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Chapter 9: Social Influence- LECTURE

Terms in this set (55)

Muzafer Sherif conducted a classic study on conformity in 1936. Sherif put subjects in a dark room and told them to watch a pinpoint of light and report how far it moved. Psychologists had previously discovered that a small, unmoving light in a dark room often appeared to be moving. This was labeled the autokinetic effect. The autokinetic effect is an illusion because the light does not actually move. However, people almost always believe that it does.

Why did Sherif study the autokinetic effect?
Realizing that an experience that is completely "in people's heads" might be readily influenced by suggestion, Sherif decided to study how people were influenced by other people's opinions, in their perception of the autokinetic effect.

First Sherif studied how subjects reacted to the autokinetic effect when they were in a room by themselves. He found that they soon established their own individual norms for the judgment—usually 2 to 6 inches. In other words, when given many opportunities (trials) to judge the movement of the light, they settled on a distance of 2-6 inches and became consistent in making this judgment from trial to trial.

What happened when people judged the autokinetic effect by themselves?

What happened when people were put into groups?

In the next phase of the experiment, groups of subjects were put in the dark room, 2 or 3 at a time, and asked to agree on a judgment. Now Sherif noted a tendency to compromise. People who usually made an estimate like 6 inches soon made smaller judgments like 4 inches. Those who saw less movement, such as 2 inches, soon increased their judgments to about 4 inches. People changed to more resemble the others in the group.

Sherif's subjects were not aware of this social influence. When Sherif asked subjects directly, "Were you influenced by the judgments of other persons during the experiments," most denied it. However, when subjects were tested one at a time, later, most now conformed to the group judgment they recently made. A subject who previously settled on an estimate of 2 inches or 6 inches was more likely (after the group experience) to say the light was moving about 4 inches. These subjects had been changed by the group experience, whether they realized it or not. They had increased their conformity to group norms.

Group norms are agreed-upon standards of behavior. Sherif's experiment showed group norms are established through interaction of individuals and the leveling-off of extreme opinions. The result is a consensus agreement that tends to be a compromise...even if it is wrong.
Asch (1951) devised what is now regarded as a classic experiment in social psychology, whereby there was an obvious answer to a line judgment task. If the participant gave an incorrect answer it would be clear that this was due to group pressure.

Aim: to investigate the extent to which social pressure from a majority group could affect a person to conform.

Procedure: Asch used a lab experiment to study conformity, whereby 50 male students from Swarthmore College in the USA participated in a 'vision test'. Using a line judgment task, Asch put a naive participant in a room with seven confederates.The confederates had agreed in advance what their responses would be when presented with the line task. The real participant did not know this and was led to believe that the other seven participants were also real participants like themselves. Each person in the room had to state aloud which comparison line (A, B or C) was most like the target line. The answer was always obvious. The real participant sat at the end of the row and gave his or her answer last. There were 18 trials in total and the confederates gave the wrong answer on 12 trails (called the critical trials). Asch was interested to see if the real participant would conform to the majority view. Asch's experiment also had a control condition where there were no confederates, only a "real participant".

Results: Asch measured the number of times each participant conformed to the majority view. On average, about one third (32%) of the participants who were placed in this situation went along and conformed with the clearly incorrect majority on the critical trials.

Over the 12 critical trials about 75% of participants conformed at least once, 50% conformed on half of the trials or more, and 25% of participant never conformed. In the control group, with no pressure to conform to confederates, less than 1% of participants gave the wrong answer.

Conclusion: Why did the participants conform so readily? When they were interviewed after the experiment, most of them said that they did not really believe their conforming answers, but had gone along with the group for fear of being ridiculed or thought "peculiar". A few of them said that they really did believe the group's answers were correct.

Apparently, people conform for two main reasons: because they want to fit in with the group (normative influence) and because they believe the group is better informed than they are (informational influence).