Sociocultural Level of Analysis: Social and Cultural Norms

Sociocultural Level of Analysis:
Social and Cultural Norms
Part III
Social Influence: Conformity
• Conformity – an indirect social influence, people
tend to adjust their thoughts, feelings, or
behavior that are in agreement with those of a
individual or particular group, or with accepted
standards about how a person should behave in
specific situations (special norms).
• The term “peer pressure” is used to describe the
conformity seen in schools, but conformity
occurs at all levels of society and it is not always
simply about the need to sit in with a group of
friends at school.
Social Influence: Conformity
• Solomon Asch (1951) - Asch Paradigm
– The participants — the real subjects and the confederates
(part of the study, unknown to real subjects) — were all
seated in a classroom. They were asked a variety of
questions about the lines such as how long is A, compare
the length of A to an everyday object, which line was
longer than the other, which lines were the same length,
– The group was told to announce their answers to each
question out loud. The confederates always provided their
answers before the study participant, and always gave the
same answer as each other. They answered a few
questions correctly but eventually began providing
incorrect responses.
Social Influence: Conformity
• Solomon Asch (1951) - Asch Paradigm
– In a control group, with no pressure to conform to an erroneous
view, only 1 subject out of 35 ever gave an incorrect answer.
– Asch hypothesized that the majority of people would not
conform to something obviously wrong.
– When surrounded by individuals all voicing an incorrect answer,
participants provided incorrect responses on a high proportion
of the questions, 32% agreed with incorrect responses in half or
more of the trials.
– 24% of the participants did not conform to any of the incorrect
responses given by confederates.
– 75% of the participants agreed with the confederates and gave
an incorrect answer to at least one question.
Social Influence: Conformity
• Solomon Asch (1951) - Asch Paradigm
– As long as the dissenting confederate gives an answer
that is different from the majority, participants are
more likely to give the correct answer.
– One difference between the Asch conformity
experiments and the Milgram experiment is that the
subjects of these studies attributed their performance
to their own misjudgment and "poor eyesight", while
those in the Milgram experiment blamed the
experimenter in explaining their behavior.
Social Influence: Conformity
• The Asch paradigm has been replicated many
times. Out of those variations and replications,
psychologists have found that the following
factors influence the likelihood to conform to the
– Group size: Asch (1955) found that with only one
confederate, just 3% of the participants conformed;
with two confederates, it rose to 32%. Larger groups
did not increase the rate of conformity. In some cases,
very large groups even decreased the level of
Social Influence: Conformity
– Unanimity: Conformity was most likely when all the
confederated agreed (Asch 1956). If one of the
confederates disagreed, even if it was also an
incorrect answer, the participant was significantly less
likely to conform.
– Confidence: When individuals feel that they are more
competent to make decisions with regard to a field of
expertise, they are less likely to conform. Perrin and
Spencer (1988) found that when they replicated
Asch’s study with engineers and medical students,
conformity rates were almost nil.
Social Influence: Conformity
– Self-esteem: Stang (1973) found that participants with
high self-esteem were less likely to conform to incorrect
• Criticism of Asch Paradigm:
• Artificiality and ecological validity – do these experiments
accurately predict real-life situations?
• Culture: in the original study only one culture was studied. Culture
changes, the study may not even be valid today.
• Ethics: participants deceived, made to feel anxiety about their
• Friend et al. (1990): argue there is a bias in interpretation of
findings. Claims it should be striking to us that in the face of
unanimity so many people did not conform. We should study the
factors that allow people to dissent, rather than conform.
Social Influence: Conformity
• Moscovici argues that when a minority maintains
a consistent view, it is able to influence the
• Moscovici and Lage (1976), four participants and
two confederates described a blue-green color as
green. They found that the minority was able to
influence about 32% of the participants to make
at least one incorrect judgment about the color
of slides they were shown. Also the participants
continued to give their incorrect responses even
after the confederates had left the experiment.
Social Influence: Conformity
• Hogg and Vaughan (1995) argue that some of
the reason for the influence of a minority
group could be as follows:
– Dissenting opinions produce uncertainty and
– Such opinions show that alternatives exist.
– Consistency shows that there is a commitment to
the alternative view.
Social Influence: Conformity
• Minority opinions are essential to a group’s
decision making process: otherwise, a group may
experience a groupthink.
• Groupthink is characterized by group members
having a unanimous opinion on an issue, and
they do no seek out alternative or dissenting
opinions. Often the group is blinded by optimism
that their decagons will be successful. Members
of a group come to doubt their own reservations
and refrain from voicing any dissenting opinions.
Social Influence: Conformity
• Deutsch and Gerard (1955) argue that
conformity is a result of informational social
influence and normative social influence.
1. Informational social influence is based on the
way people cognitively process information
about a situation.
• Festinger (1954) said that people evaluate their own
opinions and ideas through social comparison,
meaning looking at what others do.
Social Influence: Conformity
• When one notices that others are not behaving in the
same way , or that they think differently, it causes
anxiety. Festinger called this cognitive dissonance.
2. Normative social influence is based on our nature as
social animals. People have a need to be accepted by
others and to belong.
Social Influence: Conformity
• Culture and Conformity:
– Studies show Asian cultures engage in more
conforming behaviors that Americans do, and
they also value it to a greater degree.
– Americans see conformity as a negative trait.
– Cashmore and Goodnow (1986) found that there
was a high level of conformity among Italians.
– Burgos and Dias-Perez (1986) found that with
regard to childrearing, Puerto Ricans valued
conformity and obedience in their children.
Social Influence: Conformity
• Culture and Conformity
– Bond and Smith (1996) study found that individuals
from collectivistic cultures (Africa, Asia, South
America) tend to conform more than their
counterparts from individualistic cultures do (North
America and north-west Europe).
– Berry (1967) found higher rates of conformity among
the Temne of Sierra Leone, a high food-accumulating
society with strict disciplinarian socialization
practices, compared with the Eskimo of Baflin Island,
a low food-accumulating society whose socialization
practices are lenient and encourage individualism.
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