WU Asch Conformity Experiment

Post a brief description of a contemporary example from the news in which people did or did not demonstrate conformity or obedience. Use a theory discussed in Chapter 8 to explain how or why the behavior illustrates conformity or obedience. Use information from Chapter 9 to explain how being in a group might influence behaviors in your example. That is, in your example, how might group processes, characteristics, or functions explain behavior?

  • Please do NOT select the Holocaust or Milgram’s studies as your example.


  • Conformity: When and Why Conformity occurs when people change their behavior due to the real (or imagined) influence of others. There are two main reasons people conform: informational and normative social influences.
  1. LO 8.2 Explain how informational social influence motivates people to conform.
  • Informational Social Influence: The Need to Know What’s “Right” Informational social influence occurs when people do not know the correct (or best) action to take. They look to the behavior of others as an important source of information, using it to choose appropriate courses of action for themselves. Informational social influence usually results in private acceptance, in which people genuinely believe in what other people are doing or saying.
    • The Importance of Being Accurate In situations where it is important to be accurate, the tendency to conform to other people through informational social influence increases.
    • When Informational Conformity Backfires Using other people as a source of information can backfire when they are wrong about what’s going on.
    • When Will People Conform to Informational Social Influence? People are more likely to conform to informational social influence when the situation is ambiguous, when they are in a crisis, or if experts are present.

  1. LO 8.3 Explain how normative social influence motivates people to conform.
  • Normative Social Influence: The Need to Be Accepted Normative social influence occurs when we change our behavior to match that of others because we want to remain a member of the group in good standing and continue to gain the advantages of group membership. We conform to the group’s social norms, implicit or explicit rules for acceptable behaviors, values, and attitudes. Normative social influence usually results in public compliance but not private acceptance of other people’s ideas and behaviors.
    • Conformity and Social Approval: The Asch Line-Judgment Studies In a series of classic studies, Solomon Asch found that people would conform, at least some of the time, to the obviously wrong answer of the group.
    • The Importance of Being Accurate, Revisited When it is important to be accurate, people are more likely to resist normative social influence and go against the group, giving the right answer. But public conformity still occurs.
    • The Consequences of Resisting Normative Social Influence Resisting normative social influence can lead to ridicule, ostracism, and rejection by the group.
    • When Will People Conform to Normative Social Influence? Social impact theory specifies when normative social influence is most likely to occur by referring to the strength, immediacy, and size of the group. We are more likely to conform when the group is one we care about, when the group members are unanimous in their thoughts or behaviors, when the group has three or more members, and when we are members of collectivist cultures. Past conformity gives people idiosyncrasy credits, allowing them to deviate from the group without serious consequences.
    • Minority Influence: When the Few Influence the Many Under certain conditions, an individual (or small number of people) can influence the majority. The key is consistency in the presentation of the minority viewpoint.

  1. LO 8.4 Describe how people can use their knowledge of social influence to influence others.
  • Conformity Tactics Knowing about the tendency to conform can inform our strategic efforts to change the behavior of others
  • The Role of Injunctive and Descriptive Norms Communicating injunctive norms, expectations regarding the behaviors that society approves of, is a more powerful way to create change than communicating descriptive norms, expectations regarding how people actually behave.
  • Using Norms to Change Behavior: Beware the “Boomerang Effect” One must be careful that descriptive norms do not create a boomerang effect, making an undesirable behavior more likely than it previously was.
  • Other Tactics of Social Influence Other efforts to change people’s behavior via direct request, include the foot-in-the-door technique, in which the requestor first secures agreement with a small favor before following up with a larger request, and the door-in-the-face technique, in which the requester first asks for a large favor that will certainly be rejected before following up with a smaller, second request. Propaganda, as used in Nazi Germany, is yet another, often nefarious strategy.
  1. LO 8.5 Summarize studies that have demonstrated people’s willingness to obey authority figures.
  • Obedience to Authority In the most famous series of studies in social psychology, Stanley Milgram examined obedience, when people change their behavior in response to an authority figure. He found chilling levels of obedience, to the point where a majority of participants administered what they thought were potentially lethal shocks to a fellow human being.
  • The Milgram Study?
    • The Role of Normative Social Influence Normative pressures make it difficult for people to stop obeying authority figures. They want to please the authority figure by doing a good job.
    • The Role of Informational Social Influence The obedience studies created a confusing situation for participants, with competing, ambiguous demands. Unclear about how to define what was going on, they followed the orders of the expert.
    • Other Reasons Why We Obey Participants conformed to the wrong norm: They continued to follow the norms of “obey authority” and “all in the name of science” even when it was no longer appropriate to do so. It was difficult for them to abandon these initial norms because of the fast-paced nature of the study, the fact that the shock levels increased in small increments, and their loss of a feeling of personal responsibility.
    • The Obedience Studies, Then and Now Milgram’s research design was criticized on ethical grounds, involving deception, informed consent, psychological distress, the right to withdraw, and inflicted insight. A recent U.S. replication found that the level of obedience in the early 21st century was not significantly different from that found in the classic study in the 1960s.


    1. LO 9.1 Explain what groups are and why people join them.
    • What Is a Group? A group consists of two or more (usually more) people who interact with each other and are interdependent.
      • Why Do People Join Groups? The need to belong to groups may be innate. Groups also allow us to accomplish difficult objectives, serve as a source of information about the social world, and are an important part of our social identities. People are sensitive to rejection from groups and do what they can to avoid it. Groups also make people feel distinctive from members of other groups.
      • The Composition and Functions of Groups Groups tend to consist of homogeneous members, in part because groups have social norms that people are expected to obey. Groups also have well-defined social roles, shared expectations about how people are supposed to behave. People can get so far into a social role that their personal identities and personalities get lost. Group cohesiveness, qualities of a group that bind members together and promote liking between members, is another important property of groups that influences the group’s performance. So does a group’s composition, with diversity sometimes negatively associated with group morale but positively associated with a range of performance outcomes.

    1. LO 9.2 Describe how individuals perform differently when others are around.
    • Individual Behavior in a Group Setting Research has compared the performance of people who are by themselves versus in groups.
      • Social Facilitation: When the Presence of Others Energizes Us When people’s individual efforts on a task can be evaluated, the mere presence of others leads to social facilitation: Their performance is enhanced on simple tasks but impaired on complex tasks.
      • Social Loafing: When the Presence of Others Relaxes Us When people’s individual efforts cannot be evaluated, the mere presence of others leads to relaxation and social loafing: Performance is impaired on simple or unimportant tasks but enhanced on complex tasks.
      • Gender and Cultural Differences in Social Loafing: Who Slacks Off the Most? Social loafing is more prevalent among men than women and more prevalent in Western than Asian cultures.
      • Deindividuation: Getting Lost in the Crowd The mere presence of others can also lead to more serious consequences such as deindividuation, the loosening of normal constraints on behavior when people are in crowds.

    1. LO 9.3 Compare the decision-making outcomes of individuals versus groups, and explain the impact of leadership in group outcomes.
    • Group Decisions: Are Two (or More) Heads Better Than One? Research has compared how people make decisions when they are by themselves versus in groups.
      • Process Loss: When Group Interactions Inhibit Good Problem Solving Groups make better decisions than individuals if they are good at pooling independent ideas and listening to the expert members of the group. Often, however, process loss occurs, which is any aspect of group interaction that inhibits good decision making. For example, groups often focus on the information they have in common and fail to share unique information. Tightly knit, cohesive groups are also prone to groupthink, which occurs when maintaining group cohesiveness and solidarity becomes more important than considering the facts in a realistic manner.
      • Group Polarization: Going to Extremes Group polarization causes individuals to become more extreme in their attitudes than they were before group discussions; in this manner, group decisions can be more risky or more cautious than individual decisions, depending on which direction the individual members were initially leaning.
      • Leadership in Groups There is little support for the great person theory, which argues that good leadership is a matter of having the right personality traits. Leaders adopt specific kinds of leadership styles, such as transactional or transformational. Leadership effectiveness is a function of both the kind of person a leader is and the nature of the work situation. Although strides have been made, women are still underrepresented in leadership positions. Women who become leaders often face a “glass cliff” whereby they are put in charge of work units that are in crisis and in which the risk of failure is high. Further, there is a double bind for women leaders: If they conform to societal expectations about how they ought to behave, by being warm and communal, they are often perceived as having low leadership potential. If they succeed in attaining a leadership position and act in ways that leaders are expected to act—namely, in agentic, forceful ways—they are often perceived negatively for not “acting like a woman should.”

    1. LO 9.4 Summarize the factors that determine whether individual and group conflict will escalate or be resolved.
    • Conflict and Cooperation Research has examined how people resolve conflicts when they have incompatible goals.
      • Social Dilemmas These occur when the most beneficial action for an individual will, if chosen by most people, have harmful effects for everyone. A commonly studied social dilemma is the prisoner’s dilemma, in which two people must decide whether to look out for only their own interests or for their partner’s interests as well. Creating trust is crucial in solving this kind of conflict, and a variety of situational factors can render individual cooperation more likely.
      • Using Threats to Resolve Conflict Research has found that using threats tends to escalate rather than resolve conflicts, even more so when both sides have equal threat capacity.
      • Negotiation and Bargaining When two sides are negotiating and bargaining, it is important to look for an integrative solution whereby each side concedes the most on issues that are unimportant to it but are important to its adversary.

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