Conformity I

Conformity I
PSY 300
• Defined as changing one’s behaviour or beliefs
in response to explicit or implicit (whether real
or imagined) pressure from others.
Topics 50mins
Intro (5)
The Hazards of Social Influence
VIDEO: candid camera: “face the rear” (10)
Sherif ’s Informational Social Influence (15)
Solomon Asch’s studies (20)
• VIDEO: “Face the rear” segment from
Candid Camera.
Sherif’s experiments
• Muzafer Sherif (1906-1978)
• 1936 experiment on Informational
Social Influence:
– Wanted to see how people use other
people as a social ‘frame of reference’
– Used the autokinetic illusion
– Subjects gradually made use of other’s
responses as Social Information
Sherif’s experiments
The Asch Experiment
• 1951 – 2nd most famous study in
social psychology
• Ostensibly a simple perceptual
discrimination task – choose the
matching line
The Asch Experiment
conformity level
number of confederates
The Asch Experiment
• Reasoning is normative, rather than informational
social influence.
• Notably, if one confederate breaks the
unanimity, if there is one dissenting voice, the
dramatic effects of conformity are erased, and
participants feel free to give the correct answers
that seemed obvious all along.
Conformity II
PSY 300
• The hazards of social influence [cont]
• Stanley Milgram’s studies (30)
• Relation to real events – WWII and the
Nuremburg trials (10)
• Philip Zimbardo’s study (5)
• Relation to real events - Abu Ghraib (5)
The milgram experiments
The milgram experiments
• Results – proximity of experimenter
– Exp. 1: Standard methodology:
• No subject stopped before 300 volts (just before
“extreme intense shock” label)
• 26/40 (65%) ‘completed’ the experiment, going to 450
– Exp. 2: Experimenter communicates by phone:
• Full compliance drops to 21%
• Some participants ‘faked’ continuing to the experimenter
• Indicates that proximity from authority figure increases
The milgram experiments
• Results – proximity of victim
– Exp. 3: Proximity - Learner in same room:
• Full compliance drops to 40%
– Exp. 4: Touch Proximity – Teacher physically places
learners hand on the shock plate:
• Full compliance drops to 30%
• Some participants ‘faked’ continuing to the experimenter
• Together, experiments 3 and 4 indicate that proximity to
victim increases dissent
The milgram experiments
• Results – authority
– Exp. 10: Moved from Yale to non-descript building:
• Full compliance drops to 47.5% (still quite high)
– Exp. 13: Ordinary Man (confederate) gives orders:
• After experimenter leaves, a second ‘subject’ suggests that
shock level moves up
• Full compliance still 20%
– Exp 13a: Ordinary Man takes over, Subject as
• All 16 participants protested, with 4 physically restraining
The milgram experiments
• Results – dissent
– Exp. 15: Two authorities giving contradictory
• Good cop/Bad cop routine
• 18/20 stopped when they first disagreed
– Exp. 17: Two peers (confederate) rebel, n=40
• 1st peer refuses at 150-volts, 3/39remaining quit
• 2nd peer refuses, 12/27remaining quit
• 4/20 (20%) fully comply
“behfel ist behfel”:
experiment 18
• The Nuremburg trials of 1945-1949
– 24 Nazi leaders accused of:
• Crimes against peace
• War crimes
• Crimes against humanity
• Exp. 18: Peer (confederate) administers shocks
– Subjects were accessory to shocking, but not
pressing the button
– 37/40 (92.5%) fully complied with their complicit
Philip zimbardo and The stanford prison experiment
• “Guards” and “Prisoners” recruited from Stanford
university undergraduate population
• Were paid today’s equivalent of $76/day
• Zimbardo picked the 24 most ‘psychology stable’ of
the 70 respondents
• “Prisoners” were picked up by police, booked, and
locked in the mock jail in the Psych dpt.
• Role playing was so intense that experiment was
cancelled after 6 days, instead of planned 2 weeks
Zimbardo and abu ghraib
a few bad apples or a barrel of vinegar?
Conformity III
PSY 300
What has changed? (15)
The Wisdom of Crowds?
Interpreting Asch, Milgram and Zimbardo (15)
The logic behind the conformist bias (15)
Lessons: The value of nonconformity, the
power of the situation, and the malleability of
the person (5)
Ever since asch:
What has changed?
• Would Milgram happen today?
• Would Asch happen today?
– 1996 Meta-analysis by Bond and Smith shows a
steady decline in conformity since the original Asch
– Why?
• What do these studies tell us about how we
should live our lives?
The wisdom of crowds?
• The applicability of the conformity experiments
– The disingenuousness of the studies
• Milgram’s strange use of authority.
• Asch’s strange use of confederates.
• Sherif ’s misleading autokinetic illusion task.
The wisdom of crowds?
The slaughtered Ox
By rembrandt
The wisdom of crowds?
Factors influencing collective wisdom
• Diversity of opinion:
– Each person should have private information even if
it's just an eccentric interpretation of the known
• Independence:
– People's opinions aren't determined by the opinions
of those around them.
• The perils and promises of social influence:
– The freedom of ideas and the diversity of opinion is
a social good – a benefit to everyone. Restrictions,
legal or simply normative, on this freedom costs
– A balance must be struck between obedience to
social norms and civic life, and retaining the integrity
to dissent from illegitimate authority – to see “no sir,
I will not continue, and if you ask me once more,
you’d better put your glasses down”

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