Conformity in groups, their answers were very different at

Conformity is
one of the key types of social influence. It involves a person changing their
beliefs, attitude or behaviour in act of “yielding to group pressures” (Crutchfield, 1955 cited in Simplypsychology.org, 2018).

One of the
earliest studies on Conformity was carried out by Muzafer Sherif in 1935. He
believed that people conformed because they were trying to follow social norms
and fit into society by following everyone else’s lead. For his study, he
wanted to see how a social norm starts and how it is then followed by others.
He showed a group of participants a visual illusion by using a small light in a
dark room which appeared to move around erratically when it actually didn’t
move at all. The participants were shown the light individually and then asked
to say how far they think the light moved and what direction. Sherif found that
the estimates for this were very varied among the participants. He found that
when the participants were in groups of two or three, their average for how far
the light had moved changed (Hodges, B.
H. 2014). When they were asked to say their answers out loud in groups,
their answers were very different at first. However, by the end of 100 trials
the estimates from the individuals were very close which suggested they had
formed a norm among the group. Sherif’s study suggested that social norms form
through groups or the presence of other people and people automatically conform
to this norm to avoid being singled out or simply because they are unsure of
their answer and so just follow what they think is right. This study showed
that people do conform to social norms without realising and follow the crowd
in hope of getting the answer right, even when there is no right answer. Although
this study clearly showed how easily and frequently people conform to social
norms, this study lacks ecological validity as it was carried out in an
un-natural setting and they were taking part in an activity which they would be
highly unlikely to experience in everyday life. There are also issues with the
task itself as the light wasn’t actually moving and so there was no correct
answer which meant we can’t be sure of what the participants actually saw and
so in order for more accurate results, there should be a definite answer.

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Another study on
Conformity was carried out in 1951 by Solomon Asch. He developed on the study
by Sherif but he wanted to test the influence a majority could have on an
individual instead. He told participants for this study that they were taking
part in a test about vision and showed them one single line followed by three
other lines and they simply had to state which of the three lines was the same
length as the single line. The study was carried out in groups but there was
only one genuine participant, the rest were what Asch referred to as “stooges”
which were fake participants. The test started out very simple and easy and the
participants each had to say their answer out loud to the rest of the group,
but the real participant was always one of the last people to answer. The fake
participants deliberately gave the wrong answer and Asch wanted to see if
people would give the correct answer or if they would conform to the rest of
the group who were obviously wrong.  The
group was shown 18 different scenarios and of these 18, the fake participants
gave the wrong answer for 12 of them.

Overall, 75%
conformed at least once and 25% didn’t conform at all which means that on
average, the participants conformed in 37% of the trials (Plumridge, 2013). Asch found that when a participant was faced with
only 1 of the “stooges” conformity dropped to 3% yet when they were faced with
3 of them, conformity soared to 32% so he came to the conclusion that
conformity was influenced by the situation and not by the people or type of
person someone is. This study produced clear results and showed significant
evidence of conformity but there are some issues with this study. Asch’s study
had relatively low ecological validity as the task was not something that the
participants would do in everyday life but, however, they would take part in
tasks which were similar such as public meetings and voting. There are also
some ethical issues in terms of the stress the participants were put under as some
were reported to have become agitated, uncomfortable and bite their lips. The
participants were also lied to in the first instance by not being informed what
the experiment was actually about so this study was carried out through
deception. The results of this study may also be era-dependent as it was
carried out in the USA during a time where conformity was the social norm and
it was encouraged so the results may be a reflection of this.

 

One of the most controversial
studies on Conformity was carried out by Phillip Zimbardo in 1971. He set out
to discover if the way people behaved is mainly influenced by factors such as
personality or if it is linked to the roles that people play within social
norms. This study involved recruiting student volunteers to act as prisoners
and guards in a mock prison where the “prisoners” were locked in cells and left
in the hands of the “guards”. The study was originally supposed to run for a
fortnight but was terminated after 6 days due to how deep into their roles the
students became. The students which had been imprisoned rebelled against the “guards”
who responded with punishments, taunts and mind games. One of the students in
particular became very focused in his role as a guard and began to lead the
others into turning the prisoners against each other, punishing them and trying
to break them down. By the sixth day, the prisoners had become very obedient,
fearful and impassive towards the guards (Psycholigistworld.com,
2017). Zimbardo claimed that his study showed that people are very much
influenced by the situations they are in and that a person is influenced
heavily by these situations to change their behaviour and it had nothing to do
with a person’s belief or moral compass. There is reason to suggest that this
study had low ecological validity due to the fact that it seemed as though the
students were role playing or acting during the study and so the conformity
shown in the experiment could be viewed as false but Zimbardo argued that the
students were completely immersed in their roles and genuinely thought they
were in that role and, so it actually has good ecological validity. Throughout
the experiment, there was a distinct lack of ethical treatment. Although the
students had signed up for the study and were being paid, they endured a great
deal of physical, emotional and mental stress during their time in the study
and so this meant they had not been protected from harm. Zimbardo argued that
no one could have predicted what would happen and that he had gained permission
from various psychologists beforehand and so although it may not be ethically
strong, it produced genuine and valid results which he later applied to events
such as the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in order to explain why
there is evil in the world.

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