Psychology Unit 2: Social Influence, Obedience and Conformity

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Psychology Unit 2: Social Influence




Social Influence: The effect other people have on our behaviour. This includes conformity, obedience and social loafing.

Conformity: a change in a person’s behaviour or opinions due to group pressure.

Normative Social Influence: when we conform to be accepted by the group, so as not to be ridiculed.

Informational Social Influence: when we use other people’s behaviour as information because we don’t know how to act.


               Why do we conform?

  • There is a need to be right: When we are in a situation  where we do not know what so say/act, we will see what  other people are doing and assume that they are correct.
  • The belief that others are superior in knowledge/age: We  might not know what fork or knife to use, so we look at  the person next to us and copy them.
  • There is a need to be liked: When we are in a social  situation, we have a strong desire to be accepted.


The extent to which our behaviour is affected will vary depending on whom we are with at the time.



           Research Study – Sherif (1935)

  Aim: to discover the effect of judgment on other people’s  behaviour

  Method: He asked participants to estimate how far a spot of  light moved in an otherwise completely dark room. In fact,  the spot of light didn’t move at all, but owing to an  optical illusion called the auto kinetic effect, it did  appear to.

  Results: When the experiment was conducted with  individuals, their answers were all very different. However,  when this experiment was conducted in groups of three, their  estimates were much more similar, until later on, they were  very close.

   Conclusion: The participants used other people’s opinions  to form   a judgment on an otherwise ambiguous situation.

Evaluation Points for Sherif (1935)

  • Lack of Ecological Validity: He used a situation that was  ambiguous, which was unusual and unlikely to happen in an  everyday situation.
  • No real answer: the situation was ambiguous; the  participants did not know the distance the light moved. So  this does not demonstrate conformity.



            Research Study – Asch (1951)

   Aim: to discover the extent to which social pressure from a  majority group could affect a person to conform.

   Method: a set of participants are seated at a table and  shown a card with a reference line on it. They are then  shown three other lines and asked which of the three lines  are identical to the reference line. Five are confederates  of the examiner and one of them is an actual participant.  The confederates are told to give an incorrect answer when  shown a secret signal. The participant who isn’t the  confederate is the last person to answer, so they see the  answers of everyone else


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