AQA A-LEVEL PSYCHOLOGY REVISION NOTES: SOCIAL INFLUENCE

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PSYCHOLOGY AQA A-LEVEL UNIT 1 (7182/1)

THE SYLLABUS

CONFORMITY

  • Types of conformity – internalisation, identification and compliance
  • Asch’s research and variables affecting conformity: group size, unanimity and task difficulty
  • Explanations for conformity: informational social influence and normative social influence
  • Conformity to social roles as investigated by Zimbardo

OBEDIENCE

  • Milgram’s obedience research and situational variables affecting obedience: proximity, location and uniform
  • Explanations for obedience: agentic state and legitimacy of authority
  • Dispositional explanation for obedience: the Authoritarian Personality           

INDEPENDENT BEHAVIOUR

  • Explanations of resistance to social influence: social support and locus of control

 MINORITY INFLUENCE & SOCIAL CHANGE

  • Minority influence including reference to consistency, commitment and flexibility
  • The role of social influence processes in social change

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INTRODUCTION

Social influence research analyses the way in which individuals and groups affect each other’s attitudes and behaviour.

Conformity (or majority influence) involves changing attitudes and behaviours to fit in with a larger group, and is related to our need to (i) be accepted by others in our social group (normative social influence) or (ii) seek guidance about how we should think/behave in ambiguous (unclear) or novel (new) situations (informational social influence).

Obedience simply involves obeying commands from authority figures who hold social power. We are socialised to be obedient from childhood onwards (parents, teachers, police, etc.) and disobedience usually results in punishment of some sort.

Independent behaviour examines factors associated with people not giving in to pressures to conform or obey (i.e. being non-conformist or disobedient).

Minority influence research has explored how individuals/small groups can challenge the established views and behaviours of the majority to cause social change: for example, Emmeline Pankhurst and the suffragettes (a minority) challenged mainstream (the majority) sexist views in the UK and eventually won the right for women to vote.

Much influential research in his field is based in real life events in Nazi Germany where conformity to racist beliefs and blind obedience to authority figures were key psychological factors leading to the scapegoating and mass killing of Jews and other groups.  Similarly, during the 20th C. a great deal of social change occurred as a result of independent behaviour and minority influence (e.g. feminism, independence movements in ex-British colonies such as India, black civil rights in the USA, the gay rights movement, etc.)

ISSUES IN SOCIAL-PSYCHOLOGICAL RESEARCH

Before covering the syllabus in depth, it’s important to study the material below as social-psychological research is often conducted in ways which involve certain ethical and methodological issues. (These issues are relevant to many fields of psychological research but are particularly relevant to this topic. Full details in unit 2 Research Methods notes.)

Social-psychological research often takes the form of laboratory or field experiments where the researcher creates a fake social situation to which participants are exposed to monitor and record their behaviour. This fake social situation is often achieved through the use of confederates/stooges (‘actors’) who set up the fake situation to which the ‘naïve’ (unknowing/innocent) participant is exposed: i.e. the participants either don’t know the true aim of the study or even that they’re in a study at all.

  • Ethical Issues. Participants are supposed to give consent to take part in studies, should not be deceived, should be informed of their right to withdraw, protected from physical and psychological harm, and debriefed at the end of the study.

In laboratory experiments, and particularly in field experiments, it may be necessary to break some or all of these guidelines. For example, participants in field experiments cannot give consent or be informed of their right to withdraw, and in both types of experiment the participant must be deceived to ensure they believe the situation they are presented with is real so that demand characteristics are avoided or minimised.

  • Methodological Issues
  1. Ecological Validity. This relates to the issue of whether the findings of studies conducted under artificial, laboratory conditions can be generalised (applied to) to everyday life. In other words, if the study lacks ecological validity, we may be gaining a false (invalid) picture of behaviour. Field experiments generally have high levels of ecological validity.
  2. Demand Characteristics. If participants realise they are in an experimental situation they may alter and modify their behaviour in various ways. For example, they may try and guess the aim of the study, behave how they think they should behave, or try to please the experimenter by acting in certain ways, etc. Again, there is a possibility that observed behaviour will be invalid.

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CONFORMITY (Psychology A-level revision)

A DEFINITION OF CONFORMITY

Conformity (or majority influence) can be defined as a change in beliefs or behaviours by an individual or small group to fit in with a majority (larger) group as a result of real or imagined pressure from the majority group.

Examples could be minor (young people conforming to the drinking/drug taking behaviour of their peers) or major (a society conforming to racist beliefs). 

TYPES OF CONFORMITY 

Compliance

The shallowest type of conformity where the individual publicly conforms to the attitudes or behaviors of the majority group whilst privately disagreeing with them. For example, agreeing with friends that a film was good whilst secretly not enjoying it. Compliance is associated with seeking group approval and membership and avoiding disapproval. Compliance is usually temporary/impermanent.

Identification

A deeper type of conformity where an individual publicly and privately changes their attitudes and behaviour to conform to the group but only because they want to identify with and feel a sense of membership with the group. This change may be temporary – when they leave the group they revert to their original attitudes and behaviour. For example, joining the army and conforming to colleagues’ beliefs/behaviours but abandoning these once you leave the army. 

Internalisation

The deepest and most permanent type of conformity when one publicly and privately changes one’s attitudes and behaviour to fit in with a group because one believes the group’s attitudes and behaviours to be correct and right. For example, becoming a life-long vegetarian after sharing a house with vegetarians at university.

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RESEARCH INTO CONFORMITY (A-level Psychology revision)

ASCH (‘56)

Procedures

  • Asch aimed to assess whether individuals would conform to the obviously wrong response given by a majority in a perceptual-judgement task.
  • Asch asked 123 student participants to take part in a ‘vision test’. Participants sat with between 6-8 other ‘participants’. In fact, the visual task was about conformity and the other participants were confederates. Participants were shown a line on one card and 3 lines on another card. They were then asked which of the 3 lines they thought was the same length as the line on the first card. (It was obvious what the correct answer was).
Social Influence Asch perceptual judgement task

This was repeated 18 times with different lines each time.

In 12 out of the 18 trials, the confederates deliberately gave incorrect answers to test whether the one genuine participant conformed to their (majority) answer. (The real participant always answered last or 2nd to last in the group.)

Findings

  • On the 12 trials where the confederates deliberately gave the incorrect answer 36.8% of the responses made by the (genuine) participants were incorrect: i.e. they conformed to an obviously incorrect answer.
  • 25% of participants did not conform at all. 5% conformed on every trial.
  • Participants showed increasing anxiety and self-consciousness as the study went on.
  • After the study, Asch asked participants why they had conformed. Some said they doubted the accuracy of their judgment so yielded (gave in) to the majority view: i.e. they thought their vision/judgement was incorrect (informational social influence). Others said they trusted their own judgments privately but wanted to avoid disapproval and embarrassment (normative social influence).

 EVALUATION

  • The task was insignificant and did not have any moral importance – therefore, there were few costs attached to conforming. It was not a type of task that we confront in everyday life, meaning that it has low ecological validity. This limits the extent we can generalise results to conformity in everyday life. For example, in a more ecologically valid real life task involving moral consequences such as asking someone to conform to stealing we may find that levels of conformity are much lower.
  • Perrin and Spencer (‘80) claimed the study was a ‘child of its time’ – that the climate of 50’s America was particularly conformist and that social change since the 50’s has meant that people are now far more non-conformist and independent. When they repeated Asch’s study in the UK in the 70’s using science and engineering student they found only 1 conformist response out of 396 trials.
  • Asch’s sample were male American students – hence low population validity and ethnocentric bias – we cannot tell whether women or other cultures would conform in a similar way.
  • The study raises ethical issues – participants were deceived and might have felt humiliated (no protection of participants from psychological harm).
  • Lucas (‘06) conducted an experiment similar to Asch using maths problems. High self-efficacy participants (those who were confident in their own abilities) were more independent than low self-efficacy participants, even when the problems got more difficult. This shows that situational differences (task difficulty) and individual differences (self-efficacy) are both important in determining levels of conformity.

VARIABLES AFFECTING CONFORMITY

Asch conducted variations of the experiment to assess factors which increased or decreased conformity.

  • Task difficulty – making the lines in the task more similar to each other and therefore the answer less obvious produced higher rates of conformity. Rosander asked 1000 social media users’ questions about logic and general knowledge. Half the sample were provided with false answers by confederates. Conformity to false answers positively correlated with question difficulty. This suggests that when the correct way to think or behave is more complex or less clear we are more likely to trust others judgment and conform.
  • Group size of the majority – using a majority of 1 or 2 confederates with 1 real participant produced low rates of conformity – 3% with 1 confederate and 13% with 2 confederates. However, with a majority of 3 conformity rose to 33% and conformity effects rose little above this level despite the increased size of the majority.

The effect of group size may depend on the conformity task, however. Campbell found that if the task related to personal preferences (e.g. whether a film was good) increasing group size did lead to increasing conformity, whereas if the answer was clearly right/wrong increasing majority group size beyond 3 has little effect.

  • Unanimity - if another confederate gave the right answer and did not conform (i.e. there was not a unanimous majority) participants’ levels of conformity dropped to 5.5%. Thus, social support from other dissenters strengthens individuals’ independent behaviour to go against the majority and increases their confidence that they are right. Asch found that even when a dissenter gave a different but wrong answer to the majority, participants were more likely to go against the group and show independent behaviour.

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EXPLANATIONS OF WHY PEOPLE CONFORM (AQA A-level Psychology revision)

The dual process dependency model identifies 2 reasons for conformity: the desire to be liked and the desire to be right.

NORMATIVE SOCIAL INFLUENCE

Normative social influence states that people conform in order to be liked and accepted, and to gain and retain group membership. Humans are a social species and have an innate, fundamental need for social companionship and a fear of rejection or punishment by the social group. Although they may personally and privately disagree with the group they outwardly conform (compliance) or temporarily conform to retain group membership (identification). Thus, this type of conformity is relatively shallow and usually short-term.

INFORMATIONAL SOCIAL INFLUENCE

Informational social influence suggests that people conform to others beliefs and behaviours in order to be ‘right’. In ambiguous (unclear) or novel (new) situations people are often unsure how to behave, so they conform to others beliefs and behaviours, partly out of a desire to avoid embarrassment, partly because they believe that others are more knowledgeable about the correct way to act and behave. This sort of social influence is most likely when:

  • The situation is ambiguous and the right way to act/respond is unclear
  • The situation is a crisis and we are required to respond quickly.
  • We believe others are ‘experts’ and thus trust their judgement

This type of conformity tends to have more permanent effects on behaviour and often results, therefore, in internalisation.

EVALUATION

Asch’s study provides evidence for this model.

  • Some said they doubted the accuracy of their judgment so yielded to the majority view: i.e. they thought their vision/judgement was incorrect (informational social influence).
  • Others said they trusted their own judgments privately but wanted to avoid disapproval and embarrassment (normative social influence).

NORMATIVE SOCIAL INFLUENCE

Further evidence to support normative influence comes from research studies.

Schultz (’08) analysed data from 794 rooms in 132 hotels where doors displayed a sign informing guests either that (i) reusing their towels was environmentally friendly, or (ii) 75% of guests choose to reuse their towels. Those guests who saw the 2nd sign were significantly more likely to re-use their towels. The normative social influence caused by the 2nd sign reduced hotel replacement of towels by 25%: i.e. guests thought this was what others were doing so wanted to fit in with the group and avoid disapproval/embarrassment.

Marketing campaigns about what is normative (normal/usual) for young people have successfully reduced alcohol abuse and smoking in teenagers. In a campaign aimed at 12-17 year olds in the US only 10% of participants took up smoking after exposure to a campaign saying that most children in their age range did not smoke. Control groups who did not receive this message were significantly more likely to take up smoking. This change can be attributed (blamed on or caused by) to normative social influence.

Therefore, psychological research into normative social influence has real-life applications in that advertisers and governments can manipulate or persuade the public into conforming to certain attitudes or behaviours: for example, anti-smoking campaigns, etc.

INFORMATIONAL SOCIAL INFLUENCE

Further evidence to support informational influence comes from research studies.

Fein (‘07). Participants watched presidential candidates in debates and were then asked for their judgment on how they had performed. They were then exposed to other people’s opinions on screen. When questioned later about the candidates, many participants showed large shifts away from their original opinions. This supports informational social influence – they had altered their original opinions to fit in with the majority as they believed the majority was more ‘correct’ in their opinions than they were.

CRITICISMS – the role of group membership

Critics of the dual-dependency model argue that it does not recognize the importance of individuals’ sense of group belonging. Hogg (’87) carried out experiments similar to Asch’s but used either friends or strangers as confederates. Participants were in booths so that they could hear but not see confederates’ responses. He found that conformity to obviously wrong answers only occurred when confederates were friends. This underlines the importance of group belonging, loyalty and identity in the process of conformity, and that we are much more likely to conform to those whom we define as our ‘in-group’.

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CONFORMITY TO SOCIAL ROLES - ZIMBARDO’S RESEARCH (AQA A-level Psychology revision guide)

Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment (71) investigated identification with and conformity to social roles of guard and prisoner in prisons, and the process of deindividuation (where an individual’s identity is stripped away, in this case though uniforms and identification with a prisoner or guard role) and increased aggression.

  • 24 psychologically normal volunteer male students were randomly divided to take on the role of either guard or prisoner in a ‘mock’ prison. After a fake ‘arrest’ prisoners were taken to the prison, had personal possessions removed, were dressed as prisoners and assigned ID numbers. Guards were told to keep the prisoners under control but use no violence. Guards referred to the prisoners only by their number and were given uniforms, clubs and reflective sunglasses (to prevent eye contact). Zimbardo played the role of the prison superintendent.
  • Within a few days the guards became psychologically and physically abusive to the prisoners. The prisoners ‘rebelled’ against the guards’ authority by taking off their ID badges. The guards locked the prisoners in their cells. Rapidly, the guards seem to begin to enjoy sadistically (taking pleasure in others suffering) exercising power over the prisoners, making them perform humiliating tasks, depriving them of sleep and force-feeding those who went on hunger strike. Increasingly, participants behaved as if the situation they were in was real. Over the course of a few days prisoners became passive, depressed and stressed – 5 prisoners had to be released early due to crying, rage, extreme anxiety, etc. The study was planned to run for 2 weeks but was called off after 6 days due to the guards’ brutal behaviour and the prisoners’ reactions.

 EVALUATION

  • Ethics. Zimbardo’s study has become well-known as an example of an ethically questionable psychological study. Although participants gave informed consent they were not told they would be arrested at home. They were not deceived and were given the right to withdraw, but they were subjected to fairly severe physical and psychological harm, and it is argued that Zimbardo had a moral responsibility to stop the study as soon as the guards showed any signs of brutality. It has also been argued that Zimbardo might have anticipated the distress which the prisoners were subjected to, and that participants could not give fully informed consent as the outcome of the study was unpredictable: i.e. no-one expected the guards to behave so abusively.

Zimbardo answered critics by stating that he counselled (advised and helped) participants afterwards to cope with their experiences and that the study illustrated such an important aspect of human behaviour that the temporary suffering experienced by some participants was justified.

  • Ecological Validity. Clearly, the prison was not real and the participants (guards and prisoners) were engaged in a role play rather than a real-life situation, knew they could leave the experiment when they wished, and were only confined for a short period of time. To what extent we can generalise findings to real institutions and real abuse of power by guards against prisoners is, therefore, debatable. Even though the study lacked ecological validity, the social roles given to the guard and prisoner of powerful and powerless do seem associated in the real world with sadistic violence.
  • Zimbardo’s interpretation of his participants’ behaviour was that when put in a social role with absolute power even psychologically normal individuals are at increased likelihood of behaving abusively to those with no social power. The deindividuating effect of the prison and the uniforms seemed to encourage brutality and violence.
  • Demand Characteristics. Critics argue that Zimbardo encouraged the guards’ brutality and that the guards simply acted up to the stereotypical role they were being asked to play, therefore, they were not really behaving as themselves.
  • The behaviour of the guards in the study has been witnessed countless times in total institutions (e.g. prisons, concentration camps, mental institutions and the army): e.g. Abu Graib prison in Iraq where a number of American soldiers were found to have sadistically abused Iraqi prisoners.

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OBEDIENCE (A-level Psychology resources)

A DEFINITION OF OBEDIENCE

Obedience can be defined as following the commands of authority figures who hold social power/status: e.g. parents, teachers, police, bosses, etc. Some form of punishment (ranging from mild disapproval through to physical violence) usually results from disobedience. Milgram was interested in the phenomena of German officers and soldiers being blindly obedient to the commands of superiors who ordered them to kill innocent people during World War 2.

RESEARCH INTO OBEDIENCE - MILGRAM’S OBEDIENCE STUDY (’63)

Aim

  • Milgram’s experiment assessed to what extent ordinary men will blindly obey an authority figure’s commands to harm an innocent man.

Procedures

  • Participants met the experimenter and were introduced to ‘Mr Wallace’ (a confederate) who would be the participant’s partner in the study. Mr Wallace was strapped into a chair designed to give electric shocks. In an adjacent room where he could hear but not see Mr Wallace, participants read out word-pairs which Mr Wallace was later required to remember. Each time Mr Wallace failed the task (which he deliberately did), Milgram instructed the participant to deliver increasingly large electric shocks. As the study progressed Mr Wallace pretended to be in increasing amounts of pain. At 270 V he began screaming and from 330 V + there was silence (he was presumably unconscious/dead). Participants showed great signs of stress and repeatedly said that they wouldn’t continue. However, Milgram insisted they continue and commanded them to obey.

Findings

  • 26 out of the 40 participants (65%) gave shocks up to the maximum value of 450V. All participants delivered shocks up to 300V. In between 300-450 V 35% of participants defied Milgram at some point and refused to obey.

Conclusions

  • Milgram’s study implies that an average American male will be willing to inflict potentially fatal harm on an innocent individual simply because they have been ordered to do so – that the social power of obedience and authority is greater than one’s own moral conscience. Milgram’s findings have relevance for understanding the murder of innocent civilians by soldiers under command of their officers.

 EVALUATION

 ETHICAL CRITICISMS

  • Milgram gained consent from participants but not informed consent: i.e. they knew they were in a psychological study but did not know what the true nature of the study was. It is likely they would not have given consent had they known the true aim.
  • Milgram deceived participants about the aim of the study (he told them it was about the effects of punishment on learning), the identity of Mr Wallace, and the fact that the shock-equipment and Mr Wallace’s screams were not real.
  • Participants were pressurised to continue in the study even though they asked to withdraw. Nearly all participants expressed anxiety and a desire to not shock Mr Wallace. Although at the start of the study Milgram told them they could stop at any point they wanted, once the study was in progress if they expressed a desire to stop he responded with statements such as ‘It is absolutely essential that you continue’, ‘you have no other choice, you must go on’.
  • Participants were exposed to high levels of psychological stress. It could be argued that the study caused long-lasting damage to self-esteem.

METHODOLOGICAL CRITICISMS OF MILGRAM’S STUDY

Orne argued

  • The study lacked ecological validity – findings could not be generalised beyond the laboratory setting and could not be applied to obedience in the real world. The obedience task that Milgram’s participants performed was artificial and had no social ‘context’: for example, participants did not fear punishment if they disobeyed as soldiers would. There was also no moral or political context to the obedience task whereas in real-life obedience situations such as wars soldiers may feel a duty to obey or that violence is justified.
  • Participants showed demand characteristics – they didn’t believe the shocks were real and play-acted along. Although post-experimental interviews seem to indicate that participants did take the study seriously, a research assistant of Milgram’s claimed that quite a number of participants believed the shocks to be fake, and it was these participants who gave the highest intensity shocks.

A FIELD EXPERIMENT INTO OBEDIENCE

Hofling conducted a field experiment in a psychiatric hospital. Boxes of placebos labeled ‘5mg Astrofen, maximum dose 10mg daily’ were placed in the pharmacy. A confederate doctor telephoned the nurse on duty saying he needed the nurse to give 20mg of Astrofen to a patient as he was in a hurry, and that he’d sign the drug authorisation document later. To obey the doctor’s orders the nurse would be breaking 3 procedural rules: (i) the dose was above the daily limit, (ii) drugs should only be given after written authorisation from a doctor, (iii) the nurse must be sure the doctor is genuine. Despite these important rules 21 out of 22 nurses immediately obeyed. Thus, this more ecologically valid study supports Milgram’s original findings.

VARIABLES AFFECTING OBEDIENCE

In variations of the original study Milgram identified features which raised or lowered obedience levels.

  • Proximity (how close participants were to the Mr Wallace, and how close they were to the experimenter)
    • When the experimenter gave instructions by telephone, obedience dropped with only 20% going to full 450V. The participant felt less pressure to obey the experimenter when they were distanced from him.
    • When the teacher was in the same room as the learner increased empathy resulted in obedience rates falling, and the same effect was found when the teacher was instructed to force the learner’s hand onto the shock plate. However, even in this last condition where one might expect empathy and direct responsibility to lower obedience rates, 30% of participants still continued to 450V.
  • Uniform
    • Milgram’s lab coat may also have conveyed that he was an authority figure (e.g. professor). Later research by Bickman confirmed the effect of uniforms on obedience. In a field experiment, members of the public were instructed to either pick up a piece of litter or lend money to a stranger. When the researcher was dressed as a security guard 92% of participants obeyed compared to only 58% when he was dressed in normal clothing. Thus, uniforms can act as powerful symbols which we are socialised to recognise as indicators of legitimate authority figures who we should and must obey.
  • Location
    • Milgram believed that the prestigious (high status) location of Yale University gave an air of authority which influenced participants’ obedience. When the location of the study was moved to a run-down office block obedience rates dropped to 48%.

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EXPLANATIONS OF WHY PEOPLE OBEY  (AQA A-level Psychology resources)

Milgram’s research highlights how situational factors caused by the presence of a powerful authority figure may cause people/groups to act against their personal moral conscience. Milgram proposed various factors which might explain why blind obedience occurs.

 LEGITIMATE AUTHORITY

  • Milgram argued that in many situations people hold a shared belief that there will be a socially controlling figure. It is the perception of this figure as holding legitimate authority that makes us think it is appropriate to obey. For example, in the Milgram study, participants held an expectation that Milgram was a legitimate authority figure, that his authority should not be questioned and that it was appropriate to obey him.
  • Early childhood socialisation in the family and in school normalises obeying legitimate (those we see as legal or lawful) authority figures: e.g. parents, teachers, police, etc. We are more likely to obey if the authority figure giving instructions has more social power.

We may also obey because we trust the authority figure or because they have the power to punish us if we don’t obey.

  • Obedience to requests to cause harm are more likely to be followed if they occur within a legitimate institution (e.g. the military or a university). However, Milgram still found high levels of obedience when the location of the study was moved from Yale (prestigious) to a run-down office block. It may be that the situation being presented as a scientific study (highly legitimate) outweighed the importance of its location.
  • A study by Bickman revealed how participants were more likely to obey the demands of a uniformed guard than a milkman, suggesting that uniforms give their wearers an aura (an air or atmosphere) of legitimate authority. Similarly, the nurses in Hofling’s field experiment were willing to obey someone who called himself ‘doctor’.

 AGENTIC SHIFT

Milgram distinguished between 2 psychological states.

  • In the autonomous state we see ourselves as acting according to our own decision-making and are, therefore, morally responsible for our actions.
  • In the agentic state we see ourselves as an agent carrying out another person’s wishes/commands, therefore, moral responsibility is passed onto to the authority figure and we lessen our own moral responsibility for our acts.
  • In Milgram’s study participants underwent an agentic shift: when they refused to continue and the experimenter said that he would be responsible for any harm caused, participants handed over moral responsibility to the experimenter and nearly always continued shocking the participant.
  • In post-experimental interviews, Milgram’s participants frequently stated that they wouldn’t have shocked Mr Wallace by themselves but that they were ‘just doing what they were told’. This suggests that individuals feel a sense of responsibility to the authority figure commanding them but not for the actions they carry out as a result of these commands – responsibility for these actions has been handed over to the figure commanding them.

 THE ROLE OF BUFFERS (psychological barriers)

  • Physical and psychological barriers may lessen the impact of committing immoral acts and individuals considering the moral consequences of their actions.
  • In variations of the original Milgram study, when participants could not hear Mr Wallace’s screams levels of obedience rose; when participants could see as well as hear Mr Wallace levels of obedience fell.

 GRADUAL COMMITMENT

  • Having agreed to give low level, non-harmful shocks progression to the ‘next small step up’ of higher shocks is psychologically less difficult. Having committed to giving shocks in the first place it becomes more difficult for participants to subsequently change their mind. This is the ‘foot-in-the-door’ method of persuasion as people become locked into obedience in small stages.

Many Holocaust (mass killing of Jews in WW2) historians have questioned Milgram’s emphasis on the power of blind obedience to authority figures. Using obedience explanations of the holocaust in some ways justifies or explains away the personal moral responsibility criminals should and must face for their crimes by blaming their obedience on environmental/social/psychological factors.

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DISPOSITIONAL EXPLANATION FOR OBEDIENCE – THE AUTHORITARIAN PERSONALITY (A-level Psychology notes)

Adorno argued that certain personality types (dispositions) were prone to high levels of obedience as a result of negative early childhood experiences.

This ‘authoritarian personality’ is characterised by

  • High levels of obedience and respect for authority
  • Support for corporal (bodily) and capital (death penalty) punishment
  • Racial/outgroup (those we perceive as different to ourselves) prejudice

In the 50’s, Adorno interviewed over 2000 US students about their political beliefs and early childhood experiences and used projective tests (a way of analysing unconscious thoughts) to assess whether they were racially prejudiced. Adorno found that strict parents who used harsh physical punishment tended to produce children with high levels of obedience and respect for authority. Adorno drew on Freud’s view that a harsh upbringing leads to feelings of hostility and anger to parents which is then displaced (diverted) onto weaker, minority groups: i.e. the minority becomes an outlet for the individual’s repressed unconscious hostility.

Adorno developed a number of questionnaires/scales which measured

  • Fascism (Nazi political beliefs). The F scale questionnaire asked questions such as ‘obedience and respect for authority are the most important virtues children should learn’, and ‘rules are there for people to follow, not change’.
  • Ethnocentrism (the preference for one’s own ethnic group)
  • Anti-Semitism (anti-Jewish)

In the 80’s Altemeyer refined the concept of the Authoritarian Personality by identifying a group of 3 personality variables he referred to as right-wing (politically conservative) authoritarianism (RWA) characterised by

  • Conventionalism – believing in traditional/conservative norms and values
  • Authoritarian aggression – aggressive urges towards people who go against traditional norms and values (e.g. homosexuals)
  • Authoritarian submission – uncritical obedience to traditional authorities

When conducting a research study similar to Milgram’s which involved participants shocking themselves when they made a mistake on a learning task there was a significant correlation between RWA scores and level of shock given.

EVALUATION

Adorno’s view that obedience was largely a result of personality type declined in influence for the following reasons.

  • Questionnaires used to measure personality type can be criticized in that participants may answer socially sensitive questions with socially appropriate answers: i.e. respondents may feel guilty or that they might be negatively judged for expressing negative views about, for example, homosexuals. Equally, their prejudice may be unconscious: i.e. they don’t consciously think that they are prejudiced but unconsciously they think and behave in prejudiced ways. This would lead to questionnaires such as the F-Scale lacking validity.
  • Milgram and Zimbardo’s social-psychological research indicated that situational/environmental factors could produce obedience in all types of people, not only those with particular personality types.

Milgram believed that social factors such as proximity, location, social support, etc. were the most important factors influencing whether someone would obey but he also stated that personality type may have been a deciding factor in influencing why some of his participants uncritically obeyed whereas others refused to obey. Milgram carried out interviews with his participants after they had completed the experiment and found that those participants who shocked the learner to 450V were much more likely to score highly on measures of authoritarianism and lower on measures of social responsibility than those who refused to obey the experimenter.

This supports Adorno’s dispositional explanation of obedience and indicates that social factors can combine with dispositional factors in influencing overall levels of obedience.

Adorno’s theory cannot account for the kind of mass and sudden racism witnessed in events such as Nazi Germany, otherwise all Germans would had to have had similar punishment-based childhoods, all at the same time.

Research has found that education level and authoritarianism are negatively correlated (i.e. the higher the level of education, the less authoritarian an individual is). Milgram also found this relationship in his study. It is possible, therefore, that it is not personality type which causes obedience level but that education level causes both authoritarianism and obedience.

Altemeyer’s RWA scale implies that politically conservative/right-wing people are more likely to obey authority. This suggests that left-wing people would be less obedience. Although evidence for this has been found, it has proven very difficult to determine the exact relationship between personality type, education level, political viewpoint and high levels of obedience.

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INDEPENDENT BEHAVIOUR (AQA A-level Psychology notes)

 A DEFINITION OF INDEPENDENT BEHAVIOUR

Independent Behaviour can be defined as any individual or group who resists pressures to conform or obey (i.e. non-conformist or disobedient behaviour). For example, early feminists held non-conformist views (women should have the right to vote) and were disobedient (broke the law in their protests).

EXPLANATIONS OF INDEPENDENT BEHAVIOUR – RESISTING PRESSURES TO CONFORM AND OBEY

LOCUS OF CONTROL

This concept refers to how much control a person thinks they have over their own behaviour and events in their life

  • High internal locus of control - the individual believes they have a great deal of control over events in their lives so that what happens to them is primarily caused by their own personal decisions, abilities and efforts. They are more likely to take personal responsibility for their own lives and be less likely to conform and obey.
  • High external locus of control - the individual believes that what happens to them is largely out of their control, and caused by fate, luck, or other external circumstances. They are, therefore, less likely to take personal responsibility for their own lives and be more likely to conform and obey.

 RESISTING PRESSURES TO CONFORM

 LOCUS OF CONTROL

  • People with a high internal locus of control tend to seek out information that is useful to them so are less likely to rely on the opinions of others or conform to other attitudes and behaviours.
  • Atgis (‘98) found that high external locus of control and conformity were correlated (+0.37) suggesting that there are higher rates of conformity in ‘externals’ rather than ‘internals’.
  • Anderson (‘78) found that amongst a group of college students those who possessed a high internal locus of control were more likely to emerge as leaders in their groups. It can be assumed that such people lead rather than conform to the ideas of others.

 SOCIAL SUPPORT

  • People are less likely to conform if they have an ally – someone who also disagrees with the In Asch’s study, conformity rates dropped from 36.8% to 5.5% when there was another independent participant present. Interestingly, this other participant does not have to agree with this person in order for them to remain independent – Asch observed that when this ally gave a different, but incorrect, response to the majority, conformity still decreased to 9%.

OTHER FACTORS & RESISTING PRESSURES TO CONFORM

People are less likely to conform if agreeing with the majority would have an effect on their integrity (moral belief system).

  • Hornsey found that a person was less likely to go along with a group who were in favour of cheating (i.e. something immoral) than something with no moral consequences.

There are also personality variables that help people resist pressures to conform.

  • Lucas (‘06) conducted an experiment similar to Asch using math’s problems.

High self-efficacy participants (confident in their own abilities) were more independent than low self-efficacy participants even when the problems got more difficult.

  • The non-conformist personality – some individuals have certain personality traits that make conformity less likely for them.
    • Unconcerned with social norms
    • Not aware of what the social norm is
    • Anti-conformist – they actively oppose group norms

 RESISTING PRESSURES TO OBEY

 LOCUS OF CONTROL

  • People with a high internal locus of control tend to seek out information that is useful to them so are less likely to rely on the opinions of others or obey.
  • Research has suggested that high internals tend to be more achievement-orientated and become leaders, so are better able to resist pressure from others, and thus are less likely to obey.
  • Anderson (‘78) found that amongst a group of college students those who possessed a high internal locus of control were more likely to emerge as leaders in their groups. It can be assumed that such people give orders rather than obey.

 SOCIAL SUPPORT & RESISTING PRESSURES TO OBEY

  • Disobedience due to social support. In variations of Milgram’s study, when 2 other confederates were present who refused to continue with shocks, participants’ obedience dropped to 10%. Thus, others who are disobedient may act as role models on whom we base our own behaviour and provide a sense of social support, strength and group opposition to the authority figure.
  • Obedience rates decline when individuals are in a familiar situation and have some social support. Although Hofling observed that 21 out of 22 nurses would give an overdose to a patient on the instruction of a doctor, when the situation was made more familiar (using a drug they knew), and they had some support (they could discuss with other nurses), obedience fell to only 2 out of 18.
  • A real-life illustration of social support occurred in World War 2 where German women with Jewish husbands or sons stood against German soldiers who had imprisoned 2000 Jewish men. Despite being threatened with being shot if they did not disperse, the German women eventually won the release of the men. Social support provides strength, courage and solidarity (standing together). Equally, people being disobedient may feel the chances of being punished are reduced if they stand together as the person giving the commands may find it more difficult or costly to punish a large number of people rather than an individual.

 IMPLICATIONS FROM MILGRAM’S RESEARCH

  • Proximity: disobedience is more likely if the authority figure is not in close proximity, and more likely if we are ordered to harm someone in close proximity to us.
    • When the experimenter gave instructions by telephone, obedience dropped with only 20% going to full 450V. Participants felt less pressure to obey the experimenter when they were distanced from him.
    • When the teacher was in the same room as the learner increased empathy resulted in obedience rates falling, and the same effect was found when the teacher was instructed to force the learner’s hand onto the shock plate.
  • Uniform: disobedience is more likely if someone is not perceived as a legitimate authority figure, though, for example, a uniform.
    • Milgram’s lab coat conveyed that he was an authority figure (e.g. professor). Later research by Bickman confirmed the effect of uniforms on obedience. In a field experiment, members of the public were instructed to either pick up a piece of litter or lend money to a stranger. When the researcher was dressed as a security guard 92% of participants obeyed compared to only 58% when he was dressed in normal clothing.

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THE ROLE OF MINORITY INFLUENCE IN SOCIAL CHANGE (A-level Psychology revision notes)

 A DEFINITION OF MINORITY INFLUENCE

Minority Influence can be defined as a change in beliefs or behaviours by a larger group to fit in with a minority or individual’s views and behaviours.

For example, Emmeline Pankhurst and the suffragettes (a minority) challenging mainstream (the majority) sexist views in the UK and eventually won the right for women to vote. Thus minority influence can lead to social change.

MINORITY INFLUENCE

Social influence research has suggested that minorities and independent behaviour can bring about social change: i.e. a minority can challenge the beliefs and values of the majority causing them to re-think/re-evaluate their beliefs. Conformity, on the other hands, maintains the status quo (the way things are).

Single individuals can bring about considerable social change: e.g. Emmeline Pankhurst, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, etc. It is difficult to assess to what extent the individual personality characteristics of minority leaders are responsible for creating social change. Often leaders simply highlight and act as a focus point for wider social and political events.

Whereas majority influence involves smaller groups or individuals changing their beliefs and behaviour to fit in with the majority, minority influence involves a process whereby the majority scrutinize (closely examine) the majority position in an attempt to understand why the minority think the way they do. Thus, when conversion to the minority position occurs the change in beliefs shown by the majority tends to be deeper and longer-lasting.

CONSISTENCY (stating the same message again and again)

Moscovici (’69) conducted a study where 4 genuine participants (the majority) were put into a group with 2 confederates (the minority). The group were shown a series of 36 slides of different shades of blue and asked to state the colour of each slide.

  • In condition 1, the 2 confederates always (consistently) responded that the slides were green (rather than blue).
  • In condition 2, the confederates responded that the slides were green 24 out of 36 times (inconsistent).

The number of genuine participants who agreed with the minority was 8% in condition 1 and 1.25% in condition 2. This suggests that a consistent minority can change a majority’s viewpoint even when asked to agree to an obviously wrong answer.

This shows that minorities need to be consistent if they are to have any real effect: i.e. to insist on and repeat the same message time and time again. Such consistency can be seen in successful social change movements such as the suffragettes who consistently fought for equal voting rights for women.

It can, of course, be argued that Moscovici’s study was highly artificial and thus lacked ecological validity and that is contained no moral context as real life minority influence situations do.

FLEXIBILITY

Mugny suggested that flexibility in the minorities argument is essential as the minority is relatively powerless compared to the majority and need, therefore, to negotiate their position rather than try to enforce it.

A minority who appear too rigid and inflexible in their beliefs can cause majorities to reject their message. However, if minorities are too flexible they may be viewed as inconsistent and this, again, may cause the majority to ignore the minority’s message.

A study by Nemeth (87) provides evidence for the importance of this. In a simulated jury situation, participants were asked to discuss how much compensation should be paid to someone injured in a ski-life accident. A confederate who put forward an alternative point of view and inflexibly stuck to his view caused no influence on the majority group, but a confederate who compromised and showed some flexibility did. This was most effective if flexible compromise was shown later in negotiations rather than earlier (where he was perceived as having given into the majority).

COMMITMENT

Other research into social influence has suggested that minorities must show commitment and make sacrifices in order to maintain their position if they are to persuade others. This can be seen with the suffragettes who were persistently arrested, imprisoned, went on hunger strikes, etc. Suffragettes were acting from moral principles (e.g. equality) rather than self-interest. Majorities are much more likely to be persuaded by minorities if the minority view is seen to arise from commitment to a higher moral principal: e.g. equal rights and fairness.

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THE ROLE OF SOCIAL INFLUENCE PROCESSES IN SOCIAL CHANGE (AQA A-level Psychology revision notes)

History repeatedly illustrates that minority attitudes and behaviour can slowly or quickly result in majorities adopting the minority position. Thus, minority influence can create social change.

Until 1967 homosexuality was illegal. Until 1973 homosexuality was listed as a mental disorder. In 1983, a social attitudes survey found that 60% of non-religious adults in the UK disapproved of same-sex relationships and regarded them as ‘wrong’. In contemporary (modern) society homosexuality is largely accepted. Clearly the minority belief that homosexuality is acceptable has largely been accepted by the majority of society.

MINORITY INFLUENCE

Linking this to minority influence research, homosexuals consistently presented their message that homosexuality was simply an alternative to heterosexuality, showed commitment to their beliefs through demonstrations, campaigns to fight discrimination, etc. and were flexible in their arguments.

 Social change through minority influence can be thought of as a stage process.

  1. Drawing attention to an issue. For example, suffragettes used educational, political and demonstration tactics to draw attention to their cause.
  2. Cognitive (mental) conflict. Presented with information on the majority’s position, the majority may experience a state of cognitive conflict whereby they need to decide whether they will adopt the new minority view or stick with the traditional majority view. This process is aided if minority arguments are persuasive. Martin Luther King was well known for his inspiring speeches which presented rational, logical and convincing arguments for equality.
  3. Consistency. Repeating the same message time and time again. Such consistency can be seen in successful social change movements such as the suffragettes who consistently fought for equal voting rights for women.
  4. The augmentation principle. If a minority appears to suffer for their views they are seen as more committed (e.g. the suffragettes) and taken more seriously by the majority.
  5. The snowball effect. Once a few members of the majority start to move towards the minority position, the influence of the minority begins to gather momentum as more people pay attention. Recent research suggests that this is about 10%.

Research has also suggested that minorities need to be similar to majorities in terms of social class, age, ethnicity and gender if they are to be successful. Some of the earliest protests by gay men and women involved silent placard carrying whilst wearing smart clothes. This helped overcome stigmatisation of homosexuals as ‘abnormal’, ‘different’, etc.

Single individuals can bring about considerable social change: e.g. Emmeline Pankhurst, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, etc. It is difficult to assess to what extent the individual personality characteristics of minority leaders are responsible for creating social change. Often leaders simply highlight and act as a focal point for wider social and political events.

CONFORMITY

Governments can cause or accelerate social change through advertising what is normative (normal/usual). Such campaigns have successfully reduced alcohol abuse and smoking in teenagers. In a campaign aimed at 12-17 year olds in the US only 10% of participants took up smoking after exposure to a campaign saying that most children in their age range did not smoke. Control groups who did not receive this message were significantly more likely to take up smoking.

This is a simple and effective way to create social change but may result in individuals or groups resisting pressures to conform. For example, DeJong (’09) found that across 14 different US universities, after 3 years, campaigns based on reducing alcohol intake among students which appealed to normative behaviour, had failed to have any impact on either their perception of appropriate drinking or their drinking behaviour.

OBEDIENCE

Government can pass laws which require people to be obedient and punish disobedience with fines, prison, etc. This is a simple and effective way to create social change but may result in individuals or groups resisting pressures to obey.

We are more likely to obey if figures commanding us are perceived as legitimate and trusted: for example, smoking used to be a majority behaviour in the 1950’s but is now a minority one. One of the factors responsible for this is that trusted, expert authority figures (the medical community) have warned of its dangers.