The Power of Conformity

Conformity

Psychologists are interested in conformity, because it help in predicting behaviors for various individuals. Conformity in psychology refers to

"an individual's behaviors that adheres to the behavior patterns of a particular group of which that individual is a member".

People conform to abide the unspoken rules or guidelines for a behavior social norms. Conformity, a powerful force will make us want to conform to the social norm: we will behave and do things that conflict with our attitudes, beliefs, ethics, or morals when we adjust ourselves to social norm. Behavioral psychologists found interest in conformity for these reasons (stated above).

To systematically study human's tendency to conform, Solomon Asch conducted an experiment which offered great new information about conforming behavior, and further researches in the future.

Theoretical Propositions

Asch and many others believed researchers should be able to manipulate a person's behavior by applying group pressure to conform, if conformity was as powerful as they believed.

Method

Visual Material:
  • Pairs of Cards
    • Three different lengths of vertical lines (also called comparison lines)
    • A single standard line (the same leangth as one of the three comparison lines) [Labelled as Reference on the diagram below]
The experimental process is simple. Imagine you are a subject who has volunteered to participate in a visual perception study. You arrive at the experiment room on time and find seven other subjects already seated in a row. You take a seat at the end of the row.

The experimenter reveals a pair of cards and asks you to determine which of the three comparison lines is the smae length as the standard line. You look at the lines and immediately decide on the correct response. Starting at the far end of the row away from you, each subject is asked individually for his or her answer. Everyone gives the correct answer, and when your turn comes you give the same obvioulsy corret answer. The card is cahnged, the same process happens, and - once again, no problem - you give the correct answer along with the rest of the group. On the next trial, however, something odd happens. The card is revealed and you immediately choose in your mind the correct response. However when the other subjects give their answers, they all choose the wrong line. And they all choose the same line. Now, when itiis turn to respond again, you pause.

You must now make a decision: to maintain your own opinion or to conform with the rest of the group?

*The other seven subjects in the room were not subjects at all, but confederates of the experimenter. They were in on the experiment from the beginning and the answers they gave were, of course, the key to this study of conformity.

Visual Overview of Method


The Power of Conformity - The Neuron

Results

75% of participants went along with the group's consensus, and one-third of the time individuals responded agreed to incorrect responses.

Discussion and Related Research

Asch's results were crucial to the field of psychology in two ways:
  1. The real power of social pressure to conform was demonstrated clearly and scientifically for the first time.
  2. This early research sparked a huge wave of additional studies that continue right up to the present.
Specific factors that determine the effects conformity:
  • Social support: Asch further conducted the same experiment with slight variations. He altered the answers of the confederates so that in test conditions one of the seven gave the corret answer. When this occurred, only % of subjects agreed with the group consensus. Apparently, a single ally is all you need to resist the pressure to conform.
  • Attraction and commitment to the group: Later research showed that the more attracted and committed you are to the group, the more likely you are to conform to the behaviour and attitudes of that group (Forsyth, 1983). If you like the group or feel that you belong to the group, your tendency to conform to that group will be very strong.
  • Size of the group:Size of the group and the level of conformity is not directly related. Asch found that as the size of the group increased beyond six/seven members, conformity leveled off, or even decreased somewhat. Asch suggested that as the group becomes large, people may begin to suspect the other members of working together pruposefully to affect their behaviour and they become resistant to this obvious pressure.
  • Sex: Past studies indicated that women seemed to be much more willing to conform then men. However, more recent research under better controlled conditions has failed to find differences in conformity behaviour in regards to sex.


Criticisms

Asch's experiment received wide support and acceptance. However, commonly heard concerns whether the conclusion was a generalization. Would the subject conform in real life and on important matters?

Recent Applications

  • Young adults engage in unsafe sexual practices (Cerwonka, Isbell, & Hansen, 2000)
  • Change in tendency to conform. (Bond & Smith, 1996): Authors have found that tendency for a person to conform in the United States as declined, and has found that culture plays a role in conformity.


Other related terms and concepts

  1. informational social influence
  2. conformity
  3. social norm

External Websites

More on Social Psychology Researches/Experiments

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