Social Psychology, Conformity & Obedience

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  • Created by: Emily
  • Created on: 31-05-13 13:04


Conformity is going along with the rules and expectations of the social group

Implicit rules - unwritten rules 

Explicit rules - written rules

There are two types of conformity:

  • Compliance - going along with others to gain their approval or avoid their dissaproval
  • Internalisation - going along with others because of an acceptance of their point of view
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Conformity Study, Majority Influence

Key Study - Asch

  • Study involved 7 male students who had to look at two cards - a test card showing one vertical line & another card showing 3 vertical lines of different lengths. 
  • The participants task was to call out which of the 3 lines was the same length as the test line. 
  • All the participants, except one, were confederates of the experimenter. The 'real' participant called out their answer either last or second last. The confederates gave the same wrong answers on 12 of the 18 trials
  • Asch found that participants conformed to the wrong answer on 32% of the trials. This may not be very high, but the answer was always obvious. 
  • Only 25% of participants never conformed.
  • During post-experimental interviews, some conforming participants claimed to have actually seen the line as the correct answer. However, others conformed because they couldn't bear to be identified by the minority of participants. 
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Evaluating Conformity

- The study only used male participants and therefore we cannot generalise the findings to women

- The study was conducted in a lab environment and therefore we may not be able to generalise to real-world situations

- On 2/3rds of the trials, where the majority gave the same wrong answer, the participants stuck to their original opinion. This suggests that rather than being overly conformist, people are able to display independent behaviour even in the face of a majoirty.

- Asch's study can be criticised because the confederates used may have found it difficult to act convincingly in their role

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Conforming to Social Roles

Key Study - Zimbardo

  • Healthy male volunteers were paid to take part in a 2 week simulation study of prison life. The volunteers were randomly allocated roles of either a guard or a prisoner.
  • The local police helped to 'arrest' a prisoner at their home, without warning. They were taken and blind folded to the 'prison' where they were stripped, sprayed with disinfectant, given smocks to wear & given their prison number to which they were referred to. There were 3 guards who worse khaki uniforms, dark glasses & carried wooden batons.
  • The guards harrassed the prisoners & conformed to their social roles with such zeal that they had to dicontinue the study after 6 days. The prisoners rebelled against the guards after 2 days by the guards stopped rebellion using fire exstinguishers.
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Evaluating Conformity to Social Roles Study

- There was no right to withdraw from the study which means there is a huge ethical problem with the study

- Some argue that by doing this study, it enables us to explain what happens in places such as Iraq & Germany and why people behave the way they do

- Zimbardo was wrong to act as both prison-superintendent & chief research as this produced conflict of roles whereby he lost sight of the harm actually being done

- The consent from the participant could not be fully informed as Zimbardo himself did not know exactly what would happen in the experiment (it was unpredictable). Also, participants playing the role of prisoners were not protected from harm. 

- The sample only used males and therefore the results found cannot be generalised to women - it lacks external validity

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Explanations of Conformity

People conform for many reasons, ranging from complete acceptance of the majoirty viewpoint (i.e. internalisation), to 'going along' with the crowd (compliance).

Two explanations are normative social influence, when we follow the crowd to be liked and informational social influence, when we accept the majority viewpoint because it is most likely to be right.

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Evaluating Normative & Informational Social Influe

Normative Social Influence (NSI)

  • It is generally accepted that there is a strong correlation between people's normative beliefs & their behaviour. This was supported in a study which found that those adolescents who were exposed to a normative message that the majority of age peers did not smoke, were less likely to take up smoking.
  • Another study found that hotel guests exposed to the normative message that 75% of guests reused their towels each day reduced their own need for daily fresh towels by 25%.

Informational Social Influence (ISI)

  • The importance of informational influence was demonstrated in a study that showed that exposure to negative information about African Americans was more likely to shape social stereotypes if it was represented as a 'view of the majority'.
  • A psychologist used ISI to explain how illness symptoms can be spread rapidly among members of a cohesive group, even though there is no obvious cause.
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Key Study - Milgram

  • 40 male volunteers were told it was a study of how punishment affects learning. The real participant was assinged the role of the 'teacher' and the 'learner' was a confederate
  • The teacher's job was to deliver 'electric shocks' to the learner (who was in another room) if he was to get a question wrong
  • If the teacher asked to stop delivering the 'electric shocks', the experimenter would say "you have no other choice, you must continue"
  • The shocks began at 15 volts & increased to 450 volts
  • All participants went to at least 300 volts, with only 12.5% stopping at that point. 65% of the participants continued to the max 450 volts (far beyond danger) showing high levels of obedience
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Variation's of Milgram's Study

Proximity of the victim - (they could be seen) decreased obedience, presumably because it removed the psychological buffer between giving the shocks & the consequence

Proximity of the authority figure - made participants feel they were being monitored, so obedience levels were high. When the experimenter left the room and gave orders over the phone, participants felt better able to disobey and obedience levels dropped

Presence of allies - when 2 confederates shared the teacher's role with the real participant and they refused to carry on with the experiment, almost all the real participants also withdrew

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Evaluating Milgram's Study

- Participants were misled (deception) by being told the experiment was about the effects of punishment on learning rather than its true purpose. Consequently, participants were effectively denied the right to informed consent.

- Participants were also pushed to not withdraw from the study even if they wanted to.

- Milgram had placed his participants under great emotional strain, causing psychological damage that could not be justified. However, Milgram argued that post-study interviews found no evidence of such harm.

- Critics argue that people have learned to distrust experimenters in psychology because they know the real purpose of the experiment is likely to be disguised. Consequently, participants must have know they weren't giving real shocks, particularly as the experimenter appeared completely unconcerned over the learner's cries of pain.

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Explanations of Obedience

Gradual Commitment - in Milgram's study, people have already committed themselves to giving lower electric shocks, & therefore it is harder to resist the experimenter's requirement to give shocks at a higher level. As the transition from one shock to the other is very gradual, it becomes even harder for participants to change their minds. This is an example of the 'foot in the door' approach, once someone signals their willingness to agree to a small request, their ability to refuse larger requests from the same source diminishes.

Agentic Shift - Milgram arues that people shift back & forwards between an autonomous state, where they see themselves as responsible for their own actions, and an agentic state, where they see themselves as acting on behalf of an authority figure.

The role of buffers - In Milgram's base line study, the 'teacher' & 'learner' were in separate rooms, therefore, the teacher did not have to witness the consequences.

The role of a uniform - People are more likely to obey someone if they are wearing a uniform as it is more likely that they will be seen as having legitimate authority.

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Locus of Control

High Internals perceive themselves as having a great deal of personal control over their behaviour, so take more responsibility for it.

High Externals perceive their behaviour as caused more by external influences, so take less responsibility for it.

Individuals high in internality are more likely to display independent behaviour, for example:

  • High internals are active seekers of information and rely less on the opinions of other people.
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Evaluation of Locus of Control

- Research Evidence: People high in internality rely more on their own actions & exhibit greater initiative, which should make them more successful. A study found that internals were the highest wage earners.

- Research Evidence: A meta-analysis by Twenge et al found that locus of control scores had become more external in young people between 1960 & 2002. The increase in externality means that young people see many aspects of their behaviour as beyong their control. 

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Resisting Conformity

The Role of Allies

Asch showed how the introduction of another person who went against the majority caused conformity rates to drop significantly, but why?

Another nonconformist provides the individual with an assessment of reality, making them more confident in their own decision. 

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Evaluation of Resisting Conformity

Moral Considerations - People conform to a majority positition even though they know it's wrong. The costs of conforming in Asch's study are only minor, however if the task involves a moral dimension (e.g. cheating), there is less evidence of conformity as the costs incured are significantly greater.

Individual Differences - A psychologist suggests there are gender differences in mate seeking behaviour, with women displaying more conformity (e.g. to what men find attractive) whereasmen display less conformity in their behaviour. 

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Resisting Obedience

Status - When Milgram's study was moved from the setting of Yale University to a downtown office, more participants felt able to resist the experimenter. This tells us that status of the authority figure is a key factor in obedience and its resistance.

Proximity - Resistance increased when other confederates were present. Being made aware of the effects of obedient actions & having social support makes it more likely that  the individual will feel able to resist pressures to obey.

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Evaluation of Resisting Obedience

Moral Considerations - Kohlberg interviewed participants who has obeyed the experimenter and those who had resisted. He found that those who resisted based their decision on more advanced moral principles, whereas those who obeyed the experimenter completely, tended to reason at a lower moral stage.

Individual Differences - Milgram found that educational history & religion made a difference when it came to be able to resist the commands of the experimenter. Less-educated participants were less able to resist & Roman Catholics were also more likely to obey than were Protestants. 

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Minority Influence & Social Change

Based on the idea that, if individuals are exposed to a persuasive argument under certain conditions, they may change their views to match those of the minority, a process referred to as 'conversion'.

Key Study - Moscovici

  • 32 groups, 6 women in each group, shown series of blue slides. The minority of 2 confederates identified them as 'green' consistently in condition 1 & unconsistently in condition 2 where they said 'green' 24 times & 'blue' 12 times.
  • Participants in the cosistent condition called the slide 'green' in 8.4% of the trials & 32% of participants reported 'green' at least once.
  • Participants in the inconsistent condition called 'green' in only 1.3% of the trials.

This shows that the minority must behave consistently if they want people to change their views to match theirs.

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Conditions needed for Social Change through Minori

Drawing attention to an issue - Being exposed to a minority viewpoint (which opposed that of the majority) creates a conflict, which the individual is motivated to reduce.

The role of conflict - Because of this, we examine the minority position more deeply, which may then result in a move towards that position.

Consistency - When minorities express their arguments consistently (with eachother & over time) they are taken more seriously & are more likely to bring about social change. A meta-analysis found that minorties who were consistent were particularly influential in changing the views of the majority.

The Augmentation Principle - States that if there are risks involved in putting forward a particular point of view, then those who ecpress those views are taken more seriously by others. As a result, the impact of their position if strengthened, or 'augmented'.

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Evaluation using the Suffragettes

Drawing attention to an issue - The suffragettes used a variety of tactics to draw attention to the fact that women were denied the same political rights as men.

The role of conflict - The suffragettes supported a different political voting arrangement to the one already in place. This created a conflict in the minds of a majority, some who dismissed the suffragettes as troublemakers, but others moved towards the suffragette position. 

Consistency - The suffragettes were consistent in expressing their position, regardless of the attitudes of those around them. Their fight for the vote continued for 15 years, even when some were imprisoned.

The Augmentation Principle - The fact that the suffragettes were willing to suffer to make their point, risking imprisonment or even death from the hunger strike, mean that they were taken more seriously by the majority. This resulted in the social change within the UK, when women were finally given the vote in 1918. 

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Further Evaluation

Minority influence doesn't always lead to social change - Minorities are not only lacking in social power but may also be seen as 'deviant' by the majority. Minority influences may create the potential for change rather than leading directly to social change. 

Real-world Application - Social change through terrorism may be understood using the principles of social change. Terrorists show consistency & by showing willingness to die for their belief demonstrates a commitment to their cause.

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