Course: PSYC*1000 (DE)
Professor: Harvey Marmurek
Schedule: Summer, 2012
Textbook: Psychology – Tenth Edition in Modules authored by David G. Myers
Textbook ISBN: 9781464102615
Module 44: Social Influence
Social psychology’s great lesson is the enormous power of social influence. This influence can be seen in our
conformity, our obedience to authority, and our group behaviour.
Conformity: Complying with Social Pressures
What is automatic mimicry, and how do conformity experiments reveal the power of social influence?
Automatic Mimicry: Group think, chameleon effect, mood contagion. We are natural mimics, unconsciously
imitating others’ expressions, postures, and voice tones. Intricate studies show that obesity, sleep loss, drug use,
loneliness, and happiness spread through social networks. We and our friends form a social system. Automatic
mimicry helps us to empathize – to feel what others are feeling. Mood linkage – sharing up and down moods – we
feel happier around happy people and sadder around depressed people. Copycat violence.
Conformity and Social Norms: Suggestibility and mimicry are subtle types of conformity – adjusting our
behaviour or thinking toward some group standard. When others begin giving a wrong answer in regards to a line
comparison and you start to question yourself. Asch’s experiments erred less than 1% of the time. More than 1/3 of
the time, these ‘intelligent and well-meaning’ college students were then ‘willing to call white black’ by going along
with the group. We are more likely to conform when we:
• Are made to feel incompetent or insecure;
• Are in a group with at least 3 people;
• Are in a group in which everyone else agrees (if just one other person disagrees, the odds of our
disagreeing greatly increases)
• Admire the group’s status and attractiveness
• Have not made a prior commitment to any response
• Know that others in the group will observe our behaviour
• Are from a culture that strongly encourages respect for social standards
Frequently we conform to avoid rejection or to gain social approval. In such cases, we are responding to normative
social influence. We are sensitive to social norms – understood rules for accepted and expected behaviour –
because the price we pay for being different can be severe. At other times we conform because we want to be
accurate. Those who never retract their opinions love themselves more than they love truth (Joubert). When we
accept others’ opinions about reality, we are responding o informational social influence.
Which of the following strengthens conformity to a group? – finding the group attractive
Obedience: Following Orders
What did Milgram’s obedience experiments teach us about the power of social influence?
People often give in to social pressures. Milgram’s study of the effect of punishment on learning. Teacher and
learner roles. You have no choice but to continue giving a painful electric shock to the learner who is crying out to be
removed. The learner begins to refuse to answer the questions and falls silent. At what level do you refuse to obey?
More than 60% fully complied – right up to the last switch. Jerry Burger replicated Migram’s basic experiment. 70%
obeyed up to 150V; French reality TV show, 80% egged on by cheering audience, obeyed. The teachers displayed
genuine distress – perspired, trembled, laughed nervously, bit lips. Virtually none regretted taking part (possibly
because of reduced dissonance) after learning that the learners were faking the pain. Obedience was higher when:
• The person giving orders was close at hand and was perceived to be a legitimate authority figure.
• The authority figure was supported by a prestigious institution
• The victim was depersonalized or at a distance, even in another room
• There were no role models for defiance.
The power of legitimate, close-at-hand authorities was apparent among those who followed orders to carry out the
Holocaust atrocities. French village of Le chambon. The villagers’ ancestors had themselves been persecuted, and
their pastors taught them to resist whenever our adversaries will demand of us obedience contrary to the orders of the Gospel. Lest we presume that obedience is always evil and resistance is always good, consider the obedience
of British soldiers who, in 1852, were traveling with women and children aboard the steamship Birkenhead. Heroic
behaviour – none frantically rushed to the lifeboats.
Lessons From the Conformity and Obedience Studies
What have we learned from the Asch and Milgram studies?
These studies aimed to capture and explore the underlying processes that shape those behaviours of everyday life.
Making us question: Do I adhere to my own standards, or do I respond to others?
Milgram’s – participants were torn. With kindness and obedience on a collision course, obedience usually
won. Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents
in a terrible destructive process. Milgram did not entrap his teachers by asking them first to zap learners with
enough electricity to make their hair stand on end. Rather, he exploited the foot-in-the-door effect, beginning with a
little tickle of electricity and escalating step by step. After the first acts of compliance or resistance, attitudes began
to follow and justify behaviour. When Milgram asked 40 men to administer the learning test while someone else did
the shocking, 93% complied.
Psychology’s most famous obedience experiments, in which most participants obeyed an authority figure’s
demands to inflict presumed life-threatening shocks on an innocent other, were conducted by social psychologist
What situations have researchers found to be most likely to encourage obedience in participants?
The Milgram studies showed that people were most likely to follow orders when the experimenter was nearby and
was a legitimate authority figure, the victim was not nearby, and there were no models for defiance.
How is our behaviour affected by the presence of others?
Norman Triplett found that teens would wind a fishing reel faster in the presence of someone doing the same thing.
Social Facilitation: stronger responses on simple or well-earned tasks in the presence of others. When others
observe us, we become aroused, and this arousal amplifies our other reactions it strengthens our most likely
response – the correct one on an easy task, an incorrect one on a difficult task. The energizing effect of an
enthusiastic audience probably contributes to the home advantage that has shown up in studies. Home teams win
about 6/10 games. What you do well, you are likely to do even better in front of an audience, especially a
friendly audience. What you normally find difficult may seem all but impossible when you are being
watched. Crowding triggers arousal which strengthens other reactions.
Home team winning percentage: Baseball 55.6%, Cricket 57%, American fo