of authority explanation is that it is a useful account of cultural differences in obedience. Many studies show countries differ in the way people are traditionally obedient to authority such as Kilham and Mann. They replicated Milgram`s procedure in Australia and found that only 16% of their participants went to the maximum voltage scale. On the other hand, Mantell found that 85% of German participants obeyed. Therefore, this shows that in some cultures authority is likely to be accepted as legitimate and this reflects ways that different societies perceive authority figures. These findings from cross-cultural research increases the validity of the legitimacy of authority explanation.

Seen in real-life situations – History is littered with real-life examples of unquestioning obedience to authority no matter how destructive. This extreme obedience is fostered in the course of military training and is reinforced by the structure of military authority. Therefore this shows that the explanation has high external validity can be applied to real-life and can be used to explain real-life and can be used to explain real-life war crimes such as my lai.

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Dispositional explanations for obedience (AO1)

Authoritarian personality- Is highly susceptible to obeying people in authority, such individuals are thought to be submissive to those of higher status and dismissive of inferiors. Such individuals have the following characteristics; rigid beliefs in conventional values, general hostility towards other groups, intolerance of ambiguity and submissive attitudes towards authority figures.   

Ardorno - Adorno like Milgram wanted to understand the anti-Semitism of the Holocaust, however his research led to a very different conclusion. Adorno wanted to find out whether a high level of obedience was a psychological disorder, and tried to locate the cause of it in the personality of the individual. Adorno investigated the causes of the obedient personality in a study of more than 2000, middle class, white American’s. Adorno looked at their unconscious attitudes towards other racial groups and developed several scales to investigate this such as the potential for fascism scale which is used to measure authoritarian personalities.  


  • People with authoritarian learnings identified with “strong” people and were generally disapproving of the “weak”.
  • They were very conscious of their own and others` status, showing excessive respect, deference and servility to those of higher status.
  • He found that people had a cognitive style where there no “fuzziness” between categories of people, with fixed and distinctive stereotypes about other groups. There was a strong positive correlation between authoritarianism and prejudice. 
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Dispositional explanations for obedience (AO1 cont

Authoritarian characteristics -People with an authoritarian personality have a tendency to be especially obedient to authority- they have an extreme respect for authority and submissiveness to it. They are likely to show contempt for people they perceive as having inferior social status and have highly conventional attitudes towards sex, race and gender. They believe that society needs strong and powerful leaders to enforce traditional values such as love of country, religion and family therefore everything is either right or wrong- they are very uncomfortable with uncertainty.

Origins of the authoritarian personality- Adorno wanted to find the origins of the authoritarian personality type. They concluded that it formed in childhood- due to harsh parenting. There parenting style identified by adorno features extremely strict discipline, an expectation of absolute loyalty, impossibly high standards, and serve criticisms of failing. It is also characterised by conditional love- parents love for their child depends on how they behave. Adorno argued these experiences create resentment and hostility in the child but the child cannot express these feelings to their parents so he fears are displaced onto other who are perceived to be weaker in a process known as scapegoating. This is a psychodynamic explanation. 

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Dispositional explanations for obedience (AO1 cont

Authoritarian characteristics -People with an authoritarian personality have a tendency to be especially obedient to authority- they have an extreme respect for authority and submissiveness to it. They are likely to show contempt for people they perceive as having inferior social status and have highly conventional attitudes towards sex, race and gender. They believe that society needs strong and powerful leaders to enforce traditional values such as love of country, religion and family therefore everything is either right or wrong- they are very uncomfortable with uncertainty.

Origins of the authoritarian personality- Adorno wanted to find the origins of the authoritarian personality type. They concluded that it formed in childhood- due to harsh parenting. There parenting style identified by adorno features extremely strict discipline, an expectation of absolute loyalty, impossibly high standards, and serve criticisms of failing. It is also characterised by conditional love- parents love for their child depends on how they behave. Adorno argued these experiences create resentment and hostility in the child but the child cannot express these feelings to their parents so he fears are displaced onto other who are perceived to be weaker in a process known as scapegoating. This is a psychodynamic explanation. 

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Dispositional explanations for obedience (AO3)

Research to support Milgram and Elms conducted interviews with a sample of 20 of the fully obedient participants and 20 defiant p`s asking them open-ended questions about their relationship with their parents during their childhood and their attitude to the experimenter. They gave them the F scale. The researchers found little difference between the obedient and defiant P`s, however they did find higher levels authoritarianism with those classed as obedient. However, this link is only a correlation between the two measured variables. This makes it impossible to determine whether authoritarian personality causes obedience, it may be a third factor that is involved. It could be that both authoritarian personality and obedience with lower levels of education, for instance and not directly linked with each other at all, because it is a correlation we cannot establish cause effect and therefore cannot conclude that a harsh parenting style caused the authoritarian personality.

Explanation is limited – Any explanation of obedience related to personality will find it hard to explain obedient behaviour, for example, pre-war Germany many individuals displayed, obedient, racist and anti- sematic behaviour. This was despite the fact they must have differed in their personalities in all sorts of ways- it is unlikely that they all had authoritarian personalities. Therefore, Adornos theory can be criticised as social identity may be more realistic to explain obedience. The majority of German people identified with the anti-sematic Nazi and scapegoated the out group of Jews.

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Dispositional explanations for obedience (AO3)

Political bias –The F-scale measures the tendency towards an extreme form of right-wing ideology. Christie and Jahoda argued that this is politically biased interpretation of authoritarian personality due to the reality of left-wing authoritarianism. This is a limitation of Adorno`s theory as it is not a comprehensive dispositional explanation that can account for obedience to authority across the political spectrum. 

Methodological flaws –  Greenstein argues that the F- scale is a flawed methodology for example every one of the items on the scale are worded in the same direction, this means that it is possible to get a high score for authoritarianism just by ticking the same line of boxes down one side of the page. Jackson further criticised the F-scale by arguing that it was not measuring authoritarian personalities but acquiescence, this is not what we would expect to see if people had authoritarian personalities- they should score low on the reverse questionnaire. There is also researcher bias involved as Adorno interviewed p`s about their childhood experiences but also knew the p`s test scores so knew which of them had authoritarian personalities. Therefore, when using Adorno`s theory we must be careful as it is based on a flawed study. 

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Explanations to resistance to social influence (A

Conformity - Social support can help to resist conformity. The pressure to conform can be reduced if there are other people there who are not conforming. As shown in Asch`s research the person does not have the “right” answer but simply not following the majority appears to enable a person to follow their own conscience. This person acts as a “model”. The social support offered by the ally led to a reduction in conformity from 33% to just 5.5%. the presence of an ally provides the individual with an independent assessment of reality that makes the feel more confident in their decision and better able to stand up to the majority. However, Asch`s research also showed that if this non-conforming person starts conforming again, so does the naïve p. the effect of dissent is not long lasting.  

Obedience - Social support can also help people to resist obedience. The pressure to obey can be reduced if there is another person who disobeys. Milgram’s experiment – obedience rates dropped from 65% to 10% when the genuine participant was joined by a confederate who disobeyed. The other persons disobedience acts as a “model”  for the participant to copy, freeing him from acting from his own conscience.

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Explanations to resistance to social influence (A

Research to support resistance to conformity – Research supports the role of dissenting peers in resisting conformity. Allen and Levine found conformity decreased when there was one dissenter in an Asch type study. It one condition a confederate answered first, giving the right answer, while other confederates all gave the same wrong answer. The real p always answered fifth. In the second condition the condition the confederate answered fourth. Support was significantly more effectively in position 1 than in position 4.  Allen and Levine suggests that by answering correctly first confirms the p`s own judgement and procedures an initial commitment that endures even when other group members disagree. This supports the view that resistance isn’t just motivated by following others but enables someone to be free from the pressure of the group and therefore means the explanation of social support has reliability.

Research to support obedience – Another strength is research evidence for dissenting peers in resisting obedience. Gamson found higher levels of resistance in their study than Milgram. P`s answered an advert to take part in a summary run by a PR firm. P`s met in a hotel and were paid $10 of 2 hours’ work. They were asked to consider a case of an employee who supposedly behaved immorally. It became clear that the company wanted some videotaped support for their views, altogether 33 groups took part and 29 refused to sign. In Gamsons study, 29 out of 33 groups (88%) rebelled. This shows that peers support is linked to greater resistance and further supports the view that social support can led to resistance to obedience.

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Locus of Control

Rotter first proposed the concept of locus of control. It is concerned with internal VS external locus of control. Some people believe that the things that happen to them are largely controlled by themselves. People with an internal LOC are much more likely to be independent. This is because they believe that they have power over what happens in their own behaviour. If they were to harm someone they would blame themselves; this motivates them to act independently. Other people have a tendency that things happen without their control, if they did well in an exam they might they might say it was because they used a good textbook/didn’t do well- blames it on the textbook.

Resistance to social influence - LOC 

People who have an internal locus of control are more likely to resist pressures to conform or obey. This is because if a person takes responsibility for their own actions and experiences, then they are more likely to base their decisions on their own beliefs and thus resist pressures from others. Another explanation for the link with greater resistance is that people with a high internal LOC tend to be more self-confident, more achievement-orientated, have higher intelligence and have less need for social approval. These personality traits lead to greater resistance to social influence.

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Locus of Control (AO3)

Research to support – There is research to support the locus of control. Research evidence supports the link between LOC and resistance to obedience. Holland repeated Milgram’s baseline study and measured whether participants were internals did not continue to the highest stock level. Whereas, only 23% of externals did not continue. In other words, internals showed greater authority. Therefore, research support of this nature increases the validity of the LOC explanation and our confidence that it can explain resistance. 

Contradictory research – However, not all research supports the link between LOC and resistance. Twenge analysed data from American obedience studies over a 40-year period. The data showed that, over this time span, people became more resistant to obedience but also more external. If resistance were linked to an internal locus of control, we would expect people to have become more internal. Therefore, this challenges the link between internal locus of control and increasing resistant behaviour. However, it is possible that the results are due to a changing society where many things are out of personal control. 

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Minority influence with reference to consistency,

Minority influence is a form of social influence in which a minority of people persuades others to adopt their beliefs, attitudes or behaviours. This leads to internalisation or conversation, in which private attitudes are changes as well as public behaviours.


Moscovici showed women a series of 36 blue coloured slides that varied in intensity and asked them to say whether the slides were blue or green. Participants were put in a group of 6; 4 of the participants were real and 2 were confederate. The confederates said that the slides were green on two-thirds of he trails. The participants gave the same wrong answer on 8.4% of trials, 32% gave the same answer as the majority on at least one trial. A second group of p`s was exposed to and inconsistent minority and agreement fell to 1.25% for a third control group there were no confederates and all p`s had to do was identify the colour of each slide. They got this wrong on 0.25% of the trials. Therefore this shows that when the minority is consistent, there was more minority influence.

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Minority influence with reference to consistency,

Consistency - Minority influence is the most effective if the minority keeps the same beliefs. Its effective because it draws attention to the minority view. Over time, the consistency in the minority`s views increase the amount of interest from other people.  

Commitment - Minority influence is more powerful if the minority demonstrates dedication to their position. E.g. making personal sacrifices. Sometimes minorities engage in quite extreme activities to draw attention to their views. Majority group members then pay even more attention. This is called augmentation principle.  

Flexibility -Minority influence is more effective if the minority shows flexibility by accepting the possibility to compromise. Nemeth argued that consistency is not the only important factor in minority influence. Being extremely consistent and repeating the same arguments and behaviours over and over can been seen as ridged, unbending, dogmatic and inflexible.

Snowball effect - It is the deeper processing which is important in the process of conversation to s different minority view point. Increasing numbers of people have switched from the majority to minority positions. They have all become “converted”. The more this happen, the faster rate of conversion. This is called the snowball effect.

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Minority influence with reference to consistency,

Research to support consistency-Moscovici showed that a consistent minority opinion had greater effect on other than an inconsistent opinion.  Wood carried out a meta-analysis of almost 100 similar studies and found that minorities who were seen as being consistent were more influential. Therefore, this further suggests that consistency is a major factor in majority influence. 

Research to support depth of thought – Martin gave participants a message supporting a particular viewpoint and measured their support. One group of participants then heard a minority group agree with the initial view while another group heard this from a majority group. Participants were finally exposed to a conflicting view and attitudes were measured again. Martin found that people were less willing to change their opinions if they had listened to a minority group rather than a majority group. Therefore, this suggests that the minority message had been more deeply processed and had a more enduring effect, supporting the central argument about how minority influence process works.

Artificial tasks – A limitation of minority influence research is that the is the tasks involved such as identifying the colour of a slide are as artificial as Asch`s line judgement task. The research is far removed from how minorities attempt to change the behaviour of majorities in real life. Therefore, findings from Moscovici lack external validity and are limited in what they can tell us about how minority influence works in real life social situations.

Limited real-life application –Research studies usually make a very clear and obvious distinction between the majority and the minority. The research done is conducted in labs which creates clear internal validity, but a significant limitation is that real –life social situations are much more complicated than this. There is more involved in the difference between minority and a majority than just numbers. Therefore, it is hard to generalise minority influence research to the whole population.   

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Social influence process in social change (AO1)

The process by which individuals and groups change each other’s attitudes and behaviours.

  • Social change- This occurs when whole societies rather than just individuals, adopt new attitudes, beliefs and ways of doing things.
  • Drawing attention - In 1950`s America, black separation applied to all parts of America. There were black neighbourhoods and in southern states, school and restaurants were exclusive to whites. The civil rights marches of this period drew attention to the situation providing social proof of the problem.
  • Consistency -Many marches and many people taking part. Even though they were a minority of the American population, the civil rights activists displayed consistency of the message and intent. 
  • Deeper processing -This attention meant that people who had simply accepted the status quo began to think about the unjustness of it.
  • Augmentation principle - There were a number of incidents where individuals risked their lives. “freedom riders” were mixed racial groups who got on buses in the south to challenge that black people still had to sit separately on buses. Many of these were beaten 
  • Snowball effect - Civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King continued to press for change that gradually got the attention of the US government. In 1964 the US civil right act was passed, which prohibited discrimination. This represented a change from minority to majority support for civil rights.
  • Social cryptomnesia - Social change has occurred and the south is a different place now but people have no memory of events that lead to that change.
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Social influence process in social change (AO3)

Research to support normative social influence –Nolan investigated whether social influence processes reduced energy use in a community. They hung up messages on the front doors of houses in San Diego and California once a week for a month. The key message was that most residents were trying to reduce their energy usage. As a control. Some residents had different messages that asked them to save energy but made no references to other people`s behaviour. Nolan found significant decreases in energy usage in the first group. therefore, this is a strength because it shows that conformity can lead to social change through the operation of normative social influence. 

Minority influence is only indirectly effective – Social change only happen slowly when they happen. Charles Nemeth argues that the effects of minority influence are likely to be mostly indirect and delayed. They are indirect because the majority is influenced on matters only related to the issue at hand, and not the central issue itself. They are delayed because the effect may not be seen for a while. Therefore, this could be considered a limitation of using minority influence to explain social change because it shows that its effects and it role in social influence is very limited.

Role of deeper processing - Moscovici`s conversation explanation of minority influence argues that minority and majority influence involve different cognitive processes. Minority influence causes individuals to think more deeply about an issue than majority influence. Diane Mackie disagrees and presents evidence that it is majority influence that may create deeper processing if you do not share their views and think in the same ways as us. When we find out that the majority believes something different, then we are forced to think long and hard about their arguments and reasoning. Therefore, this means that an important part of the process of minority influence has been challenged and may be incorrect- casting doubt on the validity of Moscovici`s theory.  

Methodological issues –Explanations on social influence leads to social change come from Asch, Milgram and Moscovici. All these studies can be evaluated in terms of their methodology. E.g. lacks external validity, unethical. Therefore, the criticisms applied in other areas may apply here. We cannot be sure that social influence processes such as consistency, snowball effect etc have brought about social change as they are based on flawed methodologies. 

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Explanations for obedience (AO1)


  • 65% of the teachers went to the full 450v shock (labelled ***)
  • 100% of the teachers went to the 300V shock
  • 5 out of the 40 (12.5%) stopped at 300v shock when the learner first objected
  • 14 out of the 40 p`s showed nervous laughing fits
  • All p`s showed evidence of shaking, sweating and stuttering 
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