Social Influence

  • Created by: Honor
  • Created on: 26-03-17 11:13

Types of Conformity

Compliance is when a person agrees in public with a group but they privately disagree with the group. It is the most superficial type of conformity. E.g. someone may laugh at a joke because their friends find it funny but privately the person does not get the joke

Internalisation is when a person publicly changes their behaviour to fit in with the group and agrees with them privately. It is the deepest level of conformity as conversion happens with the beliefs. E.g. living with a vegetarian at university and then deciding to also become one too and continuing this after university through life because they agree with their friends 

Identification is when someone conforms to their given role in society. The change of view is a temporary change. E.g. a policeman would change their views as their role in society has been changed

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Explanations for Conformity

Normative social influence is when we conform to fit in with a group because we wish to gain the approval of others and would not want to feel foolish or be left out

For example, laughing at a joke you don’t understand but all your friends are laughing and you desire to fit in and belong

Informational social influence is when you have the desire to be right in a situation we may be unsure of so we look to the ones we believe have more information for guidance

For example, watching when your colleagues at a new job have lunch and take breaks because they know more information about this and you have just started

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Sherif's Auto-kinetic Effect

Wanted to demonstrate that people conform to the group when they are in an unclear situation

Used autokinetic effect where a small spot of light in a dark room appears to move but is still

In stage 1, participants were asked individually how far they thought the light had moved

In stage 2, composition of the group was altered by putting two people who had a similar estimate of the light movement when alone and one person who had a very different estimate

Each person had to say out loud how far the light had moved

Found that the group converged to a common estimate

The person with the extreme estimate conformed to the view of the other two in the group

This showed that people would always tend to conform when the situation was ambiguous and unclear 

This is because they were unsure what the actual answer was so they looked to those who may have helped and had more information than them

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Evaluation of Sherif

Lab experiment so cause and effect can be established due to the lack of extraneous variables so the study is more valid

Lacks population validity as they were conforming to a group of strangers and cannot be applied to everyday conformity which is usually with friends and other people we know

There was no definite answer as it was an ambiguous task so there was no right answer the participants had to conform to

Participants were deceived in order for the study to work and a debrief would be needed afterwards so they were aware of the real aim

They only could give general consent as they did not know the full informed aim and procedure

Although it was minor and probably non-lasting, the participants were put under a stressful situation which may have been psychological discomforting

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Asch's Line Task

Asch wanted to see whether people would conform to the majority when an answer was obvious

The group of 1 true participant and 6 confederates were presented with a line and 3 comparison lines

They all had to say aloud which comparison line matched the main line’s length

The confederates were told to give the incorrect answer on 12 out of 18 trails 

True participants conformed on 32% of the trials where confederates gave the wrong answers

75% conformed to the majority on at least one trial

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Evaluation of Asch

Lab experiment so cause and effect can be established due to the lack of extraneous variables 

Lacks population validity as they were conforming to a group of strangers and cannot be applied to everyday conformity which is usually with friends and other people we know

Gender beta bias as the study was only carried out on men and therefore the results may not apply to females so the study lacks population validity

May not be valid in today’s society as times have changed since this study (1950s) and people are more independent and may be less willing to conform in this kind of experiment

Deception as participants were told the wrong study aim and as a result they could not give informed consent but Asch did debrief at the end

They only could give general consent as they did not know the full informed aim and procedure

Although it was minor and probably non-lasting, the participants were put under a stressful situation which may have been psychological discomforting

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Asch's Variations

Group Size

The bigger the confederate group, the more the participants conformed, but only up to a certain point. With one other confederate the group conformity was 3%. With two others it increased to 13%. With three or more it was 32%. Increasing the size of the majority beyond 3 did not increase the levels of conformity. Brown and Byrne suggest that if the majority rises beyond 3 or 4 people might suspect something is wrong especially since the answer was clear

Non-Conforming Role Model

Asch broke up the agreement of the group by introducing a non-conforming confederate. One confederate that goes against the majority can reduce conformity as much as 80%. The absence of total agreement from the group lowers overall conformity as participant feel less need for social approval (normative conformity)

Difficulty of Task

When the lines were more similar, it was harder to judge the correct answer. The more difficult the task, the more conformity increased

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Conforming to Social Roles

Zimbardo wanted to investigate how people would conform to the social roles in simulated prison life so he converted a basement of Stanford into a mock prison

Advertised for students to play the roles of prisoners and guards for a 14 days

Randomly assigned to either the role of prisoner or guard

Prisoners were issued a uniform and referred to by their number only. Guards were issued whistles, handcuffs and dark glasses so eye contact was impossible

The guards worked shifts of eight hours each and no physical violence was permitted

Within hours, some guards began to harass prisoners and guards became more aggressive and demanded more obedience from the prisoners

One prisoner had to be released after 36 hours because of uncontrollable outbursts

3 others also had to leave after showing signs of emotional disorder

On the sixth day it was terminated

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Evaluation of Zimbardo

Demand characteristics as the guards and prisoners knew they were playing a role so their behaviour may not be influenced by the same factors which affect behaviour in real life so the study has low ecological validity

The study may also lack population validity as the sample only comprised US male students

Lack of fully informed consent by participants due the fact it was an unpredictable experiment

Not protected from psychological harm as they experienced extreme distress

Observer bias as Zimbardo admitted after he got too involved which is seen in his delay to terminate the experiment, even after there was violence

Not realistic to receive a 2-week sentence so may not be applicable to real life

In Zimbardo's defence, the aggression could not have been predicted and he was going to carry out debriefing sessions anyway

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Milgram's Obedience

How far could people go in obeying an instruction even if it involved harming another person 

A participant and confederate would draw to determine whether they were the learner or teacher. This was fixed so the confederate was always the learner

The “learner” was strapped to a chair with electrodes and he had to learn a list of word pair and the “teacher” tests him by naming a word and the learner recalls its pair

The teacher is told to give an electric shock every time the learner makes a mistake and the level of shock increases each time

The learner gave mainly wrong answers on purpose so the teacher had to shock

If the teacher refused to give a shock the experimenter was to give a series of prods

E.g. Please continue, The experiment requires you to continue

All the participants continued to 300 volts, 65% of participants continued to the highest level of 450 volts (***)

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Evaluation of Milgram

Lab experiment so cause and effect can be established as there are no extraneous variables 

Orme and Holland said it lacked experimental validity as its not realistic to everyday life so participants might not have believed the experiment therefore they would show demand characteristics which makes the results less valid

Lacks population validity because it was all American male participants so may not be representative of the whole population

All participants had to volunteer so may all have a typical "volunteer personality" as it takes a certainty personality type to volunteer so may not representative of the population

Participants actually believed they were shocking a real person, which could be psychologically harming as well as being deceived

BPS states that researchers should make it plain to participants that they are free to withdraw at any time regardless of payment but the prods did not make this clear and they may have felt forced

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Milgram's Variations

Uniform - The experimenter wore a grey lab coat as a symbol of his authority. In a variation the experimenter was called away and taken over by a ‘member of the public’ who was a confederate in everyday clothes. The obedience level dropped to 20%

Change of Location - The experiment was moved to a set of run-down offices rather than Yale University. Obedience dropped to 48%

Proximity - The teacher had to see the learner in the same room. The participant is no longer protected from seeing the consequences. Obedience fell to 30%

Social Support - Two other confederates were also teachers but refused to obey. Confederate 1 stopped at 150 volts and confederate 2 stopped at 210 volts. Reduces the level of obedience to 10%

Absent Experimenter - The experimenter instructed and prompted the teacher by telephone from another room. Obedience fell to 21%. Many participants cheated and missed out shocks or gave less voltage than ordered to by the experimenter

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Explanations for Obedience

Agentic State - people will follow orders if they think the one ordering will face the consequences of the action, and not them e.g. in Milgram’s experiment they were ‘agents’ and may not have felt fully responsible for their actions

Legitimacy of Authority - People will obey if they believe the authority is legitimate e.g. Milgram's actor wore a lab coat in Yale University to show authority. Also, explains why people will obey the police

Gradual Commitment - People are asked to perform trivial, seemingly harmless tasks but then find it difficult to refuse to carry out more serious escalating requests. E.g. Milgram’s participants' first shock was only 15 volts and all participants went up to 300 volts 

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Adorno's Authoritarian Personality

A dispositional explanation as it explains behaviour in terms of the individual’s personality

Extreme respect for strong, powerful leaders

Dismissive to those who are inferior

Inflexible in their outlook as it is either wrong or right in their view

Adorno used 2000 middle class Americans to investigate this

The F-scale asked questions like “respect is the most important virtue a child should learn”

They also were asked questions about their attitudes to racial groups

It was found that those with the authoritarian personality also had strong prejudiceThis made them more submissive to authority

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Evaluation of Adorno

Only associated and does not directly link which means a third factor could be involved and a conclusion cannot be made

Only studied white American middle-class people which means it may not apply to other cultures

Still cannot explain the Germans are Different Hypothesis as it seems impossible that a whole country had this specific personality

Closed questions were used and did not allow participants to expand and explain themselves 

Cultural or social norms offer a better explanation of prejudice than personality

Hyman and Sheatsley found that lower education was probably a better explanation of high F-scale scores

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Rotter's Locus of Control

The term refers to how much control a person feels they have in their own behaviour 

People with a high internal locus of control see themselves as having personal control and therefore are more likely to take responsibility for the way they behave e.g. I did well on the exams because I revised hard

A person with a high external locus of control see their behaviour as being a result of external influences or luck/fate e.g. I did well on the test because it was easy

Rotter’s locus of control scale measures whether it is external or internal

Has been shown that people with an internal locus of control tend to be less conforming and less obedient so more independent

Rotter proposes that a person with an internal locus of control is better at resisting social pressure because they feel responsible for their actions

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Evaluation of Rotter

Oliner & Oliner interviewed those who had resisted orders and had protected Jewish people from the Nazi’s to those who had not during WW2 and was found that the rescuers were more likely to have a high internal locus of control which supports that an internal locus of control makes individuals less likely to follow orders

Blass carried out a meta-analysis and found that participants with an internal locus of control in Milgram’s study were the ones that acted independently, although he noted it was hard to make clear conclusions as the research was mixed

The answers in the questionnaire Rotter gave were two extremes so may not be representative of their true thoughts

Answers may be false as participants may lie to look social desirable

Highly reductionist and fails to consider wider factors such as mood or the situation

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Characteristics of a Successful Minority


Can disrupt the established norms and may create uncertainty which can lead to the majority taking the minority view seriously and they will be more likely to question their own views


When the majority sees someone with dedication for the minority view, they assume they have a point


If the consistent minority are seen as rigid and uncompromising, they will be unlikely to change the views of the majority

It is argued that consistency and commitment is not enough alone

If they appear flexible, they are likely to be seen as more cooperative and reasonable

As a result, they will have a better chance of changing majority views

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Moscovici's Consistent Slides

Moscovici stated that being consistent and unchanging in a view is more likely to influence the majority than if they are inconsistent and change their mind

Female participants were shown 36 blue slides and were asked to report the colours

There were two confederates as the minority and four true participants as the majority

In part 1, two confederates answered green for each of the 36 slides to show consistency

In part 2, they answered green 24 times and blue 12 times. In this case they were inconsistent in their answers

When the confederates were consistent , 8% of participants said the slides were green

When the confederates answered inconsistently, 1% of participants said green

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Impact of Social Change

Snowball Effect

Van Avermaet found this can change the minority opinion to a majority

A process that starts from an initial small significance and builds, becoming larger

Social Cryptoamnesia

Perez said this could be a reason why opinions change over time

People may forget that on opinion was a minority as it is the social norm now

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Real Life Examples

The Suffragettes campaigned for women’s rights including the right to vote.

They showed commitment through their protests, especially through their hunger strikes when imprisoned for their protests.

They agreed to stop protesting for a short while to help with the war effort to show flexibility.

This was a snowball effect as New Zealand and Australia were first. 

The Black American civil rights campaigns were committed as they produced 35,000 copies of flyers.

They were consistent as the boycott lasted a total of 381 days.

Taxi drivers also offered less fares during this to show flexibility. 

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