Conformity and Obedience Beyond Conscious Awareness Influences Term Paper

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Conformity and Obedience


Influences of Conformity and Obedience

The Concepts of Conformity and Obedience Compared

Obedience is a form of social influence in which a person of authority makes a direct command to someone to perform something (McLeod, 2007). It involves changing one's behavior according to the commands of authority (Brehm, Kassin & Fein, 1999 as qtd in Southerly, 2012). Conformity is another form of social influence brought about by social pressure or the norms of the majority. It means changing or adapting one's perception, opinion or behavior to that which is consistent with the norms of the group (Brehm, Kassin & Fein, 1999 as qtd in Southerly, 2012). Key studies on conformity were conducted by Sherif in 1936, Asch in 1951 and by Fein, Goethals and Kassin in 1998. Bickman and Milgram conducted the key studies on obedience in 1974 and 1963, respectively (Southerly).

Influencing Factors

The factors, which influence obedience, are authority figure, the proximity of a victim, personal responsibility and escalation of harm (Southerly, 2012). The physical presence of an authority figure with a perceived high degree of prestige triggers a high level of obedience. Obedience is also more likely if harm may result with the physical separation of the person ordered from the potential victim, according to Migram's study. Milgram also observed that the tendency to obey decreases when a person must assume personal responsibility for harmful consequences to his obeying. And he likewise observed that a person in a situation, which leads, to a gradual escalation of harm, finds it more difficult not to obey. (Southerly).

The factors, which influence conformity, are correct information, social norms, size of the group, awareness of norms, presence of an ally, age differences, gender differences, and cultural influences (Southerly, 2012). Sherif and Asch found that people tend to conform to judgments they perceive as correct; when they fear the negative social consequences of not conforming; when the group increases in size; when they are aware of prevailing norms; when an ally is present in the group; when age peers are present; when some persons of the same gender are present; and when cultural influences are present in the group (Southerly).

Analysis of a Classical Study

In his famous vision test experiment, Solomon Asch gathered a group, only one of whom is a real participant and the rest were only pretending to be participants (Southerly, 2012; Blessing, 2012). They were shown lines of different lengths, only one of which was clearly longer than the rest. They were asked which of the lines was the longest. When no pressure was applied, almost all of the participants identified the correct line and gave the correct answer. But when the fake participants gave wrong answers and insisted on them, the real participant also gave a wrong answer 37% of the time and that 76% of all the participants gave at least one wrong answer. Asch found that it took at least 3 fake participants for the real participants to yield to peer pressure and give the maximum number of wrong answers (Southerly, Blessing). More than half of the participants chose the group answer although it was wrong. After the experiment, the participants were interviewed about their answers. The said that they chose even wrong answers because they fear ridicule from the majority. The finding of the test troubled Asch, who saw the tendency to conformity in society as a serious matter that should concern everyone (Southerly, Blessing).

It can be inferred from this test that people conform to a group either because they want to become part of it or because they believe that the group is better informed than they are (McLeod, 2008). An analysis will show that the participants belonged to the same age and, therefore, constituted a biased sample. The task is not an occurrence in everyday life. As such, it may not simulate a real-life situation, which can test or demonstrate conformity. Moreover, the participants were not shielded from psychological stress when they disagreed with the incorrect majority answer. They were made to think that they were to undergo a vision test. Asch's real objective was to find out how the one real participant would score against the chosen answer of the group. Perrin and Spencer replicated Asch's experiment in 1980, using British engineering, mathematics and chemistry student participants. The result showed that in only one of the 396 trials did a participant conform to the incorrect majority answer (McLeod).

Nonetheless, conformity is a personality trait and social influence, which inclines members of society to become more and more alike as time passes. Asch's experiments and others have shown how people will tend to ignore reason and conform to others in their group for the sake of getting accepted. It is a serious matter to consider if the majority asserts powerful influence on the group towards unacceptable behavior, opinion or ideology. But it can also have positive effects.

A team of researchers, led by Psychology professor Philip Zimbardo, conducted the Standard University prison experiment in August 1971 with the funding of the U.S. Office of Naval Research (Robert, 2012). A group of 24 male students were selected to assume the role of prisoners and guards in a prison at the basement of the Stanford psychology building. The mock guards applied authoritarian measures and subjected some mock prisoners to psychological torture. Many of the mock prisoners simply accepted the treatment and harassed other prisoners who resisted. Even Zimbardo, who played superintendent, was affected as he allowed the abuses to persist. Two prisoners quit in the early part of the experiment, which abruptly stopped on its sixth day. There have been arguments, but the results of the experiment showed the impressionability and obedience of people when given social and institutional support. It illustrated that the situation, rather than individual personality, which formed behavior. It underscored the power of authority. Normal students who assumed the role of prison guards became sadistic towards the inmates. The experiment positively connotes that persons will modify their behavior or thinking if given new identities and adequate social and institutional support (Robert).

Analysis of a Group of Contemporary Studies

This is a group of 19 experiments, conducted in the early 80s at the Utrecht

University in the Netherlands (Meeus & Raaijmakers, 1995). It consisted of 6 pilot studies as baseline experiment for the 17 experiments on administrative obedience, which followed. There were 82 subjects in the 6 pilot studies and 352 in the 17 experiments on administrative obedience. Two more experiments used the Milgram procedure with 60 participants. The summary of the findings showed that obedience is quite high when the violence to be applied is a modern form of mediated violence. The level of obedience remained high even when the participants were informed in detail about the task in advance. This high level of obedience is explained not in their lack of ability to avoid or resist the authority but in their learned attitude towards social institutions and relationship with fellowmen (Meeus & Raaijmakers).

The type of violence has an influence over people who are subjected to it (Meeus & Raaijmakers, 1995). This set of experiments on administrative obedience completely showed greater willingness to obey than with the Milgram experiment. Physical violence is more direct in this case and is more difficult to apply than psychological-administrative violence, which is indirect. This new type of violence characterizes normal social circumstances in the modern Western world. This shows why obedience in the use of modern violence in this form is quite high. Obedience is not due to a lack of knowledge in the participants. It will remain high even when they learn about it in advance. They obeyed not because they could not resist the authority as long as the would-be victim is a third party (Meeus & Raaijmakers).

In analysis, the degree of obedience greatly increases when participants are told to exert a more modern or sophisticated form of violence (Meeus & Raaijmakers, 1995). The level of obedience cannot be construed from the participants. They are capable of resisting and disobeying in the face of danger or a risk of getting subjected to the violence. Their indifference to the suffering of a third party-victim explains this (Meeus & Raaijmakers).

Analysis of Influences to Deviation from Social Norms

Deviance is commonly understood to mean non-conformity to a given set of norms accepted by a significant number of people in a society (Mupukwa, 2009). Experts define it as "any act or attribute that violates a cultural norm" and leads others to develop a particular reaction (Raab, 2003 as qtd in Mupukwa). A number of theories have been formulated to determine the influences and causes of deviation from accepted social norms.

Frank Tannebaum and Howard S. Becker came up with the labeling theory to determine and explain the influences and causes behind deviance (Mupukwa, 2009). They proposed that social groups deviate by making their own rules, which are an infraction of social rules. Their theory suggests that…[continue]


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