Sunday, September 19, 2004

Conformity: A Mini Essay

Conformity can be defined as adjusting your behaviour or thinking to match those of other people or a group standard. This can be due to a desire to fit in or be accepted - ‘normative influence’ and believing the knowledge of others is superior – ‘informational influence’.

Previous research into conformity has been conducted by Sherif (1935), Asch (1951,1956).

Sherif tested conformity using the ‘auto kinetic effect’: when looking at a stationary spot of light in the dark, small eye movements make the light appear to move. Participants were tested first as individuals and asked to estimate how far they thought the light had moved. They were then put into groups and asked to again estimate how far they thought the light had moved. Results showed when tested individually, all the participants had very different estimates, but group results showed that estimates had amalgamated to form a group norm. Sherif believed that he had shown the existence of conformity. The participants had experienced informational influence. Asch (1951,1956), however was critical of Sherif’s study, claiming the task was ambiguous and therefore meant it was hard to draw full conclusions on conformity. People are likely to rely on the potential knowledge of others if they are not sure about the answer themselves. Asch went on to improve on Sherif’s study. His aim was to study ‘social and personal conditions that induce individuals to resist or yield to group pressures’. He designed a task which involved four lines on a display – A, B, C and D. Participants, in groups of seven, were asked to say which line, B, C or D, was the same length as line A. The first six participants were confederates and gave the same wrong answer leaving the real participant to give his or her opinion last. The results were compared to a second group with no confederates. The results were that the real participant gave the incorrect answer on 37% of the trials with confederates compared with 0.7% of the participants giving the incorrect answer in the control group. Asch believed he had shown the existence of informational influence. However, there are a couple of limitations regarding this study. Firstly, the study took place in 1950’s America, where conformity was more socially acceptable, and therefore may not be relevant to today’s culture. Secondly, the study could be said to lack ecological validity, that is the task set is not relevant to everyday situations – we are not often asked to choose which two lines are the same – and therefore the results may not be relevant to everyday life.

copyright - rory magurran 2004