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PSYCH253 Lecture Notes - Asch Conformity Experiments, Stationary Point, Chameleon

Course Code
Emiko Yoshida

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Chapter 6: Conformity
What is Conformity?
- Conformity: a change in behaviour or belief to accord with others
- Conformity can be bad when it leads someone to drink and drive or join in racist
- Conformity can be good when it inhibits people from cutting in front of a line at the
- Conformity can be inconsequential when it disposes tennis players to wear white
- Conformity is not just acting as other people act it is also being affected by how they
- It is acting differently from the way you would act alone
- There are several varieties of conformity:
o Compliance
o Obedience
o Acceptance
- Sometimes, we conform to an expectation or request without really believing in what we
are doing
- Compliance: conformity that involves publicly acting in accord with social pressure while
privately disagreeing
- Obedience: acting in accord with a direct order
- Acceptance: conformity that involves both acting and believing in accord with social
What are the Classic Conformity and Obedience Studies?
Sherif’s Studies of Norm Formation
- Sherif wondered whether it was possible to observe the emergence of a social norm in
the laboratory
- Sherif had used the autokinetic phenomenon the apparent movement of a stationary
point of light in the dark and asked participants to sit in a dark room with a light in front of
you in which at first, nothing happens, but then for a few seconds, it moves erratically
and then disappears
- He had participants guess how much the light had moved by themselves and then had
participants do this together
- He found that participants changed their estimates when with others than on their own
- Other researchers have repeated this experiment and found the same results persist for
5 generations
- E.g., Chartrand and Bargh had participants work alongside a confederate who
occasionally either rubbed her face or shook her foot and observed whether participants
would be more likely to rub their face or shake their foot when somebody else was doing
so they called this the chameleon effect
o If participants did, it was an automatic behaviour, done without any conscious
intention to conform, and it would incline you to feel what the other feels
- E.g., Baaren and his colleagues conducted a study and found that your mimicry would
also incline the other ot like you and be help to you and to others
o People become more likely to help pick up dropped pens for someone whose
behaviour has mimicked their own
o Being mimicked seems to enhance social bonds, which even leads to donating
more money to a charity

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Asch’s Studies of Group Pressure (Conformity)
- Asch had a participant sit last of 6 other participants” which were confederates and
asked them to judge which one of the three lines matched the length of the standard line
- After 2 trials of saying line 2 matched the standard line, on the third trial, the first
confederate gave the wrong answer, then the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th confederates also
gave the wrong answer
- Asch wanted to know if the real participant would also comply and give the same wrong
answer and they did
- The Sherif and Asch results showed that participants complied, with no obvious pressure
to conform (there were no rewards, no punishments)
Milgram’s Obedience Studies
- Milgram studied what happens when the demands of authority clash with the demands
of conscience
- Milgram had participants come in to be a “teacher” and teach their “students” to word
pairs and when they got them wrong, to administer a shock with increasing increments
with each wrong answer
- Most people actually kept going higher and found that 65% went all the way to 450 volts
- Ethics of Milgram’s Study;
o Milgram was disturbed by the results
o He had not actually hooked the shock wires to the students, but played a tape
recording of cries of pain
o However, the teacher participants did experience agony sweating, trembling,
stuttering due to pressure to obey
What Breeds Obedience?
- Milgram also examined he conditions that breed obedience:
- The Victim’s Distance;
o Milgram’s participants acted with greatest obedience and least compassion when
the “students” could not be seen (and could not see them)
o When the victim was remote and the teachers heard no complaints, nearly all
obeyed calmly to the end
o When the student was in the same room, only 40% obeyed to 450 volts
o Full compliance dropped to a still-astonishing 30 percent when teachers were
required to force the learner’s hand into contact with a shock plate
o In everyday life, it is easiest to abuse someone who is distance or
- Closeness and Legitimacy of the Authority;
o The physical presence of the experimenter also affected obedience
o When Milgram gave the commands by telephone, full obedience dropped to 21%
(although many lied and said they were obeying)
o Other studies confirm that when the one making the request is physically close,
compliance increases
o The authority, however, must be perceived as legitimate
- Institutional Authority;
o The prestige of the authority is important e.g., Yale versus Research Associates
of Bridgeport
- The Liberating Effects of Group Influence;
o During Milgram’s study, the teacher and the confederates challenged the
experimenter, who then ordered the real subject to continue alone, but he did not
o 90% liberated themselves by conforming to the disobedient confederates
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