Social Influence Year 12 Mock revision

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  • Created on: 28-05-19 13:26

Asch's Conformity Study: AIM and PROCEDURE

AIM: assess the degree to which individuals would conform to obviously wrong answers given by a majority


123 American male student participants told they were taking part in "vision study", rather than conformity study. 

Each participant sat in group with 6-8 other participants (actually confederates).

Participants had to say which line - A, B or C was the same as stimulus line. 

On 12/18 critical trials, confederates deliberately gave identical wrong answers to test whether real participant would conform to majority view.

Real participant always answered penultimately or last. 

Control group of 36 ppts tested individually on 20 trials. 

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Asch's Conformity Study: FINDINGS

On the 12 critical trials, there was a 32% conformity rate to wrong answers given by confederate majority

75% of participants conformed to at least one wrong answer

5% conformed to all 12 wrong answers

25% never conformed to a wrong answer

Control group had error rate of only 0.04% - shows how obvious answers were 

Post experiment interviews

  • Distortion of judgement - doubted the accuracy of their own judgement so conformed to the majority's (ISI) 
  • Distortion of action - conformed to majority publicly, but not privately to avoid disapproval/ridicule (NSI) 
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Asch's Conformity Study: EVALUATION

Asch's artificial task had no moral importance - there were few costs attached to conforming. It was not the type of task we encounter in everyday life, meaning that it has low ecological validity. This limits the extent to which we can generalise findings to real-life conformity and thus weakens the study. For example, in a more ecologically valid real life task involving moral consequences, such as asking someone to conform to stealing, we may find that the conformity rate is much lower. 

Perrin and Spencer (1980) claimed the study was a child of its time as the attitudes of 50's America was particularly conformist and that social change since then has meant people are more independent. A repeat of Asch's study in the UK in the 70's found only 1 conformist response out of 400. Therefore, Asch's study into conformity is limited by the context it was carried out in and may not be that relevant today. 

Asch's sample consisted only of male American participants - hence low population validity and gender bias. We do not know whether other cultures or backgrounds would conform similarly. 

Ethical problems involving deception (participants were not told the true aim of study) and lack of protection from harm (participants were put in a psychologically stressful situation)


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Variables Affecting Conformity: GROUP SIZE

Situational variables - features of an environment that influence conformity levels

Asch conducted variations to assess factors which increased or decreased conformity. 

Increasing the size of the majority increased conformity (up to a majority of 3)

Using 1 real participant with 1 or 2 confederates produced low conformity rates (3%) and (13%).

However, with a majority of 3, conformity rose to 32% (same as original study). Conformity effects after this tend to plateau with up to 15 confederates having no effect. 


The effect of group size may also depend on the conformity task, however. Campbell found that if the task related to personal preferences (e.g. whether a film was good), increasing group size did lead to increased conformity whereas if the answer was clearly right or wrong, increasing majority group size beyond 3 has little effect. 


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Variables Affecting Conformity: UNANIMITY

Decreasing group unanimity, decreases conformity

If a confederate did not conform to the majority (and thus, reduced group unanimity), conformity decreased from 32% to 5.5%

Social support from dissenters strengthens individuals' independent behaviour to go against the majority. 

Asch found that even when a dissenter gave a different but wrong answer to the majority, participants were less likely to conform to the majority. 


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Variables Affecting Conformity: TASK DIFFICULTY

Increasing task difficulty increased conformity

When the lines were of a similar length, making the judgement more difficult, conformity levels increased. 


Rosander asked 1000 social media users questions about logic and general knowledge. Half the sample were provided with false answers by confederates. 

Conformity to false answers positively correlated with question difficulty. This suggests that when the correct answer is less obvious, we are more likely to look to others for guidance and conform to their judgement. 


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Authoritarian Personality

Dispositional explanation for obedience 

Adorno argued that certain individuals were prone to a disposition that caused high levels of obedience as a result of strict parenting - authoritarian personality 

Characterised by: 

  • High levels of obedience 
  • Respect for authority figures
  • Hostile to those of perceived low status

Adorno developed the F-scale questionnaire to measure an individual's authoritarian personality score. 


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Authoritarian Personality: EVALUATION

Milgram's post-experimental interviews found that those participants that had shocked to the max of 450V were much more likely to score highly on measures of authoritarianism than those who refused to obey the experimenter. This research supports Adorno's view that certain personalities are more susceptible to obedience from an authority figure. 

Adorno's dispositional theory cannot account for obedience in entire societies. The kind of mass and sudden racism witnessed in Nazi Germany would mean that many Germans would have to have had similar punishment-based childhoods, which is unfeasible. This weakens the validity of the authoritarian personality as a good explanation for obedience. 

Research, including Milgram's, has found that education level and authoritarianism are negatively correlated. It is possible, therefore, that it is education level rather than a personality type that could be responsible for obedient behaviour to authority figures in certain people. This oppositional theory challenges the authoritarian personality as an explanation for obedience. 

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Research Into Obedience: MILGRAM'S AIMS


To assess if individuals would obey an authority figure's commands that incurred negative consequences and went against their moral code. 

To test the "Germans are different" theory. 

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Research Into Obedience: MILGRAM'S PROCEDURE

40 American male participants aged 20-40 were each told they would be the teacher, by a confederate researcher and introduced to Mr Wallace, the learner. 

Participants were told Mr Wallace was strapped to a chair designed to give increasing electric shocks in an adjacent room where they could hear but not see him.

Participants must shock Mr Wallace with the shock generator, every time he got a question wrong, with the shocks increasing by 15V every time. The confederate researcher would stay in the room with the participant. 

At 150V, Mr Wallace protests

At 300V, Mr Wallace says he has a heart condition and refuses to answer any more questions

At 315V, Mr Wallace screamed loudly.

At 350V, Mr Wallace was silent (presumably unconscious or dead)

Confederate researcher gave verbal prods at signs of participants' reluctance e.g. "the experiment requires you to continue" or "you have no choice, you must go on". 

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Research Into Obedience: MILGRAM'S FINDINGS

  • 25/40 participants (62.5%) gave shocks up to the maxiumum of 450V 
  • 100% of participants gave shocks up to 300V
  • Between 300V and 450V, 35% of participants defied the confederate researcher at some point.  
  • Participants showed signs of distress e.g. twitching or sweating and verbally abusing confederate researcher
  • Other participants showed no signs of discomfort - concentrating on the orders of the confederate researcher. 

The high level of obedience shown by the participants implies that we obey those we regard as authority figures, even if it causes us distress and goes against our moral code. 

Social power of obedience and authority can be greater than one's own moral conscience. 

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Research Into Obedience: MILGRAM'S ETHICS

  • Lack of informed consent - Milgram gained consent from participants but not informed consent i.e. they knew they were in a psychological study but did not know what the true nature of the study was (obedience) e.g. the electric shocks were mentioned after. It is likely they would have not given consent had they known the true aim. 
  • Deception - Milgram deceived participants about the true aim of the study (they were told it was about memory and learning), the identity of Mr Wallace and the fact that the shock generator and Mr Wallace's distress were not real. 
  • Compromisd right to withdraw - No explicit right to withdraw was given to participants before study and it was exacerbated by the verbal prods given by the confederate researcher as it made participants feel pressured to continue despite anxiety, reluctance or protest. 
  • Psychological harm - Participants were exposed to high levels of psychological stress and for some participants physical harm (seizures) which could have had severe long term consequences. 
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  • Lack of ecological validity - the extent to which findings about obedience can be generalised beyond the laboratory setting is debatable. The obedience task performed was articifical and had no "social context". For example, participants did not fear punishment if they disobeyed and there was also no moral or political context to the task - whereas in real-life obedience situations such as wars, soldiers may feel a duty to obey that harm is justified. 
  • Gender biased studymale sample only in Milgram's study so it is unrepresentative of female obedience behaviour and findings may not be applicable to them. 
  • Culturally biased study - American sample only in Milgram's study so it is unrepresentative of other culture's obedience levels - authority figures are treated differently across the world. 
  • Historical validity - the particularly obedient attitudes of the 60's may have influenced participants. The findings of Milgram's study may not be relevant to obedience behaviour in the modern day as people are more independent in their thinking. Therefore, the study is a child of its time. 
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Research Into Obedience: HOFLING

AIM: to see whether nurses would obey orders from an unknown doctor to such an extent that there would be risk of harm. 


Hofling conducted a field experiment in a hospital. 

Boxes of placebos labelled "5mg Astrofen, max dose 10mg daily" were placed in the pharmacy. A confederate doctor telephoned the nurse on duty saying he needed the nurse to give 20mg to a patient as he was in a hurry and that he would sign the drug authorisation later. 

To obey the doctor's order's the nurse would be breaking 3 rules: 1) the dose was above the daily limit. 2) drugs should only be given after written authorisation from doctor. 3) the nurse must be sure the doctor is genuine. 

Despite these important rules, 21/22 nurses immediately obeyed. Thus, this more ecologically valid naturalistic experiment supports Milgram's own obedience findings. 

EVALUATION: Staff in institutional care must be trained to follow rules not authority figures. 


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Situational Variables: PROXIMITY

In variations of the original study, Milgram identified external factors which raised or lowered obedience levels. 

When the participant and learner were in the same room, obedience decreased from 62.5% to 40%.

When the confederate researcher gave instructions by telephone, obedience decreased from 62.5% to only 20%. 

When the participant was instructed to force the learner's hand onto the shock plate, obedience decreased from 62.5% to 30%. 


These findings show us that when there is physical proximity between the authority figure and us, the pressure to obey is reduced.

Or when we can clearly see the negative consequences of our potential obedience, we are less likely to obey.




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Situational Variables: LOCATION

When Milgram's study was moved to a run-down office block instead of Yale University, obedience decreased from 62.5% to 47.5% 

The perceived legitimate authority of the authority figure was reduced because of the change from a prestigious institution to somewhere less like this. Therefore, the pressure to obey with the authority figure's demands was reduced. 

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Situational Variables: UNIFORM

Uniforms can add a perceived air of legitimate authority - e.g. the lab coat worn by the confederate researcher in Milgram's obedience study may have influenced obedience levels as participants believed he was an authority figure. 

Later research by Bickman confirmed the effect of uniforms on obedience. 


In a field experiment, members of the public were instructed to either pick up a piece of litter or lend money to a stranger. When the researcher was dressed as a security guard 38% obeyed, compared to only 19% when dressed in normal clothing.


Thus, uniforms can acts as powerful symbols which we are socialised to recognise as indicators of legitimate authority figures who we should and must obey. 


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Social Influence Research Ethics: ZIMBARDO

AIM: To investigate the extent to which participants would conform to the social roles of guard and prisoner in a prison simulation via identification. 


21 psychologically healthy male volunteer student participants were randomly assigned prisoner or guard role in a "mock prison". 

After an unexpected fake "arrest" at their homes, prisoners were taken to prison, stripped, given uniforms and ID numbers to dehumanise them. 

Guards were given uniforms, sunglasses (to prevent eye contact) and clubs. 

Guards were told to keep prisoners under control but use no violence.

Zimbardo himself acted as the superintendent. 

Planned duration of the study was 2 weeks but was stopped after 6 days. 

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Social Influence Research Ethics: ZIMBARDO'S PROC

Both guards and prisoners settled into their social roles fairly quickly. 

Guards became psychologically and physically abusive towards prisoners, taking pleasure in sadistically exercising power over prisoners e.g. making them perform humiliating tasks, depriving them of sleep. 

Prisoners became increasingly submissive and unquestioning of guard's authority. They had undergone de-individuation (they referred to one another by their assigned numbers instead of their names). They showed visual signs of distress. 

5 prisoners had to leave the study early due to various reasons such as crying, rage and psychosomatic symptoms (rash). 

The study was called off after just 6 days due to the guard's harmful behaviour and prisoners reaction to it. 

In post-experimental interviews, Zimbardo found that both guards and prisoners were surprised at the uncharacteristic behaviour they had conformed to. 

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Social Influence Research Ethics: ZIMBARDO'S ETHIC

Informed consent - although participants gave consent to be in the study and knew its nature, they were not told they would be arrested at home, therefore, there was a lack of informed consent in Zimbardo's study. 

Participants were not deceived and were given the right to withdraw. 

Participants were subjected to fairly severe physical and psychological harm - it is argued that Zimbardo had a moral responsibility to stop the study as soon as guards showed any signs of brutality. 

It has been argued that Zimbardo could have anticipated the distress the prisoners were subjected to, though the outcome of the study was unpredictable i.e. no one expected the guards to behave so abusively. 

Zimbardo counselled participants after the study to help them cope with their experience and found no real long-term effects on them. 

He argued that it illustrated such an important aspect of human behaviour that some temporary suffering experienced by the participants was justified. 

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Social Influence Research Ethics: ZIMBARDO'S METHO

Researcher interference - Zimbardo playing the dual role of researcher and prison superintendent may have affected the way in which events unfolded (researcher bias), thus the validity of the findings is questionable. 

Demand characteristics - Critics argue that Zimbardo encouraged the guard's behaviour and the guards simply acted up to the stereotypical role they were being asked to fulfil in order to please the researcher, rather than conforming to a social role. 

Lack of ecological validity - The prison was not real, participants knew they were engaged in a role play rather than real life situation, had the right to withdraw and were only confined for a short period. To what extent we can generalise the findings to real total institutions and conformity to social roles within them, is, therefore, limited. 

On the other hand, the social roles given to the guard and prisoner of powerful and powerless do seem associated in the real world with sadistic violence. The behaviour of the guards in study has been witnessed countless times in total institutions e.g. Abu Gharib prison. This shows that the study's findings are applicable to real life, and thus, increases its validity. 



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Locus Of Control

Refers to how much control a person thinks they have over their own life. 

Internal locus of control - individual believes that they have control over their own circumstances e.g. their decisions affect what happens to them. More likely to be able to resist pressure to conform and obey as they are more likely to take personal responsibility for what happens to them. 

External locus of control - individual believes that they have little control over their own circumstances e.g. fate controls what happens to them. Less likely to be able to resist pressure to conform and obey as they are less likely to take personal responsibility for what happens to them. 

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People with a high internal locus of control tend to seek out information independently so are less likely to rely on the opinions of others or conform to other attitudes or behaviours. 

Avtgis conducted a meta-analysis and found that high external locus of control and conformity was correlated (+0.37), suggesting that there are higher levels of conformity in "externals" than "internals". The "internals" were less easily persuadable, supporting the notion that having an internal locus of control increases an individual's resistance to conformity pressures. 

Other factors that increase resistance to conformity pressures: 

  • Social support, dissenter represents an ally (use Asch's results)
  • Morality - people are less likely to conform if agreeing with the majority would have an effect on their integrity. 
  • Personality variables - certain people have the non-conformist personality is unconcerned of social norms. 

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Anderson found that amongst a group of college students, those who possessed a high internal locus of control were more likely to emerge as leaders in their groups. It can be assumed that such people are more suited to giving orders rather than obeying. 

An individual with a high internal locus of control is more likely to be able to resist pressures to conform. 

Other factors that influence resistance to pressures to obey:

  • Social support in disobedient role models - In variations of Milgram's study, when 2 other confederates were present who refused to continue with shocks, participants' obedience dropped to 10%. Thus, others who are disobedient may act as role models on whom we base our own behaviour and provide a sense of social support against the the authority figure
  • Systematic processing -  Individuals are less likely to obey orders that have negative outcomes if they are given time to consider the consequences of what they have been ordered to do.
  • Morality -  Individuals who make decisions on whether or not to obey based on moral considerations are more resistant to obedience. 
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