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D 9 Discussion Forum – Conformity
(APA style format)

Social psychologists such as Asch and Milgram (watch videos above) have
repeatedly demonstrated that much of our behavior is influenced by powerful
norms, yet many students will deny their vulnerability to these social forces.
Instead, they might say they would resist group pressure and not conform or obey.
Milgram suggested that one way to feel the potency of social norms was to
deliberately violate them. Over the years, he asked his students to violate a norm
by singing out loud on a crowded bus or simply ask people on a crowded bus or
subway to give up their seats without an explanation. Needless to say, many of his
students recoiled en masse!
For this assignment, you are being asked to violate an implicit norm and then
analyze both your own and other people’s reactions. Below are your instructions:
Step 1:
First you need to identify an implicit social norm. Some examples are:
• Appearance (wear pink slippers; blue dot on nose)
• Interpersonal Behavior (stand too close or far; avoid eye contact)
• Social Etiquette (violate elevator norms; eat with mouth open)
Note: Be sure to do the behavior several times in different places to note any
interesting patterns (e.g., people’s reactions may differ as a function of sex,
age, location).
Step 2:
Incorporate the following points in your discussion.
•&νβσπ;&νβσπ;&νβσπ;&νβσπ;&νβσπ; What implicit norm did you
• Describe how you violated it.
• Analyze your thoughts and feelings while you violated the norm.
• Did you gain any insight into your own or others’ behavior? What
about the power of the situation? Key social psychological principles
to include in your analysis: norms, role-playing,
conformity/nonconformity, normative social influence, cognitive
dissonance, and self-monitoring.
Discuss your experience
I. On a daily basis, we try to influence the behavior or beliefs of others, just as others constantly try to
influence us. Social influence refers to the efforts by people to change the attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors
of other people (LO 8.1).
A. The aspects of social influence include:
1. Conformity (pressure to act in line with social norms)
2. Compliance (making a direct request of another person)
3. Symbolic social influence (where our behavior can be influenced by another person
who is not even with us at the time)
4. Obedience (where people are basically ordered to perform a certain behavior)
II. Conformity: Group Influence in Action
A. Conformity involves pressure to “fit it” or to adhere to certain unwritten rules regarding
behavior. (LO 8.2)
1. The rules that tell us how we are expected to act in different situations are known
as social norms.
a) Social norms can be explicit (e.g., handicapped parking signs) or implicit
(e.g., showing up “fashionably late” to a party). Whichever type of social norm
is in use, it is a powerful influence and most people adhere to them (e.g., standing
for a country’s national anthem).
2. Although it may seem that conformity violates our freedom, we need to conform in
many situations to maintain social order.
B. How much do we conform? More than we think
1. We are influenced by social norms much more than we think, Pronin, Berger and
Molouki (2007) referred to this phenomenon as the introspection illusion – Our belief
that social influences plays a smaller role in shaping our won action than it does in
shaping the actions of others.
C. Asch’s research on conformity: Social pressure—the irresistible force? (LO 8.3)
1. Asch’s research, conducted in the 1950s, involved participants viewing a “standard
line.” They then viewed three “comparison lines” of different lengths. Their task was to
state which of the comparison lines was the same as the standard line. The answer
seemed quite obvious, but Asch had confederates choose the wrong answer (the
confederates always answered before the actual participant). In a large number of cases,
the participant went along with/conformed to the others in the group, even though they
stated a wrong answer. Seventy-six percent gave the wrong answer at least once.
2. It is important to note that not all participants followed the group, but a large number
did indeed give in to the pressure to conform.
3. In later studies, when just one of the confederates disagreed with the others, or chose
a different answer, conformity diminished. Other studies involved the participants
writing their response (as opposed to saying them out loud). In this case, conformity
decreased dramatically.
a) This points to the difference between public conformity (agreeing with others
around us; doing what they do) and private acceptance (truly feeling or thinking
the way other people do). We may engage in public conformity, but may not
actually change our personal opinions (Maas & Clark, 1984).
D. Sherif’s research on the autokinetic phenomenon: How norms emerge (LO 8.4)
1. Muzafer Sherif (1937) used the autokinetic phenomenon (the fact that when placed
in a completely dark room and exposed to a single, solitary point of light, most people
perceive the light as moving) to examine two important questions.
a) How do norms develop in social groups
b) How strong is the influence of social norms on behavior once those norms
2. Sherif’s findings indicate that we have a strong desire to be correct and to behave in
an appropriate way. Social norms develop and are maintained to help us attain these
E. Factors affecting conformity: Variables that determine the extent to which we “Go Along”
1. Cohesiveness and conformity: Being influenced by those we like. (LO 8.5)
a) Cohesiveness is the extent to which we are attracted to a particular social
group and want to belong to it.
b) When cohesiveness is high (i.e., when we like and respect people and feel
closely tied to them) the pressure to conform is magnified.
c) When cohesiveness is low, we feel little pressure to conform (because we do
not want to be like those people that we do not like or respect).
2. Conformity and group size: Why more is better with respect to social pressure. (LO
a) Many early researchers discovered that conformity rises as there are more
members of a group, but after about three people, it either levels off or is
b) However, more recent research indicates that with eight or more people,
conformity increases.
c) In sum, it seems as though the bigger the group, the more pressure to
3. Descriptive and injunctive social norms: How norms affect behavior. (LO 8.6)
a) Descriptive norms are those that describe what people do under different
b) Injunctive norms are those that tell us what is “approved or disapproved
behavior” under different circumstances.
(1) These injunctive norms can be quite powerful, but they are
sometimes ignored.
(2) Normative focus theory proposes that norms will have an influence
on our behavior only if they are personally relevant.
F. The social foundations of conformity: Why we often choose to “go along” (LO 8.7)
1. Conformity stems from our need to be liked and accepted as well as our need to have
a precise understanding of our social world (Deutsch & Gerard, 1955; Insko, 1985).
a) In order to get others to like us, we want to appear similar to them. We
conform to social norms because we can be confident that others will like us as a
(1) Normative social influence refers to social influences stemming
from our need to be liked and accepted by others. We make changes in
our behavior to conform to others’ expectations.
b) Informational social influence refers to a type of social influence rooted in
our need to have correct perceptions of the social world.
(1) Example: when we are trying to decide on a political issue, we look
to others. We let their opinions and behaviors guide what is
acceptable. We use other people as a rich information source about
many features of the social world.
(2) Informational social influence comes into play, of course, in
situations where we are feeling uncertain. In cases where we have more
confidence in our own opinions and behaviors, the influence is much less
G. The downside of conformity: When pressures to go along produce harmful effects
1. Our tendency to conform can sometimes result in harmful effects
a) Gender norms are norms that indicate how women and men are expected to
(1) Conforming to such norms can produce negative effects such as the
case with the famous Stanford prison study where students were assigned
to play the role of prisoners or guards. The purpose of the study was to
determine whether participants would come to behave like real guards
and real prisoners—would they conform to the norms established for
their respective roles.
(a) The prisoners were rebellious at first, but then become
passive and depressed.
(b) Guards grew increasing brutal and sadistic
(c) Key point of the study – it is the situations in which people
find themselves – not their personal traits that largely determine
H. Why, sometimes, we choose not to go along: the effects of power, basic motives, and the
desire for uniqueness (LO 8.8)
1. Although many people give in to the pressure of norms, there are still those who “do
their own thing.” Valuing individuality and control over our own lives helps us to resist
the pressure to conform.
a) People who possess power or are merely primed to think about it are less
likely to conform.
b) People have a motive to be unique – the need for uniqueness – and when this
is threatened they are less likely to conform.
Do women and men differ in the tendency to conform
1. Just like men women are more likely to conform when they are uncertain about how
to behave or about the correctness of their judgments.
a) Earlier studies on conformity used materials more familiar to men, and this is
why they may have concluded that women were more likely to conform.
b) Women are generally not more susceptible to conformity pressures than
Minority Influence: Does the Majority Always rule (LO 8.9)
1. In some cases, a minority opinion can overtake the majority and be accepted.
2. The people in the minority group must have consistency in their opposition to the
majority as well as display that they can be flexible in their opinions. In addition, if the
opinion of the minority mirrors contemporary social trends, they are more likely to have
an impact on the majority.
III. Compliance: To Ask—Sometimes—Is To Receive (LO 8.10)
A. Compliance: the underlying principles
1. Compliance is defined as asking people directly to go along with a request.
2. Cialdini (1994) identified six underlying principles of compliance:
a) Friendship/Liking: we are more likely to comply if a friend or someone we
like makes a request as opposed to a stranger or someone we do not like.
b) Commitment/Consistency: if we have made a commitment to a position or
action, we tend to comply with requests for actions that are consistent with the
position or action as opposed to requests that are inconsistent.
c) Scarcity: we tend to comply with a request if it involves outcomes or objects
that are relatively scarce.
d) Reciprocity: we are more likely to comply if the request comes from
someone who has done a favor for us in the past.
e) Social Validation: we are more likely to comply if we believe that similar
others are behaving in the same way.
f) Authority: we are more likely to comply if the request comes from an
authority figure (it can be someone with real authority or someone who “appears”
to have authority).
B. Tactics based on friendship or liking: Ingratiation
1. Ingratiation involves first getting another person to like us, thereby increasing the
odds that they will comply with our requests.
a) Many of the tactics described in Chapter 3 are relevant here, including
flattery and doing favors for the person we want to comply with us.
b) Incidental similarity has been studied by Burger and colleagues (2004). This
refers to the idea that if we draw attention to a small similarity between ourselves
and a target person (e.g., that we have the same birthday), this increases liking
and, in turn, increases the likelihood of compliance.
C. Tactics based on commitment or consistency: The foot-in-the-door and the lowball
1. The foot-in-the-door technique is a procedure for increasing compliance in which
we begin with a small request and, once this request is agreed to, we move on to a larger
request (the one we had been looking to have granted all along). This is based
on consistency; we tend to grant the larger request because it is consistent with our
granting of the smaller request earlier.
2. The lowball procedure involves getting others to comply by changing a deal after
the person has accepted it. Because the target person has already made a commitment, it
is difficult to walk away even though there have been changes made.
D. Tactics based on reciprocity: The door-in-the face and the “that’s not all” approach
1. The door-in-the-face technique is a compliance strategy involving making a large,
outrageous request first and, once it is refused, move to a smaller request (the one that we
had been looking to have granted all along). This apparent “concession” puts subtle
pressure on the other side to compromise too.
2. The that’s-not-all technique is a compliance strategy in which a requester adds
additional bonuses to “sweeten the deal” before the target person has accepted the deal.
a) This tactic works through reciprocity. Persons on the receiving end of this
approach view the “extra” thrown in by the other side as an added concession,
and so feel obligated to make a concession themselves.
E. Tactics based on scarcity: Playing hard to get and fast-approaching-deadline technique
1. It is a general rule of life that things that are scarce, rare, or difficult to obtain are
viewed as being more valuable than those that are plentiful or easy to obtain. Thus, we
are often willing to expend more effort or go to greater expense to obtain these items.
2. Playing hard to get is a procedure that gets people to comply with requests by
pointing out that an object is difficult to obtain (e.g., a job candidate is more likely to get
a job if they indicate that they are entertaining other offers).
3. The deadline technique involves inducing compliance by suggesting that targets
have a finite amount of time to take advantage of a special deal (e.g., indicating that
prices on an item will increase once a sale is over).
IV. Symbolic Social Influence: How We are Influenced by Others Even When They Are Not (LO 8.11)
A. Symbolic social influence is a type of social influence where mental representations of
others are influencing our behavior. In other words, another person need not be present (and
deliberately trying to change our behavior) for them to have an impact on us.
B. How we think important others would react to our behavior can influence us. For example,
we may drive cautiously because we hear a parent’s voice in our minds telling us to do so.
C. Our relationships with important others, our goals for our relationships, and the goals others
want for us can all exert a powerful effect on our behavior.
V. Obedience to Authority: Would You Harm an Innocent Stranger If Ordered to Do So
A. When responding to obedience, another type of social influence, we behave a certain way
because another person has directly told us to do so (e.g., a parent).
B. Obedience in the Laboratory
1. Milgram’s Obedience Studies: (LO 8.12)
a) Milgram’s interest in obedience stemmed from attempting to make sense of
how the Nazis would obey orders to murder many people at once.
b) In his research laboratory, Milgram set up the following experiment:
(1) An actual participant was the “teacher” and a confederate was the
(2) The teacher was instructed to deliver increasingly painful electric
shocks when the learner made a mistake.
(3) Of course the learner never received any real shocks, but the
participant did not know that at the time.
(4) When the learner began to protest as the teacher went higher and
higher on the shock scale, many participants wished to stop, but were
urged to continue by the researcher.
(5) Findings indicated that 65% of participants obeyed and delivered the
highest-possible level of shock to the learner, even when they supposedly
fainted and therefore were no longer responding.
c) Milgram’s work seemed to indicate that even though they may protest,
ordinary individuals are willing to inflict harm on a stranger simply because an
authority figure has told them to do so.
C. Destructive obedience: Why it occurs (LO 8.13)
1. The type of obedience seen in Milgram’s studies may have occurred because the
person in authority is assumed to take the responsibility for the consequences of one’s
2. There are also outward indicators of someone’s authority, thereby reminding people
of the norm to “obey the person in charge.” In Milgram’s studies, the experimenter was
wearing a white lab coat.
3. Similar to the foot-in-the-door technique, the authority figure in Milgram’s study
gradually increased the commands that were given to the participant, which may have
contributed to the results.
4. The fast pace of the laboratory experiment may have also led to the type of obedience
seen in Milgram’s studies.
D. Destructive obedience: resisting its effects (LO 8.13)
1. If one is reminded that they, not the authority figure, will be held responsible for
their actions, they are much less likely to obey.
2. One also needs to be reminded that once they reach a certain point, blind obedience
is no longer appropriate. The use of disobedient models can help, because these
individuals refuse to give in to the authority figure’s demands to obey.
3. If one begins to question the motives of the authority figure, they may be better able
to resist obedience.
4. In addition, knowing the findings of obedience research in social psychology can
help people resist the harmful effects of unquestioned obedience.

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