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Chapter 10 -- Social Influence


How We Conform

CONFORMITY: the tendency to change what we do (behaviour) or think and say (attitudes) in response to the influence of others or social pressure. This pressure can be real or imagined.

Case study: Sherif (1936), one of the earliest studies into conformity

Argued that people use the behaviour of others to decide what to do, especially when they are unsure or lacking in confidence about how to act

He used the autokinetic effect, an optical illusion in which a stationary point of light in a dark room appears to move due to the normal movement of our eyes

Procedure 1: each participant was taken individually to a dark room and asked to focus on a single spot of light. As there are no visible objects, there are no points of reference and the light will appear to move.

He then asked each participant to estimate how far the light moved and in what direction.

Findings 1: as it is an ambiguous task, participants' estimates of distance and direction varied quite dramatically, as expected

Procedure 2: He asked each participant to return to the laboratory several days later to repeat the perceptual task. This time they were placed in groups of 3, comprising individuals with quite different estimates. Again, he asked each participant to estimate the distance and direction of the moving light many times.

Findings 2: individuals changed their individual views and agreed on similar answers. Sherif noted that a group norm was formed by members which is an unwritten rule about how to behave in a social group or situation that members accept as correct

Case study: Rohrer et al (1954)

Carried out later studies replicating Sherif's method

Findings group norms formed in this experiment persisted,