Social influence key study's

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  • Created by: Laelle
  • Created on: 22-03-16 19:27

Asch's original line study (1955)

Aim: how much will people conform even in a situation where the answers is unambiguous

123 American male undergraduates were studied; each naive participant tested with a group of 6-8 confederates.

They were shown 2 large cards: 1 had a standard line the other 3 comparison lines- one matched the standard line the other 2 were clearly different.

All the confederates gave the correct answer on the first few trials and the wrong answer on 12 of the 18 trials.


  • the naive participants gave the wrong answer 37% of the time
  • 25% didn't conform on any of th trials
  • 75% confirmed at least once
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Asch's Variations

Group size- he wanted to know whether group size is more important than the agreement of the group.
With 3 confederates conformity to the wrong answer increased to 31.8%. Adding more confederates made little difference.

Unanimity- he wanted to know if the presence on another non-conforming person would affect the naive participants conformity
He added a dissenting confederate who sometimes gave the right answer and some times the wrong answer. Conformity reduced by a quarter. The dissenter allowed the naive participant to behave more independently

Task difficulty- Asch's made the line-judging activity more difficult by making the comparison lines more similar in length to the standard line. Conformity increased as the situation was more ambiguous, so participants were more likely to look for guidance: Informational social influence

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Evaluation points for Asch's Studies

  • Perrin + Spencer repeated the experiment in the 1980s in the UK with engineer students. Only one student conformed in a total of 396 trials. In the 1950s when Asch's conducted the study, it was an especially conformist time in America so it made sense to conform to established social norms. Whereas nowadays people are less conformist. This suggests that the research is outdated.
  • Problem of demand characteristics as participants knew they were in a research study so perhaps went along with the demands of the study.
  • The groups the naive participants were part of were artificial and don't resemble groups we are part of in everyday life- so the results can not be generalised to everyday life situations.
  • Only male undergraduate students were studied so the results can not be generalised to the majority. Therefore the study has low population validity.
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Zimabardo's Stanford Prison Experiment

Aim: to find out if prison guards behave brutally because they have sadistic personalities or due to the situation which creates such behaviour

Procedure: Zimbardo set up a mock prison. He selected 24 students deemed as "emotionally stable" and randomly assigned them to roles.Those assigned as prisoners were arrested from their homes by local police and taken to the prison. On entry they were put through a delousing procedure and given prison unfiorms and an ID that guards would refer to them by. They were to be given 3 meals a day, 3 supervised trips to the toilet and 2 visits a week. The guards were given uniforms, clubs, whistles and reflective sunglasses (to prevent eye contact).The study was to last 2 weeks and Zimbardo had the role of Prison Superintendent.

Findings: the guards conformed to their social roles. Over the first few weeks they became increasingly abusive towards the prisoners making them carry out degrading tasks (e.g. Cleaning toilets with bare hands in the middle of the night). The prisoners also conformed to their submissive roles and some appeared to forget that it was just a study and they were acting (e.g asking for parole instead of withdrawal). 5 prisoners were released after 2 days showing signs of psychological disturbance & the study was terminated after just 6 days!

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Evaluations points for Zimbardo's Study

Zimbardo and colleagues had some control over variables such as selecting the most "emotionally stable" participants and randomly assigning them to roles. So individual personality differences are ruled out as an explanation of the findings= increased internal validity

Demand characteristics as participants were aware of the study so may have changed their behaviour to fit with what they assumed the aim (e.g. Behave how they thought prisoners and guards do in real life)

The study was considered ethical, approved by Stanford's university ethics committee, for example- no deception; were told many of their rights would be suspended). But Zimbardo acknowledged that it should have been terminated earlier due to many participants experiencing emotional distress. He attempted to make amends by debriefing them for several years later and concluded they were no long lasting effects.

Researchers bias- Zimbardo was both researcher and had a role in the study Superintendent- so he may have influenced it. Prisoners would've been hesitant to come to him.

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Milgram's Obedience study procedure

Aim: to see whether ordinary American's would obey an unjust order from a person in authority to inflict pain on another person

Procedure: 40 male volunteers, from ages 20-50 years and unskilled to professional jobs were paid £4.50 to take part in a study that was said to be testing memory/the role of of punishment in learning.

The naive participant always played the role of teacher, and a confederate the learner: strapped in a chair, with electrodes attached to his arm and had to memorise word pairs then tested, using a system of light to indicate their answer. The teacher was to administer an electric shock each time the leaner got the incorrect answer, sat in front a 30 leaver shock generator. The shocks started at 15 volts (labelled slight shock), and increased by 15 volt intervals up to 450 volts (labelled danger- severe shock). At first the leaner got the answered correctly then began making mistakes. If the teacher was hesitant in administering shocks, they were prodded by the "experimenter" in a lab coat: prod 1- please continue, prod 2- the experiment requires you continue, prod 3- it's absolutely essential that you continue, prod 4- you have no choice, you must continue.
No shocks were actually administered.

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Milgram's Obedience study findings + evaluation


  • All participants went to at least 300 volts
  • 12.5% stopped at 300 volts, 65% continued to 450 volts: believing they had administered this severe shock
  • Most participants found the procedure very stressful and wanted to stop, some showing signs of extreme anxiety.
    They dissented verbally but continued administering shocks- obeying the researcher who prodded them

All participants were debriefed.

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Evaluation points for Milgram's study


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