Social Influence

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Types of conformity

Conformity - yielding to group pressure. It occurs when an individual's behaviour/beliefs are influenced by a larger group of people.

Compliance - when individuals adjust their behaviour and opinions to those of a group to be accepted or avoid disapproval. It includes public, but not private acceptance, and is fairy weak and temporary. For example, pretending to support a certain football team infront of your friends, but not supporting them when you're on your own.

Identification - when individuals adjust their behaviour and beliefs to those of a group, because membership of that group is desirable. It involves public and private acceptance, but is generally temporary and is not maintaned when the individual leaves the group. For example, a soldier may adopt the beliefs of other soldiers, but when they leave the army new behaviours will be adopted.

Internalisation - when individuals genuinely adjust their behaviour and opinions to those of a group. It leads to public and private acceptance, which will not be dependent upon the groups presense. For example, being influenced by a religions beliefs, and so converting to their faith.

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Explanations of Conformity

Deutsch and Gerard developed a two-process theory of conformity. They suggested that there are two mains reasons why people conform:

ISI - agreeing with the majoirty view because we believe they know better or are more likely to be right. This is a cognitive process because it is to do with the way we think. When an individual is uncertain about something, they look at the behaviour and opinions of others to help share their own thoughs/behaviours. This generally occurs in unfamiliar situations.

NSI - agreeing with the majority because we want to be liked and/or we don't want to be rejected. This is an emotional process as it is about the way we feel. NSI is about norms and what is normal in a social situation.

Examples of ISI - Jeness (jellybean jar), or being in a quiz and changing your answer to the same as everyone else because you think they are right.

Examples of NSI - Asch, or doing the same as everyone else in the lift because you want to fit in.

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Describing Asch's study

Aim - To investigate the degree to which individuals would conform to a majoirty who gave obviously wrong answers.

Procedure - 123 American male students volunteered to take part in a study which they believed to be visual perception. Ps were shown two white cards at a time. On one card was a 'standard line' and the other contained three 'comparison lines'. One of the three comparison lines was the same size as the standard line, and the other two were obviously different. The task was to state which comparison line matched the standard line. Ps were put in a group on their own, but with 6-8 confederates. On the first few trials, confederates gave the correct answer, but then they gave obviously wrong answers, and the P answered last or second to last. There was also a control group of just participants, to test how accurate the final judgements were.

Findings - in the control group, there was an error rate of just 0.04%. In the critical trials, there was a conformity rate of 32%. 75% of Ps conformed at least once, and 5% conformed every time,

Conclusion - The judgements of othersare affected by majority opinions, even when the majoirty are obviously wrong.

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Evaluating Asch's study

Generalisability - The study cannot be generalised to other times as it was done in 1950's America, which was said to be a conformist time in America.

This study is ethnocentric and androcentric because it uses just American males.

Reliability - The study can be repeated as the procedure was standardised, meaning that participants were treated the same each time.

Validity - The study lacked ecological validity as the situation was unrealistic and so lacked realism

Ethics - Ps were deceived as they thought they were taking part in a colour perception task, when infact it was a study of conformity. Even though Ps were deceived, deception was needed in order to produce valid results, and they were also fully debriefed at the end of the study.

General - This is one of the most influential studies of conformity and has been replicated by many psychologists.

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Evaluating ISI using SODG.

Supporting - Jenness investigated conformity by putting jelly beans in a jar and asking people to guess how many were in. First, they were asked on their own, then they were given the chance to confer with others, and then asked again on their own. He found that people changed their answer after given a chance to confer with others, because they believed the others were right.

Opposing - Perrin and Spencer investigated conformity by replicating Asch's study but using engineering students in the UK instead. They found that only one student conformed in a total of 396 trials. This shows that ISI does not affect everyone's behaviour in the same way.

Weakness: It isn't always possible to be sure whether ISI or NSI is at work as both processes are usually involved.

Individual differences is a weakness of ISI because not everyone wil conform in the same way.

Strength: ISI can be seen to have an evolutionary basis as looking to others in new situations could have survival value.

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Evaluating NSI using SODG

Supporting - Asch investigated conformity by putting one participant into a group with 6-8 confederates, and asking each person which sample line best fit the original line. Confederates gave obviously wrong answers, and Asch found that 5% of participants conformed every time, and 75% conformed at least once. This shows that people conform to be liked or to avoid embarrassment, however not everyone conforms to this kind of pressure.

Opposing - McGhee and Teevan investigated conformity and affiliation. They found that those students in high need of affiliation were more likely to conform, but not all of them. This shows the desire to be liked underlies conformity for some more than others, and therefore there are individual differences in the way people respond.

Weaknesses: It isn't always possible to be sure if ISI or NSI is at work as both processes are usually at work.

Individual differences because not everyone will conform in the same way.

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Describing Zimbardo's study

Aim - To investigate the extent to which people would conform to the roles of guard and prisoner in a role-playing situation of prison life.

Procedure - (lab experiment ) - Zimbardo set up a mock prison in the basement of the psychology lab at Stanford University. He advertised for volunteers in newspaper, saying they could get $15 a day for two weeks. 75 people volunteered and 21 male university students with psychological normality were chosen. To highten the realism of the study, 'prisoners' were kept in their cells 24/7 and weren't allowed back to their day to day lives, whereas the guards were after their 'shift' was over. Prisoners were also arrested at their own homes.

Findings - guards and prisoners settled quickly into their roles. After a slow start, guards took up their roles with enthusiasm. Guard's behaviour became a threat to the prisoners' emotional and physical health. On day 2 of study, guards woke up prisoners at 2:30am to make them shout prisoner ID numbers. On days 3-4, a prisoner had to leave because of 'acute emotional disturbance'. Because of the behaviour of the guards towards the prisoners, the experiment was terminated after 6 days, rather than 15.

Conclusion - both guards and prisoners conformed to their roles.

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Evaluating Zimbardo's study

Generalisability - It was both ethnocentric and androcentric. However, it only used mentally stable people.

Reliability - It was far too dangerous to be done again. However, things were standardised, for example, all prisoners were arrested at their homes.

Application - This study shows the rate of conformity in real situations.

Validity - High validity because they were in a prison environment. Also, high validity because everyone wanted to be prisoners, but some were forced to be guards, showing they didn't already have the behaviour in them. However, behaviour could have been changed because it was at a prestigious university.

Ethics - Participants were screened to make sure they were mentally healthy. However, participants were both mentally and emotionally, and physically harmed. Confidentiality was respected, as participants names were not used, and informed consent was also given.

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Describing Milgram's study

Aim - to answer the question of why the German population had followed the orders of Hitler and slaughtered over 10 millions Jews in WW2.

Procedure - Milgram recruited 40 male participants through the newspaper, and said he was looking for people to take part in a study about memory. The participants were aged betweem 20 and 50, and had a wide range of jobs. There was a rigged draw for who played which role. 'Mr. Wallace' a confederate always played the role of the learner, and the participant was always the teacher. There was also an 'experimenter' dressed in a lab coat. The learner was strapped into a chair and wired with electrodes, and the teacher was required to give the learner an electric shock for every question they answered wrong, increasing in intensity each time. When they turned to the experimenter for advice, they were prompted to carry on, with four standardised prompts.

Findings - no one stopped below 300 volts. 12.5% stopped at 300 volts, but 65% of participants carried on to administer the highest level of 450 volts, even though this was labelled 'danger ***'. Qualitative data was also collected, for example participants reactions.

Conclusion - The soldiers were no different to anyone else because ordinary people demonstrated the ability to follow orders to do something very extreme.

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Evaluating Milgram's study

Generalisability - The study was both ethnocentric and androcentric. However, it used a large sample of men with a wide range of ages and oocupations.

Reliability - It is easy to replicate because the experiment took place in a controlled setting which gives the researcher control over variables. Also, things were standardised, for example, participants were given the same prompts.

Application - Milgram demonstrated how easy it is to follow the route to destructive obedience. Also, the findings help to explain real life events such as WW2 and why so many people followed the orders of Hitler.

Validity - The procedure may have been prone to demand characteristics as the participants may have guessed the nature of the experiment due to cues. However, 80% of participants who were surveyed said they believed the shocks were painful. The study may have also lacked internal validity because it took place and Yale University, which is very prestigious.

Ethics - Although participants did give consent to participate, it wasn't informed because they did not know the nature of the task. Participants were also deceived. The study abused the paerticipants right to withdraw. However, they were fully debriefed at the end of the study.

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Describing the Agency Theory, Milgram

According to Milgrams theory, there are two social states, the autonomic state, when people direct their own actions and are responsible for the consequences of these actions, and the agentic state, when people allow others to direct their actions and pass off responsibility for the consequences to the person giving orders. The shift from the autonomous state to the agentic is called the agentic shift.

The theory argues that we are socialised from an early age to obey authority, and our tendency to do so is a way of maintaining a stable society. Milgram also suggested that we are more likely to obey people who we believe to have authority over us.

When an individual gives up their free will and obeys an authority figure, they enter the agentic state. Milgram suggested that two things must be in place in order to enter the agentic state: the person giving the orders is perceived as being qualified to do so, and you must believe that the person giving the orders will take responsibility.

Legitimate authority is seen to give orders, wear a uniform and claim status.

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Evaluating the Agency Theory, Milgram

Supporting - Hofling et al investigated obedience using nurses on a hospital ward, to see if they would obey orders to administer more than the recommended dose to a patient. A doctor rang them up and told them to do this over the phone, and Hoffling found extremely high conformity rates with 21/22 nurses obeying. This shows that people will follow orders when they believe the person will follow orders.

Opposing - Rank and Jacobson replicated Hoffling's study in a hospital setting. They used the name of a different drug that the nurses would be more familiar with, and give them the opportunity to confer. Only 2/18 obeyed. This shows that people can go against an authority figure.

Different - Situational or Dispositional explanation.

General strengths and weaknesses

This theory is supported by many historical events that show that oridnary people can act in inhumane ways due to social pressure, e.g. WW2.

There are alternative explanations as to why people obey authority figures, such as personality type.

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Describing the External Explanation of Obedience

Situational variables form an external explanation of obedience, where features of the environment are seen to affect obedience levels. Milgram's variations identified several important situational factors: Proximity, Location and Uniform.

Proximity - When the physical distance between people is small, obedience levels drop because it is harder to detach yourself from the consequences of your actions.

Location - the location of the environment can affect the authority that a person is perceived to have. In locations that add to legitimacy of authority, obedience rates are likely to be higher.

Uniform - wearing a uniform can add to legitimacy of authority and will increase obedience rates as you are more likely to believe their status.

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Evaluating the External Explanations of Obedience,

Supporting - Milgram's variations support different aspects of the explanation. To test levels of obedience in different situations, Milgram first put the teacher and the learner in the same room so that they could see one another (proximity). Then he also did the experiment in a run down office block instead of Yale University (location). Finally, he did the experiment and the 'experimenter' was called away and an 'ordinary member of the public' filled in (uniform). Milgram found that when proximity changed, the obedience levels dropped from 65% to 40%. When the location changed, obedience levels dropped from 65% to 47.5% and when an ordinary member of the public filled in, obedience levels dropped from 65% to 20%.

Opposing - just explain the differences between Milgram's original study and his variations.

Different - dispostional or agency theory.

General strengths and weaknesses

Lots of supporting studies

Other explanations such as agency theory

Individual differences

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Dispositional Explanations of Obedience, Authorita

The dispositional explanation is an internal explanation, as the focus is on the idea that certain personality characteristics are associated with higher levels of obedience than others. Adorno believed that high levels of obedience can be seen to be a psychological disorder, caused by personality. Such individuals are though to be submissive of those with a higher status.

Those with an authoritarian personality tend to be hostile to those with an inferior status, but obedience to those with higher status. They are also rigid in their beliefs, and upholding of their traditional values.

They are also more likely to have certain characteristics, such as ethnocentricism, an obsession with status and rank, a preoccupation with power and respect for authority figures.

Adorno concluded that those with an authoritarian personality are more likely to categorise themselves into 'us', seeing their own group as superior.

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Evaluating the Authoritarian Personality

Supporting - Adorno et al investigated the causes of the obedient personality with a large study of 2000 middle class, white Americans. They found that those who scored highly on the F-scale identified with 'strong' people and were intolerant of the 'weak'. They were also conscious of their own and others' status and showed excessive respect and willingness to please those with a higher status.

Opposing  - Zillmer et al reported tat 16 nazi war criminals scored highly on 3 of the F scale dimensions, but not all nine like expected. Therefore there is limited support for the theory.

Different - Situational variables, Agency Theory

General strengths and weaknesses

The theory can account for obedience and prejudice which often link together.

Although there is research support, authoritarian individuals do not always score highly on all the dimensions as the theory predicts.

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Describing Social Resistance

Resistance to social influence is the ways in which individuals attempt to withstand the social pressure to conform to the majority or obey authority.

There are two main explanations to social resistance: locus of control and social support. Locus of control refers to the sense that directs events in our lives.

Social support can help people to resist conformity as the presence of people who resist pressures to conform or obey can help others to do the same. These people act as models to show others that resistance is possible.

Locus of control is the extent to which individuals believe they can control events in their lives. Individuals with a high internal locus of control believe they can affect the outcomes of a situation. Those with a high external locus of control believe things turn out a certain way, regardless of their actions.

Having an internal locus of control makes us more resistant to social pressure. This is because they see themselves as being in charge of a situation, and are more likely to see themselves as having free choice to conform or obey.

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Evaluating Social Support

Supporting - Allen and Levine investigation the role of dissenting peers in resistance to conformity using tasks of visual judgement similar to that of Asch. They found that conformity was reduced when there was one dissenter, even when the dissenter wore thick glasses and admitted to have sight problems. This shows that dissenters help resist social influences even when they are not skilled in particular situations.

Opposing - Asch demonstrated that when a 'non-conforming' confederate started to conform again, so did the real participant, showing that the effect of dissent is not long lasting.

Different - LoC

General strengths and weaknesses


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Evaluating Locus of Control

Supporting - Spector investigated social resistance by giving Rotters LoC scale to 157 university students. He found that participants with high external LoC did conform more than those with a low external Loc, but only in situations that produced NSI. This suggests that people with less need for acceptance into a social group will be more able to resist social influence.

Opposing - Twenge investigated LoC and analysing data from American Obedience studies over 40 years. He found that over this time span, people have become more resistant to obedience, but also more external. This challenges the link between LoC and increasing resistant behaviour because it shows that externals can be more resistant and this challenges the idea that internals are more resistant.

Different - Social Support


People who have conformed or obeyed in a specfic situation in the past are likely to do so again, regardless of their LoC.

The role of LoC is exaggerated.

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Describing Moscovici's study

Aim - To investigate the role of a consistent minority upon the opinions of majoirty in an unambiguous situation. Whether a minoirty could influence a majoirty, using a replication of Asch's study in reverse.

Procedure - Moscovici place 2 confederates in a group with 4 participants. The participants were first given eye tests to ensure they were not colour blind. Participants (female) were placed into 32 groups of 6. In each group, there were four real participants and 2 confederates. Participants were told they were taking part in an investigation into perception. Each group was showen 36 blue slides with filters varying the intensity of the colour. They had to state whether the slides were blue or green. In the control group, the confederates answered wrongly that the slides were green. In the inconsistent group, confederates said that 24 were green and 12 were blue.

Findings - The participants gave the same wrong answers on 8.42% of trials. 32% agreed with the minoirty at least once. There was only a 1.25% agreement rate in the inconsistent condition.

Conclusion - The results in th consistent condition were significantly higher than the inconsistent condition. Whilst the minority influence was small, consistency was an important variable and does influence a majority.

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Evaluation of Moscovici's study

The study used an unrepresentative sample of participants as they were all female. Therefore it is not possible to generalise these results to males. Also, females are said to be more conformist than males, therefore there might be a gender difference in the way that males and females respond to minority influence, meaning it might be difficult to generalise.
The study was standardised, and therefore could be easily repeated. For example, the group size was always the same as there was always 4 real participants and two confederates. This means that the study can be repeated, and is therefore reliable.
The study can help to explain events where minorities influence the majority. For example, the suffragette movement is an example of minority influence in real life as a minority influenced the majority to believe that women should be treated equally.
A criticism could be that four people are not enough for a group, and therefore could not be considered a majority. Therefore, this could affect the internal validity of the study as it may not actually be measuring minority influence as four may not be enough to be considered a majority.
Participants were deceived as they thought they were taking part in a perception test, when in fact they were participants in a minority influence study.

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Describing Minority Influence

Minority influence is a type of social influence that motivates individuals to reject established majoirty group norms. It is achieved through conversion, where the majority is gradually won over by the minority. Minoirity influence is most likely to lead to internalisation. The gradual process whereby minority opinions become those of the majority is called the snowball effect. Moscovici suggested the main processes involved are consistency, commitment, flexibility and the process of change.

Consistency - minoirty influence is thought to be persuasive if the minoirty are consistent with their views as people will think the minority must have a point if they keep saying it.

Commitment - if the minoirty have had to withstand social pressure they are more persuasive as people think the minority must really believe what they are saying.

Flexibility - must be prepared to adapt their view as they seem cooperative and reasonable.

Process of change - over time, people change their opinion from majoirty to minority.

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Evaluating Minority Influence

Supporting - Moscovici et al investigated minority influence using a colour perception study. He found that 32% gave the same answer as the minoirty in at least one trial. 8.42% went with the minoirty n a consistent trial but only 1.25% in the incosistent. This shows that consistent minoirty opinion has a greater effect on other people than incosistent opinion.

Opposing - Moscovici et al as only a very small percentage of people were influenced which shows that it only has very limited support.

Different - majoirty influence


It supports the ISI explanation of conformity.

Many minority influence studies lack external validity and don't tell us much about minority influence in real life situations.

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Describing Social Change

Social change is the process by which society changes beliefs, attitudes and behaviour to create new social norms. Social change is a continual but gradual process. Therefore, minority influence is its main driving force. Conformity and obedience can play a role in social change.

NSI can lead to social change by drawing attention to what the majority is doing. For example, environmentsl and health campaigns, like 'Bin it, others do'

Gradual commitment is how obedience can link to social change. Once a small instruction is obeyed, it becomes more difficicult to resist a larger one. People are said to drift into a new behaviour.

For example, the suffragette movement was social change that was a result of minority influence.

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Evaluating Social Change

Supporting - Nolan et al investigated whether social influence processes led to reduction in energy consumption in a community. They hung messages on the front doors of houses in california, each week for a month. The key message was that most residents were trying to reduce their consumption. A control group had a message with no reference to other residents' behaviour. They found significant decreases in energy usage in the experimental group. This shows that confomity can lead to social change, using NSI.

Opposing - Nemeth reported that it is the dissent of minoirties to establish social norms that 'opens' individuals' minds to search for information, consider other options and become more creative and make better decisions.

General strengths and weaknesses

It is good for society and has lead to many historical events, such as the Suffragette movement.

However, man minoirty influence studies lack external validity and dont tell us much about minoirty influence in real life situations.

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