Lecture 05 - Social Psych



(Adapted from The Social Animal; Meyers; Michener et al.; Vander Zanden)

1. Definitions

Conformity = A change in behavior or belief as a result of real or imagined group pressure.

2. Types of conformity

A. Compliance. Publicly acting in accord with social pressure while privately disagreeing. This term best describes the behavior of a person who is motivated to gain reward or avoid punishment. On the level of compliance, many experimenters see little difference between animals and humans, because all organisms respond to rewards and punishments.

B. Identification. As with compliance, we do not behave in a particular way because such behavior is intrinsically satisfying. Rather, we adopt a particular behavior because it puts us in a satisfying relationship to the person or persons with whom we are identifying. We do come to believe in the opinions and values we adopt, though not very strongly. We want to be like some particular person.

EX: Want to be just like your father.

C. Internalization (or acceptance). Both acting and believing in accord with social pressure. This is the most permanent, deeply rooted response to social influence. Internalization is motivated by a desire to be right. If the person who provides the influence is perceived to be trustworthy and of good judgment, we accept the belief he or she advocates and we integrate it into our belief system.

D. Comparison of the three:

1. Compliance is the least enduring and has the least effect on the individual, because people comply merely to gain reward or to avoid punishment. Rewards and punishments are very important means to get people to learn and to perform specific activities but are limited as techniques of social influence because they must be ever present to be effective - unless the individual discovers some additional reason for continuing the behavior. (???)

2. Continuous reward or punishment is not necessary for identification. All that is needed is the individual's desire to be like that person. You will continue to hold beliefs similar to the SO as long as he remains important to you, he still holds the same beliefs, and those beliefs are not challenged by counter-opinions that are more convincing. If the SOs beliefs change or he becomes less important to you, your beliefs can change. They can also change if people who are more important to you express different beliefs. The effect of identification can also be dissipated by a desire to be right.

3. Internalization is the most permanent response to social influence because your motivation to be right is a powerful and self-sustaining force that does not depend on constant surveillance (as does compliance), or on your continued esteem for another person or group (as does identification).

4. In compliance, the important component is power -the power of the influencer to dole out rewards and punishments. In identification, the crucial component is attractiveness - the attractiveness of the person with whom we identify. Because we identify with the model, we want to hold the same opinions that the model holds. In internalization, the crucial component is credibility - the credibility of the person who supplies the information

5. Any of the three can determine behavior. In the Asch studies, it seems obvious the subjects were complying with the unanimous opinion of the group in order to avoid the punishment of ridicule or rejection. If either identification or internalization had been involved, the conforming behavior would have persisted in private (NOTE: Subjects gave different answers when responses were not public.)

6. Circumstances can increase the permanence of conformity produced by compliance or identification. While complying, we might discover something about our actions, or about the consequences of our actions, that makes it worthwhile to continue the behavior even after the original reason for compliance is no longer forthcoming. For example, people came to obey speeding laws even after enforcement was lessened because they liked the less hectic pace.

3. Classic studies

A. Sherif's studies of Norm formation. People looked at stationary light - and then formed a group consensus as to how far the light moved. Illustrated power of suggestibility. Later showed a suggestion could continue through five or more generations of participants.

Have real-life examples of the power of suggestibility - suicides and auto accidents go up after a prominent person commits suicide.

B. Asch's studies of group pressure. Asch believed intelligent people would not conform when they could readily see the truth for themselves. Showed people lines - a third of the time subjects were willing to go against their better judgment and agree with the group. About 75% went with the group at least once!

Asch found that three different kinds of reactions had contributed to the conformity.

1. Distortion of perception. A number of subjects said they were not aware their estimates had been distorted by the majority. They came to see the rigged majority estimates as correct.

2. Distortion of judgment. Most of the subjects who yielded to the majority concluded their own perceptions were inaccurate. Lacking confidence in their own observations, they reported not what they saw but what they felt must be correct.

3. Distortion of action. A number of subjects admitted that they had not reported what they had in fact seen. They said they had yielded so as not to appear different or stupid in the eyes of other group members.

Crutchfield did a similar study with military officers. 46% of the time they voted with the group!

C. Milgram's obedience experiments. In the above, there was no explicit pressure to conform. Milgram did his electric shock studies. (***Describe experiment - read p. 245 of Myers.) 63% went to the maximum shock level.

These studies show compliance can take precedence over one's own moral senses. Evil situations have enormous corrupting power. Fragmenting evil makes it even more effective.

We tend to make the fundamental attribution error when looking at such things - but Milgram said

"The most fundamental lesson of our study is that ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process."

4. Why conform?

A. Informational influence - Behavior of others might convince us that our original judgment was incorrect. The group's behavior provides valuable info about what is expected.

B. Wish to avoid punishment (such as rejection or ridicule) or gain rewards. We are concerned about our social image and outcomes.

C. Groups create barriers to independent behavior.

1. Risk of disapproval from other group members. By deviating too far, individuals risk rejection.

2. Lack of perceived alternatives. A member may not realize he has any other choice but conformity. (In Milgram experiments, subjects were told they had no other choice.)

3. Fear of disrupting the group's operations. People fear independence will hamper the attainment of group goals.

4. Absence of communication among group members. Lacking information that others might join in the nonconforming action, they avoid going out on a limb.

5. No feeling of responsibility for group outcomes. Members who conform may cause a group to fail to meet its objectives. They hesitate to take the initiative to turn the situation around, especially if they do not feel personally responsible for the group's success or failure.

6. A sense of powerlessness. If a person feels that he cannot change the situation, he is unlikely to try anything new. The apathy becomes self-fulfilling. No one tries anything different, and consequently, nothing improves.

5. What increases or decreases conformity?

A. Unanimity. Any puncturing of unanimity makes it easier to defy the group (even if the other defier is an idiot!). In fact, even if one other person gives an incorrect response that is different from the error the others are making (i.e. he says A, the group says B, and the right answer is C) conformity drops sharply. A fellow dissenter exerts a powerful freeing effect from the influence of the majority. Milgram found that when teacher/confederates disobeyed, only 10% of the subjects delivered the maximum shock.

B. Group size - but the group needn't be that big. Groups of 3 people are about as influential as groups of 16.

C. Cohesiveness. The more attracted individuals are to the group, the more likely they are to conform to its dictates.

D. Status (of the person who is being asked to obey). There are different theories about the effect of status on conformity. George C. Homans takes the view that both high and low status individuals conform less than those intermediate in status. He reasons that one deviation is unlikely to jeopardize the position of a high status person, and that low status people have little to lose by nonconformity. But for persons of intermediate status, the situation is different; they lack the standing of the high status person, and unlike the low status person, they have plenty of room for downward mobility. Some research confirms this, but other research does not.

Milgram found lower status types obeyed orders more readily. Conversely, higher status people, or those who feel they are more competent at the task in question, are more likely to resist group pressure.

E. Self esteem. Individuals who have a generally low opinion of themselves are far more likely to yield to group pressure than those with high self-esteem.

F. Culture. Norwegians conform more than the French. Japanese students are more willing to take a minority position than American Students.

E. Publicity and surveillance. The greater the publicity and surveillance associated with the behavior, the greater the conformity. Where behavior is difficult to monitor, the effectiveness of social sanctions is weakened. In public settings, we are likely to experience pressures for compliance although private acceptance may be absent.

F. Prior commitment. Once people have given an answer, they are much more likely to stick with it than when they hear others first. Those who state own opinions first are much less open to influence. Don't want to appear wishy-washy.

G. Emotional distance of the victim. Milgram found closer they physically were to the victim, less likely they were to obey. (e.g. sometimes the victim was in another room, sometimes in the same room, and sometimes the teacher actually had to press the victim's arm against the shocker). Vividly witnessing the suffering of others makes it more difficult to continue inflicting pain on them.

In another variation on this theme, the subject did not have to press the shock lever himself but was assigned the subsidiary role of helping another teacher. Over 90% of the subjects went to the maximum level. It seems that most were quite willing to participate in this situation as long as they were not the ones who inflicted the pain.

NOTE: Has relevance for the Kurt Waldheim situation, and others.

NOTE: This has real implications in the nuclear age, where you can kill people thousands of miles away. It is easy to be indifferent to the plight of innocent victims. Somebody suggested that, before the president could issue orders to use nuclear weapons, he should first have to kill the man holding the box - so that s/he is aware of the reality of death.

H. Legitimacy of authority. We have been conditioned to believe that scientists are responsible, benevolent people of high integrity. When an "assistant" took over in the Milgram experiments, compliance dropped to 20%. When studies were done in Bridgeport, Connecticut rather than at Yale, only 48% delivered the maximum shock.

A study of nurses found almost universal compliance with drs. orders, even when they were told to give overdoses.

I. Closeness of authority. When orders were given by telephone, the number of fully obedient subjects dropped to 25%.

J. Personality. Demonstrated effect has been very small. However, studies have tended to look at similar people in strong situations. Dissimilar people in weak situations may show more differences. i.e. put Mother Theresa and Charles Manson together in an everyday situation, and personality may play a more prominent role.

K. Difficulty and ambiguity. The more difficult the task or the more ambiguous the stimulus, the greater the conformity. Where the task is difficult, we are more likely to look to others as sources of information regarding appropriate courses of action.

L. Allocation of resources. Equitable sharing of resources heightens people's tendency to comply and requires less surveillance to produce compliance.

M. Guilt. When we commit a wrong, we feel guilty. We seek to atone by complying with another person's wishes. Guilty people seek out ways to lessen their guilt by voluntarily engaging in a good deed. However, a desire for restitution does not seem to be the reason why. A person who does harm may be even more inclined to help someone who is not the victim. Continued contact with the victim apparently results in uncomfortable feelings of obligation.

6. Resisting social pressure. Knowing that someone is trying to coerce us may even prompt us to react in the opposite direction.

A. When social pressure becomes so blatant that it threatens their sense of freedom, people often rebel. Reactance = A motive to protect or restore one's sense of freedom. Reactance is aroused when freedom of action is threatened. Can lead to social rebellion.

B. Asserting our uniqueness. People also feel discomfited by appearing like everyone else. When people are deprived of their feeling of uniqueness, they are more likely to assert their individuality by nonconformity.

7. Reactions to Deviance (non-conformity) within groups. Non-conformity represents a serious problem for the rest of the group. It disrupts normal operations and challenges the group's conception of reality. If allowed to continue, deviation may eventually cause a group to perform poorly or even to collapse. How, then, can groups deal with non-conforming behavior?

A. The group can try to restore conformity. Group members can speak to the deviant, remind him of the group's expectations, explain and justify these expectations, and urge him to comply.

If this doesn't work, the group can apply more pressure, including threats of direct punishment. Whether the deviant will be sanctioned, and how severely, depends on several things.

1. How much does the deviant's behavior interfere with important group goals? Behavior that prevents the group from attaining its goals - such as violating a central norm - will incite punishment that is both swift and severe.

2. The status of the deviant will affect the severity of the punishment, but the relationship is not simple and straightforward. One theory says that high-status persons are relatively free to violate minor norms provided they do not interfere with the attainment of the group's goals. At the same time, high-status persons are punished more severely than low-status persons if they breach important norms and thereby impede progress toward the group's goals.

To put it another way, groups are generally reluctant to label a high-status person as deviant. When the consequences of the deviation are minor, they prefer to overlook the matter. If the deviant act blocks attainment of the group's goal, the members have little choice: they must label the high-status member a deviant and apply severe sanctions. This phenomenon is known as status liability - high-status members are more liable than low-status members for major offenses.

B. The group can reject the deviant. If majority members in a group lack the capability or the inclination to apply pressure to a deviant, they have another option available to them: they can reject the deviant. Reject can assume various forms.

1. The member can be expelled

2. The group may not invite the deviant back to the next meeting.

3. Psychological isolation - The majority will ignore the deviant and refuse to interact with him even though he is physically present.

Rejection and sanctioning often occur at the same time. Rejection of the deviate is a means of reestablishing equilibrium within the group because it "purifies" the membership. After the deviant is ostracized, only the conforming members remain.

C. The group can change its own position and move into line with the deviant's. A small minority will sometimes sway, and then even become, the majority. Even when the majority does not accept the minority's views, dissent often increases the majority's self-doubts and prompts it to consider other alternatives more seriously. Galileo, Lincoln, Freud all advanced minority positions and eventually induced the majority to adopt their beliefs.

Deviant behavior is a potential threat to the group's effectiveness. Sometimes, however, an individual will engage in independent behavior not because he wishes to disrupt the group or pursue selfish objectives, but because he wants to change the rules or the procedures used by the group in pursuing its goals. In spite of the dissident's good intentions, the group may prefer to leave well enough alone, and will attempt to suppress the proposed changes.

Question: When is independent behavior likely to produce changes rather than meet with suppression by the majority?

Answer: Have to distinguish between group norms, and the goals that underlie those norms. If a member's behavior departs from group norms, but points to new ways to more fully realize the group's goals, the changes may be accepted by group members.. If a member tries to force a change in the group goals, he or she will likely meet with resistance. Only if a group has drifted aimlessly or has failed repeatedly to achieve its goals will an effort to change goals be favorably received.

Innovative suggestions are more likely to be adopted if they are proposed by a well-established or high-status member. One study suggests that leaders are more able to introduce changes after they have first demonstrated commitment to the group's norms and values. High-status members are more successful because they are usually considered more skillful and are more committed to group goals than other members.

Deliberate attempts to bring about social change are made not only by individuals, but also by small subgroups called active minorities. The majority can often dismiss the disagreement of alone minority member as the product of that person's idiosyncracy, but it is harder to discount two or more minority members who support one another.

What makes a minority persuasive? The style of behavior adopted by the active minority is important in determining its success.

1. Consistency. Several studies have shown that an active minority is more likely to change the opinion of group members if its position is distinctive and consistent over time. Whereas majorities can often gain compliance regardless of member's underlying attitudes, active minorities must truly persuade group members. A consistent position is persuasive because it implies that the minority is clearheaded, confident, and purposive. A consistent minority causes the majority to rethink its positions. It can also stimulate creative thinking. Consistent minority becomes the focus of debate.

EX: Moscovici argued that the Asch experiments actually illustrated minority influence. The subject was a representative of the majority - perceptual competents. The other six were from the minority of perceptual incompetents. This minority was influential because of its consistency.

EX: Conservative Republicans were badly beaten in 1964. In 1980, they won with Ronald Reagan. This may be because of their consistency. Democrats may be suffering because of their inconsistency.

2. Self confidence. Any behavior by a minority that conveys self-confidence - for example, taking the head seat at the table - will tend to raise self-doubts among the majority. Self confidence tends also to be a trait of leaders. Charismatic leaders tend to have an unshakable faith in their cause, utter confidence in their ability to succeed, and an ability to communicate this faith in clear and simple language.

3. Defections from the majority. Members of the majority who might otherwise have censored their self-doubts feel freer to express them, and may even switch to the minority position. Defectors are often more persuasive than those who have been with the minority position all along. Defections can often lead to a snowball effect.