Conformity Key Studies

You are here

Conformity Key Studies

There are three important key studies that you should know:

The autokinetic effect: In this experiment, a single point of light in a dark room seems to move. In the experiment, the subjects are unable to keep their eyes perfectly still and, in the dark, there is no point of reference.

Conformity Key Studies

Sherif conducted two versions of this experiment:

  1. Individuals were asked to estimate how far they thought the light moved, then tested them together in a group. Estimates in the group converged as they established a 'group norm'. This was close to the average of estimates they gave individually.
  2. A group was asked to give estimates of how far they thought the light moved then they were asked to give individual estimates, these were very close to the group estimate.

Sherif claimed that he had shown conformity. The individuals were experiencing informational social influence.

Criticism of Sherif's work:

The 'group' used consisted of three people. They may not have considered themselves to be a group.

There was no right or wrong answer, it was an ambiguous task, and Sherif told them that he was going to move the light, so they were more likely to chane their minds anyway.

Solomon Asch thought he would improve on Sherif's work and really demonstrate conformity. He showed just how easy it is to influence someone into saying something blatantly wrong!

Asch showed a group of people a series of cards similar to the ones below:

Conformity Key Studies

Each test had only one innocent subject, the others in each group were stooges. When he gave the stooges a secret signal they all gave a predetermined incorrect answer.

The results:

74% of the innocent participants went along with the group and conformed, giving the incorrect answer at least once.

If you count all the trials carried out, 34% showed conformity.

Asch went on to test out different conditions on levels of conformity using the same set up. His method became known as the Asch paradigm.

Asch concluded that various factors can affect the level of conformity:

  1. Three 'stooges' produced maximum levels of conformity. With very large numbers, conformity levels drop dramatically (perhaps the game is then too obvious!).
  2. Just one stooge not going along is enough to dramatically reduce conformity levels.
  3. Difficult tasks tend to lead to more conformity.
  4. Ambiguous tasks tend to lead to more conformity as people may feel less certain of their own ideas.
  5. Men may try to appear more independent because of social expectations.
  6. Women tend to show more conformity than men do when their answers are said out loud, publicly.
  7. Low self-esteem may lead to higher conformity. This reflects low self-confidence or strong need for approval of others.
  8. Conformity rates are higher when people are attracted to other members of the group.

Have you ever agreed with someone just because you fancy them?

Criticism of Asch's work:

Some critics thought the high levels of conformity found by Asch were a reflection of American, 1950's culture:

'It was time-consuming and uneconomical'. (Crutchfield)

'Tasks set not like real-life situations'. (Crutchfield)

'It did not account for minority'. influences

This experiment was designed to show conformity to social roles, this is an an example of normative influence. Volunteers were given authority and asked to act as guards over other volunteers who were prisoners.

Aim: to see the psychological effects of making 'normal', 'good' people into prisoners or guards.

Volunteers: 24 middle class, male college students, mentally sound in tests and no criminal records, were paid $15 per day and divided into prisoners or guards by the flip of a coin.

Procedure: Prisoners were arrested at their homes at the start of the study, blindfolded and taken to Stanford University Psychology Department basement, which had been converted into a realistic prison! From then on the volunteers were treated as prisoners by the other volunteers who were guards.

End of the study: The study was stopped after six days because the guards became sadistic and the prisoners became extremely stressed.

Questions to consider:

  • What does Zimbardo's study teach us about police procedures?
  • What are the effects of living with no windows or clocks?
  • Why were prisoners dressed in smocks with no underwear and given stocking caps and ID numbers?
  • Why did guards wear mirrored sunglasses?
  • What instructions were the guards given?
  • How much had the prisoners given informed consent to?
  • What sort of punishments did the guards give to the prisoners?
  • How did guards deal with an initial rebellion?