Describe and evaluate research studies of conformity (12)
Asch recruited 123 male student volunteers to take part in a ‘vision’ test that was actually a study of conformity to a majority. He showed participants seated round a table a series of liens and asked them to judge which of the three lines were the same length as the standard line. All but one participant were confederates and the real participant always answered last. Confederates were instructed to give the same incorrect answer on 12 of the 18 trials and to answer correctly on the other 6. He found that on the 12 critical trials, participants conformed to the majority 36.8% of the time. However, 1/4 of participants didn’t conform at all. He also conducted a control trial with no confederates to test that the lines were unambiguous. and found that people made mistakes about 1% of the time, but this could not explain the relatively high levels of conformity in the main study.
A weakness of this research is that there are ethical concerns as the participants were deceived about the true purpose of the task. They also weren’t aware that the other participants were confederates of the experimenter. Although it can be argued that the deception was relatively mils, there remains the possibility that some participants might be unhappy about the fact they had been deceived. Another weakness is that the study has been criticised for being a child of its time by Perrin and Spencer. They suggested the findings may be unique to one particular culture and a particular time within that culture. They suggested this as when they repeated the study in the UK, they found it difficult to match the conformity rates Asch achieved. However, when they changed the conditions to make the perceived cost of not conforming high, they obtained the same levels of conformity as Asch. They proposed this was due to the era of McCarthyism in 1956 America when Asch carried out his study as it was a period where people were scared to be different. A final weakness is that although Asch’s research is always cited as a demonstration of conformity, it ignores the fact that on about 2/3 of the trials, the participants stuck to their original opinion despite being faced by a unanimous majority. This suggests that Asch’s study actually showed that people have a tendency to stick to their opinion rather than follow the crowd or a greater tendency towards independent behaviour.
Describe and evaluate two explanations of conformity (12)
Normative social influence (NSI) proposes that people conform because they want to be part of the crowd and accepted by others. This suggests that conformity occurs because humans are a social species and so people fear rejection. They go along with the majority to be accepted by the group, but conformity is only superficial and doesn’t involve a change in the underlying attitude and therefore this form of conformity is a product of compliance rather than internalisation.