PSYC 2310 Lecture Notes - Muzafer Sherif, Pluralistic Ignorance, Solomon Asch

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14 Nov 2012
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Social Psyc Chapter 8
How do social norms influence behaviour?
- Miller and McFarland conducted a study
- Asked participants to read an article in preparation for a discussion with other students
- The article was deliberately written in a confusing manner, and was virtually incomprehensible
to anyone without extensive knowledge on the topic
- Students were told to ask the experimenter if they had any problems understanding
- After reading it, they completed a survey that asked them questions about the clarity of the
article, and what percentage of other people in the study they believed would ask the experimenter
- No participants in the study asked the experimenter a question, students assumed that 37% of
other students would ask questions
- In a follow up study, researchers examined participants beliefs about the factors that inhibited
them and others from asking a question
- As predicted, participants believed their own behaviour was motivated by fear of
embarrassment, but saw other people’s behaviour as motivated by having a greater understanding of
the article
- This research provides one example of an error we can make in interpreting the social world
that is, we often see our own behaviour as different from other people’s behaviour and as caused by
different factors
The power of social norms
- Social norms influence your values, beliefs, and behaviours
- Norms serve as helpful guides to appropriate behaviour: stopping at a red light, waiting in line for your
turn at a coffee shop, and raising your hand before asking a question
- Social psychologists distinguish between two kinds of social norms
1. Descriptive norms: describe how people behave in a given situation. Might include how
students spend Saturday nights, what type of clothes they wear, and how much they study
2. Injunctive norms: describe what people ought to do in a given situation, meaning the type of
behaviour that is approved of in a given situation. Might include reporting cheating to a professor, or
not showing up to class naked
- Norms often influence our attitudes and behaviour in very subtle ways
- People quickly acquire the norms of a new environment even if they don’t know them when they first
enter the environment
- People are most likely to acquire norms when they’re in new situations
- They look to older and/or more established group members to form their own attitudes and
- Similarly, university student’s attitudes become more similar to those living closest to them in a dorm
over the course of a semester, particularly in the case of attitudes that are seen as highly important
- People seem largely unaware of the impact of social influence
Errors in perceiving social norms
- The term pluralistic ignorance which was coined by Katz & Allport refers to a misconception that occurs
when each individual in the group privately rejects a group’s norms but believes that the other members
of the group accept these norms
- They may go along with the norm because they falsely assume that others’ behaviour has a different
cause than one’s own behaviour
- Study at the start showed how pluralistic ignorance is demonstrated in classes
- Vorauer and Ratner examined why people often fail to make the first move
- Results showed how pluralistic ignorance can interfere with the formation of a romantic relationship
because each person simply assumes that the other isn’t interested in a relationship, although his or her
own behaviour is driven by fear of rejection
- In another study, they found that fear of rejections prompts individuals to exhibit what they call a
signal amplification bias, referring to people’s perception that their overtures communicate more
romantic interest to potential partners than is actually the case
- Misperceiving the social norms of one’s environments can have substantial consequences
- A number of studies have shown that many university students think there is too much alcohol
use on campus, but believe that other students approve of the amount of alcohol
- This is problematic as people’s estimate of the frequency of alcohol use among their peers
influences their own use, even if these estimates are inaccurate
- Also, it leads to less interaction between members of different ethnic groups
- While members of each group would like to have more contact with members of the other
groups, they believe that this interest is not shared by the members of those other ethnic groups
The pressure to conform to social norms
- The pressure to conform to social norms is often very powerful, because people who deviate from the
norm often experience negative consequences such as embarrassment, awkwardness, and even hostile
behaviour from others
- Because of the unpleasant consequences of deviating from the norm, we’re motivated to learn and
adhere to the norms of our group
- Even watching someone else’s rejection can lead to greater conformity
- This is a common phenomenon in bullying, as others watch someone experience rejection but avoid
intervention out of fear that they could suffer the same consequence
- Jane and Olson’s study shows that when we watch someone being ridiculed or rejected by a group of
people, we’re more likely to adopt the group norm and not express our opinion
- In some cases people’s desire to conform to social norms can also result in more positive behaviours
- In one study, Cialdini compared different types of messages given to hotel guests to encourage them
to reuse their towels, one group received a standard message, the other group received a message with
a focus on social norms
- 35% of the people who got the standard message reused their towels, however 45% of people who
received the one focused on social norms reused their towels, indicating that learning about other
people’s behaviour was effective at changing behaviour
- In sum, giving people accurate information about various norms can reduce misperceptions and
thereby improve health
What factors lead to conformity?
- Conformity can be produced by two distinct types of influence: informational and normative influence
Informational Influence
- Refers to the influence that leads to a person to conform to the behaviour of others because the prison
believes that the others are correct in their judgments and the person also wants to be correct
- Might occur when you’re new to a situation and therefore look to others for accurate information
- One of the first studies to demonstrate the impact of informational influence on social norms was
conducted by Muzafer Sherif
- Used the autokinetic effect: when a stationary dot of light is shown on a wall in a dark room,
the dot appears to move even though in reality it doesn’t
- When individuals are alone in the room and are asked to guess how far the dot is moving, their
answers differ greatly
- When they’re in a group and they know the responses of others, their estimates of how far the
dot is moving converge over time
- This shows how people can influence one another and thus create a group norm
- People use other people’s beliefs as a way of getting information about the situation, and believe that
these people are correct in their judgments
- When Sherif tested participants again, their estimates remained close to the group norms rather than
reverting back to the original estimates they had made when they were alone
- This study demonstated private conformity, where people change their private view and
thereby conform to the group norm because they believe that other people are right
- Private conformity has also been demonstrated under a study by MacNeil and Sherif:
- They had a 4 person group in the laboratory experiencing the autokinetic effect
- 3 of them were confederates
- The confederates were told to establish an arbitrary norm: for example, to report the dot had
moved 12 inches over time
- After completing the task, the group had a break and one of the confederates left the group
and was replaced by a real participant
- The new group continued completing the same judgment over a series of trials and the same
norm continued with only 2 confederates
- The group had another break and another participant was replaced
- This process continued for 11 changes, with the oldest member of the group replaced each
time by a naïve participant
- It took 11 changes before the norm started to shift
- This indicates that norms develop within a group and in the absence of other influences, they
are resistant or slow to change
- Additionally, group norms continue to influence group members long after those who
instigated the norm are gone
Normative Influence
- Describes influence that produces conformity when a person fears the negative social consequences of
appearing deviant
- In a study by Solomon Asch, participants arrived for an experiment on visual discrimination that was
being conducted in a group of six or seven people
- Length of the line test
- - 37% of the time participants actually gave the wrong answer in order to conform to the rest of
the group, with 50% of participants giving the wrong answer at least half the time
- This study revealed public conformity, meaning when people conform because they want to
publicly agree with others, even though they realize their answer is wrong
- This study represents attributional and behaviour dilemma for participants: first, they must
determine why their peers are giving different judgments from their own, and second, they must
determine what their own dissent would imply about themselves and their peers
Factors that increase conformity
- Researchers have investigated factors that influence conformity; including group size, standing alone,
demographic variable, and motivation for accuracy