Social Influence, Conformity and Obedience


Social Influence and Conformity Definitions

Social Influence is the effect that other people have on our behaviour.

Conformity involves a change in opinions or behavious in order to fit it with a group.

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Deutsch and Gerard (1955)- Reasons why we conform

Deutsch and Gerard (1955) say that there are two explanations for why we conform:                                                                                   1) People conform to be right-Informational Social Influence             

Informational Social Influence (ISI), the individual conforms to group norms because he/she does not know what to do and looks to the group for guidence. Situations such as:Emergancy,crisis,expert or new situations.                                   2) People conform to be liked+accepted-Normative Social Influence    

 Normative Social Influence (NSI), the individual conforms to avoid rejection by the group or to gain social approval. They usually disagree when away from the group. In stressful situations, people have a greater need for social support.                                        

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x3 Types of Conformity-Internalisation

Herbert Kelman (1958) suggested there was 3 types of conformity.

1) Internalisation-this happens when a person publicly change their behaviour to match the majority but also change their own beliefs (public and private change)

For example: a person who smokes might give up smoking because their friends are non-smokers but at the same time become firm believers that smoking is bad and damaging to your body.

               Thinking changes+Behaviour changes!     

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x3 Types of Conformity-Identification

Herbert Kelman (1958) suggested there was 3 types of conformity.

2) Identification- we publicly change our opinions and behaviour to match the group, even if we dont privately believe with everything it stands for. 

For example, you might become a vegan because your friends are and you like going out for dinner with them. But you can't truly bring yourself to hate bacon..


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x3 Types of Conformity-Complicance

Herbert Kelman (1958) suggested there was 3 types of conformity.

3) Complicance-Any changes to your opinions and behaviour are just temporary-once the people in the majority are no longer present, you can go back to behaving as you always had. This is the most superficial type of conformity.

For example, fashion, a certain brand may be "in trend" but honestly you have no interest in it whatsoever. 

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Exam type/style questions

1) One type of conformity is internalisation. Explain what is meant by this term. This is when you conform publicly and privately to a belief. You genuinely believe  in it while agreeing with the majority.

2) What is meant by informational social influence while explaining conformity? It's when people conform to group norms as they dont know what to do and looks to someone for guidance.

3) Which is the weakest type of conformity? A change in behaviour or opinions to fit in to be liked or accepted-compliance.

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Solomon Asch

Sheriff=Early study into conformity with an ambiguous answer therefore people copied because there was no right or wrong answer.

Asch (1955) designed a study to investigate conformity in an unambiguous situation, where a group of confederates all gave an obviously wrong answer to see how many of the particapants would conform to an incorrect answer.

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Asch's study-Aim, method, results and conclusion

Aim  To investigate conformity through responses of participants to group pressure in an unambiguous situation.                               

Method  123 naive male participants tested in a group of six to eight confederates. Participants were asked to select one of the 3 test lines which matched the control line. The confederates were told to unanimously select the wrong test line 12 out of the 18 times to see what effect would be on the participant.                                 

Results   Of the 12 critical trials, the participant gave the wrong answer 1/3 of the time, agreeing with the confederates. 25% of the participants never gave the wrong answer, 75% conformed once.

Conclusion People are influenced by group pressure. Also high level of independence and majority went against group opinion. 

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Evaluation of Asch's study

  • It was child of the times
  • An artificial task
  • Cultural differences


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Evaluation of Asch's study-continued

- A weakness in Asch's study may have only been relevant in the 1950's America-it may only reflect conformity in 1950's America. Under the rule of senator McCarthy,who aimed to ostracise anyone who didn't obey. People were scared to behave differently to the majority. Perrin and Spencer (1980) conducted a study, UK, found only 1 in 396 trials  a conforming response. This suggests that the 'Asch effect' is not consistent over time-lacks temporal validty.

- Another weakness is that the task is an artificial task. Being asked to judge the length of a line (a trivial task) with a group of strangers doesn't reflect everyday situations where people conform. This means that the results may not explain more serious real-world situations.

- His research is more reflective of conformity in individualist cultures such as America and the Uk which have lower conformity rates compared to collectivist countries such as China when studies were carried out. This suggests that Asch's results cannot be generalised to collectivist cultures.

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Conformity-Social and Dispositional (definitions)

Dispositional factors: You conform because you have a more conformist personality or are less confident. It is something about your characteristics.

Social factors:  You conform because there is features of your surroundings-real or imagined pressure from others.


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Social and Dispositional Factors

Group size (The size of the majority was reduced to below 2 in Asch's study). CONFORMITY DECREASES when the majority is reduced. Less group pressure as there are fewer people.

Anonymity Participants could write down their answers in Asch's study. CONFORMITY DECREASES when there is less gorup pressure as people dont know your answer-Huang and Li showed that people conform more amongst people they know.

Task Difficulty The lines were changed so that they were similar in length in Asch's study. CONFORMITY INCREASES when people are less confident with their own answers so they look to others for the right information-Informational Social Influence.

Personality People with an internal locus of control leads to CONFORMITY DECREASES they ignore other social factors. They feel as they influence what happens to them so will be less affected by others.

Expertise People with a greater amount of knowledge on a subject such as Maths. CONFORMITY DECREASES when experts are more confident in their own opinion and are less affected by what others think.How we've behaved in the past is a better predictor of our future behaviour.

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Obedience-Milgram's study

Obedience is following the orders or demands from somebody who you think is a legitimate authority figure.

Aim Milgrim wanted to investigate whether in certain circumstances, a normal person would give somebody a potentially lethal electric shock if told to do so by an authority figure. 

Method 40 male participants were gathered, their age ranging from 20 to 50. Particpants were told the study was on memory when really to look at obedience. Participants were introduced to a confederate called Mr Wallace. The shocks were not real.Went up in 15 volt increments all the way to 450 volts. intense screaming, shouting etc. If the teacher was reluctant to continue the experimenter used a series of ‘prods’ to convince him to carry on. For example, "the experiement requires you to continue".

Results 65% would go on to 450 volts if told to do so by an authority figure. 100% people would go to 300 volts

Conclusion Milgrim concluded that obedience had little to do with dispositional factors. It actually the situations and social factors which had more of an effect: lab coat, new situation loctaion(university), annoymous.

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Evaluation of Milgram's study

  • Lacked realism
  • Supported by other studies
  • Had ethical issues


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Evaluation of Milgram's study-continued

Lacked Realism One weakness of this study is that it lacked realism as the partcipants may not believed that the shocks were real. Gina Perry (2013) believed that the participants voiced their suspicions about the legitimacy of the shocks. This suggests that Milgram's participants went along with the study because they didn't want to spoil it.

+ Suppported by other research French TV reality show 'La Zone Extreme' created a similar situation where the contestants were paid to give electric shocks when ordered to by the presenter. 80% went up to 460 volts. This suggests that Milgram's results were not faked but represented genuine obedience.

- Ethical Issues Another weakness of Milgram's study was that his participants experienced considerable stress-not what they would get on a regular day.He could have caused psychological damage to the participants because they really thought they were causing pain to the learner. These issues question whether this study should have ever been carried out.

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Milgram's Agency Theory

Milgram proposed an agency theory which states that people operate on two levels.

  • Autonomous state, where they behave according to their own principles and are aware of the consequences of their decisions.
  • Agentic state, when they see themselves as agents of others, no personal responsibility for their actions, follow orders blindly.

eg. Jonestown, people are willing to follow destructive orders.

1. Authority-If a legitimate authority is percieved-->agentic shift from autonomous state to agentic

2. Culture-most societies have a social heirachy-obedience to authority is a strong social norm, we're taught from a young age to obey authority figures.

3. Proximity-refers to how close or near to eachother things are. In Milgram's study, when the experimenter left the room obedience levels fell massively because the proximity changed. 65% to 45%. Proximity increases the 'moral strain' a person feels which leads to an increased sense of personal responability.

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Evaluation of Milgram's agency theory

+Research support Blass and Schmitt showed a film of Milgram's study to a group of students who blamed the 'experiementer' rather than the 'teacher' for the harm done to the learner. Therefore the students recognise the legitimate authority of the experimenter as the cause of obedience.

-Doesn't explain all findingsone weakness is that the agency theory can't explain why there isn't 100% obedience. In Milgram's study 35% of the participants didn't go up to the maxium shock of 450 volts. This means social factors cannot fully explain obedience.

- The obedience alibi This gives people an excuse for "blind obedience". Nazis were doing much worse than just 'following orders'-some were racist and prejudiced. This means the agency theory is potentially dangerous as it excuses people

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Crowd and collective behaviour

Deindividuation is a psychological state where the individual loses their own identity and takes on the group identity of those around them. This can happen when in a crowd or when wearing a uniform that represents a particular social group. eg. when being recorded or camera -CCTV?, at a football match, bullying, antisemetic

  • Loose values
  • Loose sense of self
  • take on board characteristics of the group

Derren Brown remote control game show (                     

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