psychology- social influence

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what is conformity

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what is conformity

when an individual changes their attitude or behaviour due to real or imagined group pressure. This is a form of majority influence

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what are the three types of conformity

  • compliance

  • identification

  • internalisation

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what is compliance

lowest level of conformity. when an individual changes their public behaviour but not their private beliefs.

Compliance is due to NSI.

Short term conformity

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what is identification

the middle level of conformity. Where an individual changes their public behaviour and their private beliefs, but only when in the presence of the group.

Identification is due to NSI.

Short term conformity

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what is internalisation

internalisation is the highest level of conformity. when an individual changes both their public behaviour and private beliefs.

Internalisation is due to ISI.

Long term conformity

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What is NSI

When a person conforms because they want to be liked by the majority group and fit in, even though they may not agree with them.

Associated with compliance and identification

short term change

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What is ISI

When a person conforms because they are unsure of how to act so they look to the majority group for informational they believe someone else is ‘right’

associated with internalisation

long term change

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explanations for conformity ISI


method: sample of 26 students split into three groups. They were asked to estimate how many jelly beans were in a jar. There were 811 beans in the jar. They had to come up with a group estimate for how many beans they thought were in the jar. After this they were given another opportunity to change their estimate.

results: the average change for males was 256 beans and for females was 382 beans

conclusion: individuals changed their estimate due to ISI as they thought that the group was ‘right’

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explanations for conformity (NSI)


method: 123 male students from three different colleges in the USA. deceived into thinking they were doing a vision test. Participants were asked to complete a line judgement task where the correct answer was obvious and clear. They had to state which line A, B, or C was closest to the target line in length. There was one naive participant that was always seated second from last along with 7-9 confederates who had pre discussed their answers beforehand. The naive participant was also denied into believing that the confederates were all real participants. Each participant completed 18 trials and the confederates gave the incorrect answer on 12 of these trials.

results: 74% of participants conformed on at least one of the trials. 32% conformed on all of the trials. 26% didn’t conform at all

conclusion: most of the participants knew that the answer they had given was incorrect but they had conformed due to NSI, meaning that they changed their public behaviour (answer) but not their private beliefs about the correct answer of the line judgement task as they wanted to ‘fit in’ with the crowd/confederates.

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evaluation of research to conformity (NSI)


  • low ecological validity- artificial line judgement task

  • low population validity- biased sample 123 males from three different colleges in the USA

  • demand characteristics- correct answer was obvious


  • high control over extraneous variables- laboratory setting, cause and effect

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Variations of Asch

  • unanimity- where one of the confederates gave the correct answer throughout- reduced conformity rates to 5%, this is because this broke the unanimity of the group, so the naive participant felt as if they have social support which made them more likely resist the pressure to conform because they were able to act freely

  • 2 confederates- conformity dropped to 12.8% as there was less of majority influence to conform

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what is conformity to social roles

when an individual adopts a particular behaviour and belief whilst in a particular social situation or role. This type of conformity represents indentification where their public behaviour changes and their private beliefs change but only whilst they are in a particular social role

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research for conformity to social roles


method: 21 male university students who volunteered from a newspaper advert. the participants were selected from 75 volunteers based on their physical and mental stability and were paid $15 a day to take part. Each participant was randomly assigned the role of prisoner or guard.

Zimbardo wanted to make the experiment realistic so he turned the basement of Stanford university into a prison. The prisoners were arrested by real police officers and given uniform to wear, numbered smocks and chains around their ankle. Guards had to wear uniforms, handcuffs and dark reflective sunglasses. The guards were told to run the prison without using physical violence. The experiment was set to run for 2 weeks.

results: both the prisoners and guards quickly conformed to their social roles. The prisoners tried to rebel, so the guards became abusive which lead to prisoners to becoming more submissive to the guards.

conclusion: people quickly conformed to their social roles via identification, even though it may go against their moral principles. Both groups became dehumanised

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evaluation of conformity to social roles


  • high ecological validity- real life application to how prisoners and guards act in real prisons


  • demand characteristics- the guards briefing before the experiment- made guards guess the experiments expectations and alter their behaviour so that they deliberately act more aggressive towards the prisoners to meet the experiments expectations. reduces validity or results

  • ethics-

    P: broke ethical guidelines such as protection from physical and psychological harm.

    E: 5 prisoners left the experiment early (right to withdraw)

    E: the guards felt feelings of anxiety and guilt due to their actions towards the prisoners

    L: although Zimbardo debriefed all of his participants after he acknowledged that he should’ve stopped the experiment earlier

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what is obedience

the change in an individuals behaviour to comply with a demand by an authority figure

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research investigation obedience to authority


method: 40 male volunteers. advertised for male volunteers in a newspaper advert. Paid $4.50 for it. The participant met and experimenter and another participant (who were both confederates) and were in on the study. The participant was always the ‘teacher’ who would administer the electric shock and the other confederate was always the ‘learner’. Both the teacher and the learner were shown the electric chair and the teacher was given a sample electric shock to convince him that the procedure was real. The learner was strapped into the electric chair. The teacher had to administer an electrical shock of 15-450 volts (lethal dosage) which increased in increments every time the learner didn’t recall a word pair correctly. At 300 volts the teacher would hear banging on the wall and complaining from the learner. After 300 volts there were no further responses from the learner. The experiment continued until either the full 450 volt shock was reached or the ‘teacher’ refused to administer anymore electrical shocks. If the teacher refused to administer an electrical shock the experimenter (authority figure) would say ‘the experiment requires that you continue’.


100% went to 300 volts

65% went to the full 450 volts

participants showed signs of distress and tension e.g. sweating and stuttering

conclusion: under the right circumstances ordinary people will obey unjust orders from someone perceived to be a legitimate authority figure

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Evaluation of obedience to authority (Milgram)


  • low population validity- 40 males

  • low ecological validity- asked to electrically shock people which is extreme compared to orders in real life e.g. from teachers telling students to stop talking. We can’t generalise the findings to obedience in real life as we can’t conclude that people would obey to less serious instructions/orders the same way they would to an electrical shock


  • participants deceived- although this is an ethical guideline the deception of participants causes more natural behaviour so it’s more representative of how participants would obey in real life situations. He also gave them a debrief after the study

  • laboratory setting- control over variables such as audio recordings of the learners response to the electrical shocks- cause and effect as no extraneous variables affected the participants reason for obeying or not obeying

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what are some situational factors that affect obedience

  • proximity

  • location

  • uniform

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research to show how proximity affects obedience


He altered the proximity between the teacher and the learner, and with the teacher and the experimenter

when the teacher and the learner were in the same room obedience levels for the full 450V shock dropped from 65%to 40% as the teacher was able to understand the learners pain more directly.

when the teacher and the experimenter were in different rooms and the instructions were administered over the phone the obedience levels for the full 450V administration dropped from 65% to 20.5% as the legitimacy of authority was questioned.

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research for how location affects obedience


the experiment took place in a rundown building (less prestigious than the original location)

obedience levels for the full 450V shock dropped to 47.5% as this may have questioned the authority that the experimenter had over the teacher

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research for how uniform affects obedience


the experimenter was replaced for a real participant swell as the teacher. The experimenter was in ordinary clothes. This decreased obedience levels for the full 450 volt shock from 65% to 20%. The change in uniform questioned the legitimacy of authority of the experimenter

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what is the difference between the agentic and autonomous state

agentic state- when we perceive someone to be higher up the social hierarchy than us so we are an agent for them. The ‘agent’ feels less personal responsibility and reduced moral strain for their actions

autonomous stage- where an individual has free will over their actions

changing from the autonomous state to the agent state is know as the agentic shift

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How does the agent state affect obedience


an additional confederate administered the electrical shock to the learner instead of the teacher. Obedience rates increased from 65% to 92.5%. This is because the teacher may have entered the agentic state, meaning that they feel less personal responsibility and moral strain for their actions of shocking the learner.

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what is legitimacy of authority

the perceived right for an authority figure to have power and control over others

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what is authoritarian personality

if a person has this personality they are more likely to obey someone in authority and dismiss inferiors

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research for the authoritarian personality

Elms and Milgram

method: sample of 20 obedient participants that went to the full 450 volts and 20 participants who refused to go to the full 450 volts in Milgram’s experiment. Participants completed multiple personality questionnaires onto of the F scale questionnaire. These questionnaires are designed to measure authoritarian personality

findings: the obedient participants from Milgram’s original study scored higher on the F scale than those who refused to obey the experimenter

conclusion: the obedient participants in Milgram’s original study displayed higher levels of the authoritarian personality than the disobedient participants. This shows that if a person has the authoritarian personality then they are more likely to obey an authority figure.

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what is internal locus of control

people feel that they have control over events in their life

these people tend to be more confident and need little approval from others

these people are less likely to conform or obey

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what is external locus of control

these people feel as if they have little or no control or what happens in their lives

they often believe in luck or fate

these people are more likely to obey or conform

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research support for locus of control

P: one study that investigated the idea of locus of control was Oliner and Oliner

E: Interviewed 406 people who had rescued and protected jewish people from the Nazi’s and 126 who hadn’t

E: participants who had rescued and helped Jewish people from the Nazi’s were more likely to have an internal locus of control

L: This supports the theory as it suggests that these people that had an internal locus of control were more likely to resist social influence and disobey the Nazi’s by helping Jewish people during WWII

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what is social support

people may resist pressure to conform or obey if they have support from a dissenter (someone who disagrees with the majority or refuses to obey). This breaks the unanimity of the group and removes the pressure to conform or obey and allows the individual to act freely and individually, which allows them to resist social influence

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research support for social support


when one of the confederates gave the correct answer on all 18 of the trials, conformity rates dropped from 32% to 5%. This is because the other confederate acted as a dissenter which broke the unanimity of the group and removed the pressure for the naive participant to conform. Social support allowed the individual to act freely and individually

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what is a minority influence

A form of social influence where a persuasive minority changes the attitudes and behaviours of the majority

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what is social change

when a whole society adopts a new belief or behaviour which then widely becomes accepted by the majority as the norm through minority influence

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what are some factors that increase the effectiveness of a minority group

  • consistency- a minority must be stable in their opinion over time and there must be agreement among the members of the minority

  • commitment- a minority must e dedicated to their cause. The greater the dedication the greater the influence

  • flexibility- although a minority must be consistent with their opinion, they have to be willing to compromise with the majority and be flexible when expressing their opinions

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research into consistency- minority influence


method: 172 female participants split into groups of 6. Participated in a colour perception task. Shown 36 slides which were all varying shades of blue. In each group there were two confederates.

There were two conditions. For the consistent condition the two confederates said that 36/36 slides were green. In the inconsistent condition the confederates said that 24/36 of the slides were green

findings: in the consistent condition 8.2% of participants agreed with the confederates. In the inconsistent condition 1.25% of participants agreed with the confederates.

conclusion: the consistent condition was more effective than the inconsistent condition in convincing the majority. This shows that consistency plays an important role in minority influence

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research into commitment- minority influence

suffragettes were a minority that showed commitment by protesting for years and risking arrest for their protests

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research into flexibility- minority influence


method: participants were in groups of 4. They had to agree on amounts of compensation they would give to victims of ski lift accidents. There were two conditions, flexible and non flexible.

the flexible condition argued for a low rate of compensation but compromised by offering a slightly larger amount of compensation

the non flexible condition argued a low rate of compensation and refused to change their position

results: the non flexible minority had little to no effect on the majority but the flexible minority the majority were more likely to also compromise and change their view

conclusion: Nemeth’s research showed that flexibility played an important role in minority influence and that there should be a good mix of both consistency and flexibility for the minority to be effective and influential

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