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Conformity Esssay Essay, Research Paper

According to Leon Mann, conformity means ?yielding to

group pressures?. Everyone is a member of one group or

another and everyone expects members of these groups to

behave in certain ways. If you are a member of an

identifiable group you are expected to behave

appropriately to it. If you don?t confirm and behave

appropriately you are likely to be rejected by the group.

Like stereotypes, conforming and expecting others to

conform maintains cognitive balance.

There are several kinds of conformity. Many studies of

conformity took place in the 1950?s which led Kelman to

distinguish between compliance, internalisation and

identification. Compliance is the type of conformity where

the subject goes along with the group view, but privately

disagrees with it. Internalisation is where the subject comes

to accept, and eventually believes in the group view.

Identification is where the subject accepts and believes the

group view, because he or she wants to become associated

with the group.

Leon Mann identifies normative conformity which occurs

when direct group pressure forces the individual to yield

under the threat of rejection or the promise of reward. This

can occur only if someone wants to be a member of the

group or the groups attitudes or behaviour are important to

the individual in some way.

Apart from normative conformity there is informational

conformity which occurs where the situation is vague or

ambiguous and because the person is uncertain he or she

turns to others for evidence of the appropriate response.

Thirdly, Mann identifies ingratiational conformity which

occurs where a person tries to do whatever he or she

thinks the others will approve in order to gain acceptance

(if you make yourself appear to be similar to someone else,

they might come to like you).

The first major research into conformity was conducted in

1935 by Sherif who used a visual illusion, known as the

auto-kinetic effect. Sherif told his subjects that a spot of

light which they were about to see in a darkened room was

going to move, and he wanted them to say the direction

and distance of the movement. In the first experimental

condition the subjects were tested individually. Some said

the distance of movement wasn?t very far in any directio,

others said it was several inches. Sherif recorded each

subjects response. In the second experimental condition,

Sherif gathered his subjects into groups, usually of three

people, and asked them to discribe verbally the movement

of light. He gave them no instructions as to whether they

needed to reach any kind of agreement among themselves

but simply asked them to give their own reports while being

aware of the reports that other members gave. During the

group sessions it became apparent that the subjects reports

strarted to converge much nearer to an average of what

their individual reports had been. If a subject who had said

that the light didn?t move very far when tested individually

said ?I think it is moving 2 inches to the left? then another

who had reported movement of 4 inches, when tested

individually, might say ?I think it may have been 3 inches?.

As the number of reported movements continued the more

the members of the group conformed to each others


This spot of light was in fact stationary so whatever reports

were made was the consequence of the subject imagining

they saw something happen. So they were not certain

about the movement they observed and so would not feel

confident about insisting that their observations were wholly

correct. When they heard other reported judgements they

may have decided to go along with them.

The problem with this study, for understanding of

conformity, as one aspect of social psychology is that it is a

total artifical experimental situation – there isn?t even a right

answer. Requested reports of imaginary movements of a

stationary spot of light in a darkened room when alone, or

with two others, hardly reflects situations we come accross

in our every day lives. Generalising from its conclusions to

real life might be innacurate. However, some of them do

have a common sense appeal.

Ash was a harsh critic of Sherifs experimental design and

claimed that it showed little about conformity since there

was no right answer to conform to. Ash designed an

experiment where there could be absolutely no doubt about

whether subjects would be conforming or not and it was

absolutely clear what they were conforming to. He wanted

to be able to put an individual under various amounts of

group pressure that he could control and manipulate and

measure their willingness to conform to the groups

response to something that was clearly wrong. Ash

conducted what are now described as classic experiments

in conformity. This is not to say they aren?t criticised today

or that its conclusions are wholly acceptable now – they

showed the application of the scientific method to social

psychology and we used as models of how to conduct

psychological research.

In an early experiment Ash gathered a group of seven

university students in a classroom. They sat around one

side of a large table facing the blackboard. On the left side

of the board there was a white card with a single black line

drawn vertically on it. On the right of the board there was

another white card with three vertical lines of different

lengths. Two of the lines on the card on the right were

longer or shorther than the target line. Matching the target

line to the comparison line shouldn?t have been a difficult

task however for these seven students, all but one was a

confederate of Ash and they had been instructed to give

incorrect responses on seven of the twelve trials. The one

naive subject was seated either at the extreme left or next

to the extreme left of the line of students so that he would

always be last (or next to last) to answer. He would have

heard most of the others give their judgements about which

comparison line matches the target line before he spoke.

The naive subject was a member of a group he didn?t

know and might never see again who suddenly and for no

apparent reason started saying something which directly

contradicted the evidence of his own eyes.

In subsequent experiments Ash used between 7 and 9

subjects using the same experimental procedure. In the first

series of experiments he tested 123 naives on 12 critical

tests where 7 were going to be incorrect. Each naive

therefore had 7 opportunities to conform to something they

could see to be wrong. One third of the naives conformed

on all 7 occasions. About three quarters of them

conformed on at least one occasion. Only about one fifth

refused to conform at all.

Just to be certain that the result was due to the influence of

the confederates responses and not to the difficulty of the

task Ash used a control group. Each control subject was

asked to make a judgement individually – there were no

pressures at all. Over 90% gave correct responses.

Hollander and Willis give some criticisms of the early

research into conformity. Firstly the studies do not identify

the motive or type of conformity. Do the subjects conform

in order to gain social approval? Are they simply

complying? Do they really believe that their response is

correct? Secondly Hollander and Willis claim that the

experiments do not identify whether the subjects are

complying because they judge that it?s not worth appearing

to be different, or because the actually start to believe that

the groups judgement is correct. Hollander and Willis also

claim that the studies cannot show whether those who do

not conform do so because they are independant thinkers

or because they are anti-conformists. And Lastly, they

claim that the studies seem to assume that independance

has to be good and conformity has to be bad. However

conformity is often benificial.

Sherif and Asch have each conducted fairly artificial

laboritory experiments which showed that about 30% of

responses can be explained by the need or desire of the

subjects to conform. These experiments may not accurately

reflect real life when conformity might be benificial and

sometimes contribute to psychological well-being.

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