Social Influence


Why do we conform?

-way in which our thoughts and actions are affected by the presence of those around us. Although we are sometimes aware of this happening, it can be an unconscious process. As we do not realise how we change what we say/do because of others. Consciously, we may look to friends for guidance when we are unsure how to act so we may copy the way they dress or mirror their body language in certain situations without knowing we are doing this.

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Conformity - Sherif (1935)

Aim: effect on judgement of listening to other people.


  • asked participants to estimate how far a spot of light moved when they were sitting in a completely dark room.
    light didn't move at all, but owing to an optical illusion called autokinetic effect it did appear to.

-individually, participants have a variety of estimates, differed quite widely from each other's.
-BUT, being allowed to undertake the same task in groups of 3, their estimates became more similar until finally they were very close.

Conclusion: participants used other people's opinions to help them form a judgement in an ambiguous situation.

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Conformity - Asch (1951)

Aim: see if people could be influenced by other people's opinions to give an answer they knew to be wrong. This way you could see if people were conforming.

-shown a set of 4 lines.
-say whether line A,B or C was the same length as the test line.
-tested alone = participants rarely made a mistake (error rate was less than 1%) .
-participants had to give answers as part of a group.
-rest of group was instructed to give incorrect answers for some of the tests.

-32% of trails where the rest of the group gave wrong answers, participant gave the same wrong answer as the rest of the group, rather than the obviously correct answer.
-74% of participants fave at least one wrong answer.

-only reason for 32% error rate was hearing incorrect answers previously given.
-those who gave incorrect answers, told Asch they knew the answers were wrong but did not want to go against the rest of the group which demonstrates normative social influence.

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Evaluation for Sherif & Asch

-both conducted in laboratories so no natural situation for the participants so they may not have behaved in a natural way. As a consequence, results may have not been the same as they would be in every day situations = low ecological validity.
-Asch carried it out on uni students who may behave differently to others, this would lead to inaccurate conclusions.

-laboratory experiments offer a lot of control over the variables.

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Obedience - Milgram (1963)

Aim: see how far people would obey an unreasonable order.                                                                                               Method:                                                                                                                                                                             -40 male participants volunteered to take part in what they thought was an experiment about memory & learning.                    -made to believe they were giving an electric shock to a 'learner' every time he got an answer wrong.                               -Learner was an actor and the shocks weren't real.                                                                                                                 -participant who played role of the teacher, didn't know this because how convincing the experiment seemed.                    -participant was seated infront of a 'shock generator' that had 30 switches marked from 15 volts up to 450 volts.                 -learner had to remember pairs of words & participant had to deliver a shock that increased in severity with each mistake the learner made.                                                                                                                                                                  -shocks increased = learner groan in pain, protest and yell to be released (just a recording).                                                 -lot of yelling the learner fell silent which made participant want to stop so experimenter would provide verbal prods such as 'the experiment requires that you continue'.                                                                                                                           Results: Milgram asked psychiatrists how far they thought participants would go. No more than 1% would deliver a 450 volt shock. Participants suffering a lot of distress (3 of them actually had a seizure). All delivered 300 volts & 65% went to 450 volts.                                                                                                                                                               Conclusion: prepared to obey orders if they think the person giving them is important.

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Evaluation - Milgramn

-been suggested that the participants realised that the shocks weren't real, which is why they went so far. BUT stress reactions and the fact that some of them did stop before the end makes this seem unlikely.
-lacking for ecological validity.

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Obedience (further studies) hofling et al (1966)

Aim: see if people would follow an unreasonable order in their normal work environment;

-contacted 22 nurses individually by phone.
-claiming to b a doctor, he instructed them to give a patient twice the maximum dosage of a drug called 'Astrofen'.

Results: of the 22, 21 were prepared to follow his orders, desire the maximum dosage being clearly marked on the bottle.

Conclusion: nurses are likely to obey instructions of a doctor even when there may be bad consequences for a patient.

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Obedience (further studies) - Bickman (1974)

Aim: see if people would be more likely to obey an order of it came from someone in a uniform.

-actors dress as either a security guard or just in a casual jacket.

-asked people sitting in a park to pick up some litter.


-80% of people obeyed the 'guard' .

-40% didn't obey the actor who wasn't wearing a uniform.

Conclusion: wearing a uniform will increase the sense that a person is a legitimate authority figure.

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Evaluation for Bickman's & Hofling et al

-lot more ecological validity than hofling et al.
-the drug was not a real drug, nurses weren't allowed to discuss the request with anyone, made the study less realistic, despite the apparent normality of the situation.

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Reasons for obedience

socialisation - throughout our lives, we are taught to obey authority figures, such as parents & teachers so it becomes a normal thing for us to do.

Legitimate authority - experimenter wearing a lab coat & prestige of Yale Uni, made participants put faith in the person telling them what to do. eg: we might unquestioningly obey a doctor because we have faith in their superior knowledge.

Gradual commitment - gradual shocks in Milgrams study started quite low and increased by such small steps, it was difficult for the participants to draw the line.

Buffers - participants could not directly see the victim of their actions, they were shielded from the consequences of what they did. Made it easier for them to deal with.

Not feeling responsible - Milgram suggested that the situation he had created caused people to lose their sense of responsibility for their own actions.

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Deindividuation - Zimbardo (1969)

Aim: people in a big city behave in a more antisocial way than people in a small town.

-parked a car in each place with its bonnet up (as it was broken down).
-observed what people did as they passed by.

-stealing parts of the car straight away, in New York.
-2 weeks there was very little left of it.
-in Palo Alto, only time car was touched was when someone lowered the bonnet to stop the engine getting wet when it was raining.

Conclusion: deindividuation caused by living in a big city leads to an increase in antisocial behaviour.

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Deindividuation - Zimbardo (1969)

Aim: effect of hiding the identity of participants on the size of electric shock they are prepared to give someone.

-female Uni students were put into 1 of 2 groups when playing the role of the teacher.
-first group: had to wear laboratory coats with goods to hide their faces & introduced to each other.
-second group: wore own clothes & name badges.

Results: shocks given by the 1st group were twice as great as the shocks given by the second group.

-able to hide there identity leads to people to behave in a crueller ways than they otherwise would because the person on the receiving end doesn't not know who they are.
-means less likely to be any consequences for what they do.

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Evaluation of the studies Zimbardo

-lacked mundane realism: participants might not behave how they normally would.
-several ethical issues, such as deception and psychological harm.

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Factors affecting deindividuation

-being able to hide ones identity.
-wearing a uniform
-being part of a gang or clearly identifiable group.

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Social Loafing - Latane et al (1979)

Aim: being in a group would have an affect on how much effort participants put into a task.

-asked 84 participants to shout & clap as loudly as they could while they were alone or in groups of six.
-each participant wore headphones so they couldn't hear the others.

Results: Larger the group size, the less noise the participants made.

Conclusion: people put less effort into doing something when they know others are contributing effort to the same task than they do when they are the only one.

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Social Loafing - Earley (1989)

Aim: culture makes a difference to social loafing.

-participants from the U.S. and China had to complete tasks alone & in groups.
-level of social loafing was measured by how much effort was put in to the task in each condition by the participants.

-American Participants reduced the amount of effort they put into the task when they were in groups, but the Chinese did not.

Conclusion: social loafing does not exist in all cultures. Some cultures people are prepared to work just as hard for the good of the whole group even when they do not need to.

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Evaluation for social loafing studies

Latane study - from the same culture.
Earley - only compared 2 countries so people who live in Africa for instance might behave differently again.

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Bystander intervention - Latane and Darley (1968)

Aim: people are less likely to react in an emergency when there are others present.

-participants sit in a room either alone or in three's while completing a questionnaire.
-while this began, smoke began pouring into the room.

-75% of those sitting alone went to tell someone about the smoke within six minutes.
-38% of those in groups of three's did.

Conclusion: people are around you, it will make you less likely that you will react in an emergency.

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Evaluation for bystander intervention - Latane & D

-study was conducted in a laboratory, so in everyday situation people might behave differently.
-reasons for the results in the study is diffusion of responsibility. When you are alone in emergency situations you have to act because there is no one else around you to offer any help. BUT when others are present, you can let someone else do it.

-sometimes hard to determine whether or not a situation is in fact an emergency. Eg: when children scream it might that they are playing rather than they have hurt themselves. So sometimes the only way to know whether it is in emergency is to look at people's reactions. Others are around it may hinder helping behaviour.
& when you see other people who aren't reacting, it may make you think the situation definitely isn't an emergency.

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Bystander behaviour (further studies) - Piliavin (

Aim: if appearance of the victim would influence helping behaviour.

-actor pretended to collapse in a train carriage.
-appearance was altered several times & the amount of help he recieved each time was recorded by an observer.

-when 'victim' carried a walking stick - recieved help within 70 seconds (90% of the time).
-when he had an ugly facial scar, this dropped to 60%.
-when he appeared to be drunk, it dropped to 20%.

-appearance of the person needing help will affect whether & how quickly they get that help.

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Evaluation for the study Piliavin

-what other factors could have affected the results in this study. In a train carriage there are lots of variables that the researcher cannot control.

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Bystander behaviour (further studies) - Bateson et

Aim: similarity of a victim to the bystander will affect whether or not they will receive.

-participants watched a women who they thought was receiving electric shocks.
-each participant was made to think the women was either like themselves or not like themselves.
-given opportunity to take the women's place in order to stop her suffering.

Results: participants were prepared to take the place of the women they thought to be similar to themselves than dissimilar.

-more likely to offer help to something they feel similar to themselves in someway than to someone they cannot relate to.
-because we feel greater empathy for people like ourselves, causes more distress to see them suffering. - helping them relieves this distress.

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Bystander behaviour (further studies) -Schroeder e

Aim: different reasons for bystanders not helping.

Method: studied findings and conclusions from many previous pieces of research.

Results: provide an alternative explanation for why bystanders did nothing to help when others were present.

Conclusion: bystanders are distressed & concerned about victims, but when other people are present, they believe that someone else might be more capable of helping, or can help more easily than themselves.

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Implications of research into conformity

-shown that it is hard for individuals to act differently from the rest of the group. One implication of this might be quite serious is in the decision making process of a jury. It is highly likely that if 11 people in a jury believe the defendant to be guilty, the final juror will agree with them even if privately he/she believed otherwise.

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Implications of research into obedience

  • some engineers anticipated the breakage of the part that caused the explosion before the launch, persuaded to say nothing to the authority figures within their organisation.
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Implications of research into social loafing

Shown us that when people belong to a group they reduce the amount of effort they put into a task, because it is not possible to identify an individuals performance. This means that some people will be trying harder than others, no one can tell who these people are. May occur when playing team games. Unlike golf & tennis where an individual competes on its own, in hockey & rugby, some players may not do as much running / tackling as others. We can also make predictions about the behaviour of students, based on the research in this area.

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Implications of research into bystander interventi

2 year old James Bulger was abducted, by 2 boys, from a shopping centre in Bootle. Took him to some waste ground & murdered him. RESEARCH HAS SHOWN US THAT PEOPLE, WHO WITNESS A SMALL BOY BEING DRAGGED THROUGH THR STREETS CRYING FOR HIS MOTHER, ARE UNLIKELY TO INTERVENE.
Lots of people are around it reduces the chance of someone helping as it's hard to realise that there is an emergency when other people are doing nothing.
Even if anyone did realise, diffusion of responsibility would stop people from getting involved. WHAT HAPPENED TO JAMES BULGER - NO ONE HELPED.

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