CONFORMITY & OBEDIENCE (6)
What Is Conformity?
Conformity—changing one’s behavior or belief as a result of group pressure—comes in two
forms. Compliance is outwardly going along with the group while inwardly disagreeing; a
subset of compliance is obedience, compliance with a direct command. Acceptance is
believing as well as acting in accord with social pressure.
What Are The Classic Conformity And Obedience Studies?
->Three classic sets of experiments illustrate how re- searchers have studied conformity. •
Muzafer Sherif observed that others’ judgments
influenced people’s estimates of the movement of a point of light that actually did not
move. Norms for “proper” answers emerged and survived both over long periods of time
and through succeeding generations of research participants.
• Solomon Asch had people listen to others’ judg- ments of which of three comparison lines
was equal to a standard line and then make the same judg- ment themselves. When the
others unanimously gave a wrong answer, the participants conformed 37 percent of the
• Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments elicited an extreme form of compliance. Under
conditions—a legitimate, close-at-hand commander, a remote victim, and no one else to
exemplify disobedience—65 percent of his adult male par- ticipants fully obeyed
instructions to deliver what were supposedly traumatizing electric shocks to a screaming,
innocent victim in an adjacent room.
• These classic experiments expose the potency of several phenomena. Behavior and
attitudes are mutually reinforcing, enabling a small act of evil to foster the attitude that
leads to a bigger evil act. The power of the situation is seen when good people, faced with
dire circumstances, commit reprehen- sible acts (although dire situations may produce
heroism in others).
What Predicts Conformity?
• Using conformity testing procedures, experiment-
ers have explored the circumstances that produce conformity. Certain situations appear to
be espe- cially powerful. For example, conformity is affected by the characteristics of the
group: People conform most when three or more people, or groups, model the behavior or
• Conformity is reduced if the modeled behavior or belief is not unanimous. • Conformity is
enhanced by group cohesion.
• The higher the status of those modeling the behav- ior or belief, the greater likelihood
• People also conform most when their responses are public (in the presence of the group).
• A prior commitment to a certain behavior or belief increases the likelihood that a
person will stick with that commitment rather than conform.
Why Conform? -Experiments reveal two reasons people conform. Normative influence results from a
person’s desire for acceptance: We want to be liked. The tendency to conform more when
responding publicly reflects normative influence.
• Informational influence results from others’ provid- ing evidence about reality. The
tendency to conform more on difficult decision-making tasks reflects informational
influence: We want to be right.
• The question “Who conforms?” has produced few
definitive answers. Personality scores are poor pre- dictors of specific acts of conformity but
better predic- tors of average conformity. Trait effects are strongest in “weak” situations
where social forces do not over- whelm individual differences.
• Although conformity and obedience are universal, different cultures socialize people to be
more or less socially responsive.
• Social roles involve a certain degree of conformity, and conforming to expectations
is an important task when stepping into a new social role.
Do We Ever Want To Be Different?
• Social psychology’s emphasis on the power of social pressure must be joined by a
complementary empha- sis on the power of the person. We are not puppets. When social
coercion becomes blatant, people often experience reactance—a motivation to defy the
coer- cion in order to maintain their sense of freedom.
• We are not comfortable being too different from a group, but neither do we want to
appear the same as everyone else. Thus, we act in ways that pre- serve our sense of
uniqueness and individuality. In a group, we are most conscious of how we differ from the
What Paths Lead To Persuasion?
• Sometimes persuasion occurs as people focus on arguments and respond with favorable
thoughts. Such systematic, or “central route,” persuasion occurs when people are naturally
analytical or involved in the issue.
• When issues don’t engage systematic thinking, persuasion may occur through a faster,
route,” as people use heuristics or incidental cues to make snap judgments.
-Central route persuasion, being more thought- ful and less superficial, is more durable and
more likely to influence behavior.
What Are The Elements Of Persuasion?
• What makes persuasion effective? Researchers
have explored four factors: the communicator (who says it), the message (what is said), the
channel (how it is said), and the audience (to whom it is said).
• Credible communicators have the best success in per- suading. People who speak unhesitatingly, who talk fast, and who look listeners straight in the eye seem more credible.
So are people who argue against their own self-interest. An attractive communicator also is
effective on matters of taste and personal values.
• The message itself persuades; associating it with good feelings makes it more convincing.
People often make quicker, less reflective judgments while in good moods. Fear-arousing
messages can also be effective, especially if the recipients feel vulner- able but can take
• How discrepant a message should be from an audi- ence’s existing opinions depends
on the communi- cator’s credibility. And whether a one- or two-sided message is more
persuasive depends on whether
the audience already agrees with the message, is unaware of opposing arguments, and is
unlikely later to consider the opposition.
• When two sides of an issue are included, the pri- macy effect often makes the first
message more persuasive. If a time gap separates the presenta- tions, the more likely result
will be a recency effect in which the second message prevails.
• Another important consideration is how the mes- sage is communicated. Usually, face-to-
face appeals work best. Print media can be effective for complex messages. And the mass
media can be effective when the issue is minor or unfamiliar, and when the media reach
• Finally, it matters who receives the message. The age of the audience makes a difference;
young people’s attitudes are more subject to change. What does the audience think while
receiving a mes- sage? Do they think favorable tho