Conformity – Social Psychology

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Last updated: June 18, 2019

Organizational Studies/Psychology 103 Take Home Exam 2, Summer Session, 2010 1. Define conformity, and distinguish between compliance, obedience, and acceptance, giving examples of each. What types of influences lead to conformity? When are we likely to conform and why does it have a negative connotation in Western society? Compare and contrast the conformity experiments of Sherif and Asch. Describe their methodology and the results that they observed. What processes seem to be at work in each case? In your view, would we get the same results today?Conformity is defined by Aronson (1988) as ‘a change in a persons behaviour or opinions as a result of real or imagined pressure from a person or group of people.

Sherif’s (1935) study of the autokinetic effect, which was an optical illusion, is one of the classic conformity experiments. He placed people in a completely dark room and let them observe a pinprick of light for some time; this gave them the illusion that the light moved erratically. Sherif asked individuals to estimate how far the light moved on several trials.Their estimates were typical to that individual. He then asked people the same question in-groups of two or three. Their estimates were of a normative value, (typical to that group). When people were alone again they continued to estimate consistent with the group norm.

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Sherif’s (1935) study was ambiguous, (there was no right or wrong answer), and this made it difficult to draw any definite conclusions about conformity. It meant that individuals relied on the judgments of others when they had no clear way of deciding what judgments to make for themselves.Conformity effects would be better assessed more directly, by having all but one of the participants taking part to give the same answer and then seeing what effect this has on the remaining participant. Jacobs and Campbell carried out an experiment such as this in 1961, using the autokinetic effect. They found strong evidence of conformity. Asch (1955) criticized Sherif’s (1935) study as being ambiguous and uncertain. In his 1955 conformity study, where he asked people to take part in a ‘simple perception task’, he showed them slides of several lines and asked them hich of the three comparison lines was similar to another. The group he used consisted of confederates of the experimenter and the participant, (the confederates were unknown to the participant), and most of the confederates answered before the participant.

On eleven different occasions the confederates gave what was clearly the wrong answer, before the participant was asked to give his. Seventy five percent of participants followed the group on at least one occasion and gave the wrong answer. Some said they did not believe the group was correct but simply went along with them in order to fit in.When Asch tested individuals alone they made fewer than 1% mistakes and when the same participants were in a group that made errors in judgments, they make more than 33% errors. We make errors in judgments to fit in with the rest of the group – even when we know the judgment is incorrect. We rely on others for information about reality, about the validity of our feelings, decisions, behavior etc. We conform because we are unsure of our judgment and not assertive enough. We conform because we need approval and validation.

This study took place in America in the fifties and this may show why people conformed.At the time it was conducted ‘doing your own thing’ was not socially acceptable. Also, Asch’s participants were put in an embarrassing position; they were all in the same room and had to give their answers out loud.

This may have led to greater levels of conformity due to the particular culture at the time. Why do people conform? Why is it that some people will follow others and some people will strive for individuality? A very influential and widely accepted account of group influence is Deutsch and Gerard’s (1955) distinction between informational social influence and normative social influence.Their definition of informational social influence is the need to be right, to have an accurate perception of reality. So when we are uncertain or face a question with no right or wrong answer, we look to others to help us perceive the situation accurately. This social comparison with others is in order to reduce the uncertainty. Normative social influence is the need to be accepted by other people, and to make a favorable impression on them. We conform so that we gain social approval and avoid rejection, others have the power over us to reward, accept, punish, or reject us.A crucial difference between these two types of influence is that informational influence leads people to change their private opinions, whereas normative influence does not.

Alternatively Kelman (1958) argued that there are three main reasons why someone conforms, compliance, identification, and internalization. Compliance involves conforming to the majority even though you may not really agree with them. As this conformity is only superficial, compliance ends when there are no group pressures to conform. Identification occurs when someone conforms to the demands of a given role in society.For example air stewards are always helpful and smiling no matter how they feel inside, they behave this way because they are conforming to what is expected of them.

Internalization occurs when someone conforms because they are really in agreement with the views of the majority. We all conform in some way and at some point in our day-to-day lives, whether it is to our friends, work colleagues or our views on politics and religion. Asch and Sherif helped to define the differences in our ideas of conformity.The concept of compliance is similar to conformity, yet it’s slightly different. For compliance to occur within groups, one must adapt his/her actions to another’s wishes or rules.

Requests for and acts of compliance occur in everyone’s lives. Simply asking someone to perform a task is a request for compliance. The most effective method to gain compliance is through rational persuasion and inspiration. Although this person is asking another to perform a task, he/she is not asking the person to agree or disagree with the task in question.The person requesting the performance of the task is not necessarily attempting to change the other’s beliefs, but simply needs or wants the task to be performed. This notion is what sets conformity and compliance apart. The central aspect of conformity is that the person being influenced by the group change his/her attitudes and/or beliefs while the main point of compliance is the achievement of some specified task. Foot-in-the-door technique (FITD) is a compliance tactic that involves getting a person to agree to a large request by first setting them up by having that person agree to a modest request.

Therefore FITD is a two step compliance technique in which an influencer prefaces the real request by first getting a person to comply with a much smaller request. Obedience is the act of following orders without question because they come from a legitimate authority. When someone orders another to perform some action, and the person complies. Milgram’s experiment involved two people, one confederate would play the part of a student trying to remember different words that they had heard the other person who was the subject played the role of a teacher and gave him the test.He was told to shock the “student” each time he missed a word. Milgram thought that most people wouldn’t shock another human being and especially not all the way up to deadly levels of electricity.

As the “teachers” were told to increase the dosage as they got more answers wrong, he found out that most people would shock their fellow man in this experiment and would be obedient to all the demands made by the instructor since he was the one in a position of authority. 2. Research by Petty and Cacciopo’s (and others) has distinguished two separate routes towards persuasion.What are they and how do they differ? Use examples of an anti-smoking commercial (either one shown in class or available on YouTube) that is an effective or an ineffective persuasive attempt to illustrate the workings of the steps in persuasive appeals. Illustrate what works and what does not work, and where applicable describe how the message might be improved? (Bonus Section – for 5 extra credit points answer the following: How do you best defend against persuasive appeals? What special issues need to be addressed when children are the recipient of persuasive messages? Most approaches to persuasion emphasize one of two distinct routes to attitude change (Petty, ; Cacioppo, 1984). These two routes originate from the Elaboration Likelihood Model.

It also depicts the two routes concerning influential communication which are known as the ‘central’ and ‘peripheral’ routes to persuasion (Petty, E. R, Cacioppo, T. J, (1984). When motivation is low the dependence on cues such as likeability would be greater, therefore the ‘peripheral route’ should be adopted in order for persuasion to succeed. Although there is literature to say they can co-exist (Petty, E.

R, Cacioppo, T. J, (1986). Discussing the ELM model Petty stipulates that “any variable that increases the likelihood of thinking increases the likelihood of engaging the central route” (Kruglanski, W. , A.

, Thompson, P. , E. , (1999), p.

84). Bless supports this concept, and also maintains that ‘the “peripheral route” is likely to be used if motivation and/or ability is low’ (Bless, 1990). To quickly and correctly identify both routes and be conscious of which route may be best suited to the individual will help the persuasive cause, as they will know which tact to employ and emphasize most.Inevitably it is expected that people who appear severely depressed would be hostile, and defensive to any form of persuasive argument. According to Rosenbaum (1980) there is research that has shown that individuals who are in a depressed state, are ‘looking to be distracted from unpleasant thoughts…thus, are willing to elaborate on the message content (Bless et al, (1990), p. 333). Attempts to persuade another person are often accompanied by efforts to change the other’s mood state” (Bless, 1990).

This may appear an obvious assumption based on the hypothesis that ‘individuals in a good mood are more likely to be persuaded than individuals in a bad mood’. The higher a person’s evaluation of a communicator, the more he is apt to change his attitude (Freedman, 1981). From the literature ‘the level of language intensity one chooses to use in any persuasive message is one important language variable’ (Roloff ; Miller, 1980). Repeating a persuasive communication tends to first increase and then decrease agreement (Petty, ; Cacioppo, 1986).The choice of language and repetition can be misinterpreted, implying an attitude or tone of voice that is discouraging, in which case would act as a hindrance to persuasion. This concept becomes particularly more prevalent when dealing with people under stress as studies revealed they are ‘significantly more sensitive to language differences than people in more normal message reception conditions’ (Roloff, E.

M. Miller, R. G. , (1980) p. 52).

This stresses the importance of being perceived as an attractive, credible source. It may not be acceptable to use ‘qualifier’s like “certainly” ’(Roloff, E.M.

Miller, R. G. , (1980) p. 52) as they are documented as too intense considering the circumstance, and fragile state of mind of the individual. It is also extremely important for the listener to believe that the person persuading them is ‘unbiased’ (Freedman et al. , (1981), p. 369).

Establishing trust is critical. This combined with a focus upon drawing a familiar comparison between the persuader and the persuadee is another reoccurring theme relevant to understanding the social psychology of persuasion: “People tend to be influenced by those who are similar to them than by those ho are different” (Freedman et al. , (1981), p. 374). Furthermore, this idea corresponds with the ‘cognitive response approach’ to persuasion: “…recipients of persuasive communication may either elaborate the content of the message or rely on simple cues that are unrelated to the message’s content, such as the communicator’s prestige or likeableness (Bless et al, (1990), p. 332). What you can grasp from this assertion is that the individual views taking their own life as their only route to escape.

The bid is to escape from “falling short of expectations” (Baumeister, F. R. 1990), p. 92) and the nebulous, distorted self-interpretation which they have created for themselves. This would imply truth in Rosenbaum’s (1980) theory that an individual may be more forthcoming when severely depressed, thus choosing to elaborate the conversation as they look to find an alternative route of escape offered by the Samaritan. However, this finding is juxtaposed by Peterson and Seligman (1984) who reiterate that depressed moods have also been found to go along with ‘decreased motivation and thus, may decrease the likelihood of message elaboration’ (Bless et al, (1990), p. 33.

In this instance there is conflict, assessing how the individual is going to react to the communication is complex, and will rely upon first-rate intuition. Besides this, there are some other key fundamentals that the Samaritan should look to develop for the purpose of persuasion. The Samaritan needs to identify how serious the individual’s intention to commit suicide is. It is important to stress, that they should not be dismissive of any threat based on a hunch.However, having some understanding of the gravity in which the threat is based upon will effect how, and what route the Samaritan should take in order to attempt to deter the individual: “As a general rule, the stronger the intention to engage in behaviour, the more likely should be its performance. ” (Ajzen, I.

(1991), p. 181). As a result, it could be that contact with the Samaritan is nothing other than a desperate plea for attention. However underestimating the threat could be a fatal mistake. Thus, manipulating the conversation to attain how strong the person’s ‘behavioral control’ is important.

Perceived behavioral control ‘refers to people’s perception of the ease or difficulty of performing the behaviour of interest’ (Ajzen, I. (1991), p. 184). Moreover, it could be argued here that the individual is not going to find this an easy task, nor is it something they desire to achieve; this is merely the brutal last resort which offers an escape.

To which case their perceived behavioural control level by any means may be low as they are not confidant that this is the right way out. However, it is important to acknowledge that “attitudes get stronger the longer people hold them” (Freedman et al. 1981), P. 398).

As an adviser it is essential to find out the route to which the intention to commit suicide has manifested. The Samaritan needs to discover why in order to be able to make resolutions to try and save them, before their behavioral control conquers and the person becomes lost to their anguish and suicide transpires. Ultimately if the persuasion argument is found to be ‘cogent and compelling’ (Bless et al, (1990), p335), there is less ammunition for counter argument. This may seem all too much an obvious conclusion.What is important to remember is that there is a likely probability that the individual will be unmotivated to listen to reason, therefore more emphasis will be towards the peripheral route to persuasion. Thus, there should be an emphasis on attractive cues which emphasise trust and likeability. The ability to distract the individual, luring them through a mutual comparison, or relating to them in some way will help harvest a connection and obtain their trust. However, the person may be motivated enough to consider, and react to information in accordance with the central route.

To conclude, it is this ability to distinguish how to communicate and discover which way to relate to the individual which is essential to persuasion. There are many factors that will affect a person’s attitude change. Persuasion will be confronted with scepticism to some degree which is why it is crucial for the troubled individual to be able to believe what is being said by the Samaritan. Choosing to evaluate and develop some of the techniques mentioned should build trust, and ultimately support the persuasive message. 3.

What is a group and what is the most important reason for our joining a group (be sure to fully justify your answer)? Why is it that sometimes groups improve performance while at other times being with others will detract from our performance? Using examples of the positive and negative influence of groups, illustrate the factors that are influencing us and discuss how we might predict the direction of group effects. When can individuals withstand group pressures and how can one person most influence group processes? 4. What is prejudice? How is it related to discrimination?What are the main sources related to its development, and be sure to clearly explain the psychological processes involved? Describe what you feel is the most important experimental study of the nature of prejudice. What questions did the authors seek to answer, what factors were involved, how did they go about studying it, and what did they find? (Bonus Section – for 5 extra credit points answer the following: Given what we know about how prejudice forms, how can we combat it? What possible things can we do to reduce prejudice and what conditions are necessary for our methods to be effective? Stereotypes are the basis of prejudice and discrimination. Prejudice is bias, the negative opinions, beliefs, feelings and judgments held about individuals because of their group categorization.

Attitudes and prejudice are also linked. If an individual has a negative attitude towards a group, the affect (feelings) they have towards that group will be negative. Likewise, their behavior (actions) and cognition (thoughts) are likely to be negative. They will therefore have prejudice, negative thoughts, feelings and judgments towards the particular group.This results in negative behaviors, discrimination. Social influence is a factor that contributes to the development of prejudice. Individuals want to identify themselves as part of a group (self categorization).

They therefore conform to the group standards to feel part of and accepted by the group. Conflict or competition between two groups often leads to prejudice. Groups form negative attitudes and use derogatory terms for the opposing group to feel better about themselves. Individuals in the opposing group are therefore prejudged to be like their social group and are not seen as individuals.Intergroup contact, super ordinate goals and cognitive-interventions are all factors which may reduce prejudice. Superordinate goals are common goals between two groups and can only be achieved if both groups work together. Intergroup contact involves co-operative interdependence (groups depending on each others co-operation) and promotes equality. Cognitive-intervention is a way of weakening prejudices.

This can be done by motivating others to be non-prejudice and making them aware that all people should be treated equally (egalitarianism) (Myers, 2008). 5.What possible roles can a social psychologist perform within the legal system, and what challenges are posed in these roles? Using the film, 12 Angry Men as your basis, discuss the two most significant illustrations of social psychology in the film. Finally, how can psychological findings be applied to improve the legal system, and what effect should these findings have on the legal process? There are few examples of group dynamics as complete and realistic as the film “Twelve Angry Men”. This film was not only entertaining, but it also serves as a great example of many of the theories and aspects of social psychology.The film touched on several very important theories: process loss in group decisions, groupthink, the fatal attribution error, normative social influence, and social norms. One of the first concepts to be seen in the film was process loss in-group decisions.

Process loss is any part of group functioning that will inhibit good problem solving. This will occur when a group follows the leadership of one of its lesser informed members, much like the group of men following the leadership of the head juror; although he was not the most qualified member of the group he was in charge of explaining their duties to the others.It could also be argued that the most active jurors for prosecution were less qualified leaders as well. As quickly as one man could say it was an open and shut case all the other jurors had followed his lead and agreed. Another cause of process loss seen in the movie was the failure to share relevant information. For the opening stage of deliberations Mr. Davis says nothing of the doubts and theories he has on why the boy is innocent; the other jurors share the information that leads them to believe he is guilty and all come to the conclusion that he should be convicted.

This is much like what happened in the 1985 study conducted by Stasser and Titus where shared facts on a candidate’s qualifications led the voters to find that candidate more appealing than when they had several differing facts on his qualifications and shortcomings. Another factor of this study that parallels the film is that over time the facts unknown to the entire group were eventually made known; Mr. Davis eventually shares his insight with the group and causes the others to question their certainty. A very important aspect of group interactions closely related to process loss is groupthink.It is actually a cause of process loss where the cohesiveness of the group becomes more important to its members than actually considering the facts. This is incredibly applicable to the characters in the film because the very conditions that lead to groupthink are those that characterize a jury; the group must be cohesive, isolated, high stress and have obvious and strong leadership. This phenomenon leads to the censorship of members and the pressure to conform as we see in the early stages of the deliberation process in the film.The film also addresses one of the main ways to combat group-think; they utilize a secret ballot and allow the jurors to remain anonymous.

The usefulness of these techniques to reduce groupthink are immediately evident in the film; while all others are watching the vote remains 11-1 and when a secret ballot is utilized the vote becomes only 10-2 in favor of conviction. After the jurors realize the deliberations are going to take longer than first thought, they enter into a stage of discussion where another key aspect of social psychology becomes evident.The fundamental attribution error occurs when persons focus too much on the internal, dispositional causes of actions and underestimate the effect of the situation on behavior. It is quite clear who is making the fundamental attribution error when the jurors begin talking about the defendant and his background. One of the jurors for prosecution stated that “children from the slums (the suspect’s home) were nothing but potential menaces to society” and another simply called his type liars; they also brought up his past record.

They are clearly attacking this man’s character and stating that the situation was not incredibly important. Even if the evidence does not necessarily add up the man is still a liar and his type does not deserve to be free. Only a few jurors fight this error of judgment and remind the others that his rough upbringing may have had something to do with his past convictions and that this situation did not necessarily warrant violence toward his father. Another aspect of social psychology that is demonstrated by the characters in the film is that of social roles and the need to follow them.Social norms are rules that explain how persons are expected to behave in certain situations; if a social norm is rebelled against the results are often extreme. This is seen incredibly easily in how well the words of the jurors mirror the actions of participants in a 1951 study by Schacter.

In the psychological study on norm breaking, a confederate consistently went against the group in a discussion on the possible sentencing of an imaginary juvenile delinquent.The group first tried to bring the deviant back to the group norm and after no success proceeded to ignore and then punish him for his dissenting belief. The very same things happen to the characters who fail to conform to the norm; when Mr. Davis is the lone dissenter one of the other jurors asks that he tell the group where he was “mixed up” so they could try to “straighten (him) out”.

Another example of this same sort of behavior occurs when one of the last three jurors standing for conviction begins speaking passionately about his prejudicial beliefs about the defendant.As he is talking, the other members of the jury remove themselves from the table and proceed to ignore him, exactly the same type of behavior predicted by the Schacter study. Lastly, this film cannot be critiqued without discussing normative social influence, conforming in order to be accepted and liked by others. It is a clearly present factor in the actions of the characters in the film seen from the very first vote of the jurors; during the preliminary vote when asked for a guilty vote only a few hands were raised immediately while most waited until they had seen what the others would choose.This effect is most famously demonstrated in the study by Asch conducted in 1951. In this study participants were asked to select one of three lines that most closely matched the standard line given while in groups of 6. All but one of the participants were confederates and gave the same incorrect answer for each of the line sets. Because of the pressure to conform to the group, the participant chose the group’s answer over the correct one at least once in 76 percent of trials.

This is the same effect that 11 other jurors can have on a person in a deliberation setting; when it appeared that all group members would choose guilty all but one conformed to the group. There are several reasons why it is difficult for a person to stand out as a minority among a larger group; if the group is very close in time and space it is harder to stand alone and it is also more difficult when the group is three or more-all of these factors tied to the jury setting. One other factor that increases the effect of normative social influence is the availability of allies.This was seen in the Asch study by participants yielding to the group in only 5 percent of trials when given a partner or ally who also chose the correct answer. We also see this in the film; when the fourth juror changes his vote to not guilty one of the other not guilty voters smiles and nods his head in approval when the other juror looks to him.

It has become quite obvious that the film “Twelve Angry Men” is not only still entertaining despite its old age, but it is also a wealth of social psychological knowledge.Several important theories and aspects of the field are clearly demonstrated by the characters in the film, such as groupthink, the fatal attribution error, and normative social influence. These as well as several others mark this film as one that will maintain its status in the classroom for many years to come, until another film manages to capture the complexities group dynamics so masterfully and completely.Bibliography Myers, D. G.

(2008). Social Psychology, ninth edition. McGraw-Hill, New York. Bibliography: Ajzen. I. (1991) The Theory of Planned Behavior.

Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 50: 27-58. Baumeister. F. R. (1990) Suicide as Escape From Self.

Psychological Review. 97 (1) 90-113 Bless. H, Bohner, G. Schwarz, N and Strack, F.

(1990) Mood and Persuasion: A Cognitive Response Analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 16 (2): 331-345 Freedman. L. J.

, O. Sears. D. and Merrill Carlsmith. J.

(1981) Social Psychology. 4. ed. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. Kruglanski. W. A and Thompson. P.

E. (1999) Persuasion By a Single Route: A View From the Unimodel. Journal of Psychological Inquiry. 10 (2): 83-109. Petty, E. R.  nd Cacioppo. T.

J. (1984) The Effects of Involvement on Responses to Argument Quantity and Quality: Central and Peripheral Routes to Persuasion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,46 (1): 69-81 Petty, E. R. and Cacioppo. T. J. (1986) The Elaboration Likelihood Model of Persuasion.

Advances in Experimental Social Psychology: 19: 123-162 Roloff. E. M. and Miller. R. G.

(1980) Persuasion: New Directions in Theory and Research. 3ed. London: Sage Publications.


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