Social influence

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Evaluation of conformity research (Asch)

  • Ethical issues
    • Deception
    • Informed consent
  • Validity issues
    • Significance
    • Verbalisation
    • Unfamilar confederates
  • Other evaluation points
    • A child of its time?
    • Unconvincing confederates?
    • Conformity or independence?
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Validity issues - Asch

  • Significance
    • asking people to judge the length of lines is a rather insignificant task and one where they would be probably willing to conform and save face
    • on a more important task we would expect conformity to drop
  • Verbalisation
    • the participants had to verbalise their answers, which could then easily be judged as right or wrong, and therefore the study only tells us about conformity in certian circumstances
    • conformity may be greater or lower when faced with a moral judgement that is more ambiguous
  • Unfamilar Confederates
    • the participants in Asch's research did not know the other confederates, which could have affected the degree of social influence placed on participants - either wanting to fit in even more or not being worried about the views of those around them
    • Williams and Sogon (1984) found people would conform more if they knew each other
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Smith and Bond (1998)

A: to investigate the impact of the social climate and cultural differences on conformity.

M: conducted a meta-analysis of conformity studies between 1952-1994 that had used the same/similar procedures as Asch's original study. ThIs resulted in 133 studies carried out in 17 countries. Some countries were classified as individualIst (UK & US), some as collectivist (Japan & Fiji. For the second part of the analysis, which was used to investigate the changes in confromity over time, only studies carried out in the USA were used (97/133).

R: collectivist countries tended to show higher levels of confromity than individualist countries. The impact of the cultural variables on conformity levels was greater than any other variable, such as gender. Levels of confromity in the US had declined steadily since Asch's studies in the 1950s, with the date of study negatively correlated with the level of conformity in the study.

C: consistent with the findings of Asch , however conformity was significantly higher with: larger majority sizes, a greater proportion of female participants and more ambiguous stimuli

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Limitations of Smith and Bond

  • cultures are not homogenous and differences between individualist and collectivist values within different cultures have been established in other research
    • drawing conclusions based on differences between cultures may, therefore be an oversimplification
  • in cross-cultural comparisons, there is the problem of cultural differences in the relevance or meaningfulness of the materials used
    • it is possible that the task was more meaningful for one culture than the other and that it was these differences, rather than differences in conformity that were being measured
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Two Main Explanations of Conformity

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Evaluation of Normative Social Influence

  • There is evidence to support NSI as an explanation of conformity
    • Grandeau and Cillessen (2006)
      • looked at bullying
    • Schultz et al (2008)
      • looked at the effect of normative information in hotels
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Grandeau and Cillessen 2006

  • they found that groups with a low quality of interpersonal friendships may be manipulated by a skilful bully so that victimisation of another child provides the group with a common goal
  • this creates pressure on all the children in that group to comply as they don't want to be cast out of the group
  • this shows NSI as they conform with the bullying in order to remain part of the group
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Schultz et al (2008)

    • gathered data from 132 hotels and a total of 794 hotel rooms where guests were staying for one week
    • rooms were randomly assigned to either an experimental or control condition
    • control condition: a door hanger informed guests of the environmental benefits of reusing towels
    • experimental comndition: in  addition to the environmental message, guests were informed that 75% of guests choose to reuse their towels each day
    • results: showed that in comparison to the control condition, guests who received a message that contained normative information about other guests reduced their need for fresh towels by 25%
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Evaluation of Informational Social influence

  • there is evidence to support the role of ISI in conformity
    • Wittenbrink and Henley (1996)
      • found that participants exposed to negative comparison information about African Americans (which they were led to believe was the view of the majority) later in a questionnaire reported more negative beliefs about a black target individual
      • this shows that the participants assumed the comparison group had more knowledge of African Americans than they did, and adopted these views as they believed they were right
    • Fein et al (2007)
      • judgements of candidate performance in US presidential debates could be influenced by mere knowledge of others reactions
      • participants saw the reactions of their fellow participants on screen during the debate
      • this produced large shifts in participant judgements of the candidates' performance on an individual basis 
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Problems investigating reasons for conformity

  • in laboratory experiments such as that of Wittenbrink and Henley often lack internal validity
    • there are often demand characteristics, where participants will say that they think the researcher wants them to rather than how they really feel
    • desirability bias may lead people to respond in the way they think they should rather than the way they honestly feel
  • in field experiments and naturalistic experiments such as Garandeau and Cillesen or Schultz there is a lack of control which means it is hard to establish cause and effect
    • for example, researchers cannot guarantee that guests at the hotel read the information regarding use of towels
    • if cause and effect cannot be guaranteed then it is difficult to assess the validity of the explanation
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Ethical issues - Asch

  • Deception
    • participants did not know the real purpose of the experiment, nor that the other 'participants' were confederates
    • they could not have been told the true purpose of the experiment
  • Informed consent
    • participants cannot give informed consent if they do not know the true aims and conditions of the experiment
    • ends justify the means; useful
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