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Explanations For Conformity

There are two main explanations for how conformity occurs which are informational social influence and normative social influence. You need to know both if you are studying AQA psychology.

Informational Social Influence

Informational Social Influence (ISI): ISI occurs when individuals are unsure how to behave in a particular situation and therefore look to the opinions and behaviours of others to shape their own opinions on how they should behave and act. This most commonly occurs in unfamiliar settings with conformity to the crowd presenting a safe option as it avoids standing out from the majority (possibly due to embarrassment, rejection or outsider status but also due to lack of knowledge on the person’s behalf too on appropriate behaviour). In Asch’s study a minority of participants stated they doubted their own opinions and therefore agreed with confederate responses which showed Informational social influence occurring. As the behaviour usually involves changing public behaviour and internally accepting the behaviour of others must be correct this is an example of internalisation occurring.

An example of ISI is when a person may be at an unfamiliar restaurant and presented with different cutlery to use for different dishes. If they are unaware of the correct dining etiquette they may look to others to try understand which cutlery is used for each dish.

Key Studies Into Informational Social Influence

Sherif (1935)

Procedure: Sherif placed participants were placed in a dark room and subjected them to an optical illusion known as the auto-kinetic effect. This illusion shows a still point of light appearing to move and participants were then asked to estimate how fair they believed the light had moved. They were asked to estimate the movement first individually and then as a group and finally as individuals again.

Findings: Participants were seen to change from their own initial individual estimate when working in the group and a group norm appeared. When estimating individually again after this group estimate, participants were seen to change their initial individual estimates to reflect the group’s estimate. As there was no actual correct answer participants were seen to rely on each other for what they believed to be correct highlighting how informational social influence had occurred.

Arthur Jenness (1932)

Procedure: Jenness conducted research which was originally set to test how group interaction affected judgement however it became a key study into informational social influence. Participants were tasked with estimating the number of jellybeans contained in a jar. There was no obvious answer with estimation being difficult therefore group members were affected by informational social influence as they looked to one another on how to respond. Initially participants made their own private estimates before holding a group discussions on one another’s opinions. Group estimates were then presented with a private individual estimate made after from each participant.

Results: The findings were the individuals second private estimate shifted to agree with the group estimate with women displaying a greater average change of opinion. The conclusions were in ambiguous/unfamiliar situations lead to judgements being affected by the majority viewpoint.

Normative Social Influence

Normative Social Influence (NSI): NSI is a form of compliance and occurs when the main motivation is to be accepted, liked and respected by the group and to avoid disapproval, rejection or ridicule. The individual may also fear punishment in some form such as exclusion and even though they publicly agree with the group’s viewpoint, internally and in private settings they may disagree.

Key Studies Into Normative Social Influence

Soloman Asch (1955)

Procedure: Asch gathered male student volunteers to take part in a laboratory experiment for what they believed to be a test of vision. Participants were shown a stimulus line and then three other lines known as A, B or C. They were asked one by one to say out loud which of the 3 sets of lines shown from A, B or C matched the original stimulus line they were shown. All except one student were confederates which were primed to give the same incorrect responses. The real participant always answered last or second to last in their response after having observed the confederates answer. In total 123 American students were tested.

Results: In control trials without confederates participants gave incorrect responses approximately 0.7% of the time. In critical trials over one third (37%) of real participants conformed to the majority groups incorrect answer. 75% of the real participants also conformed at least once in the experiments. Normative Social influence was the reason given by most participants as the reason for conforming to the majority’s incorrect view.

You can learn about types of conformity here which is also in unit 1.

 How to reference/cite this information:

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