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									Social Influence

        Conformity, Social
       Roles, & Obedience to
• Conformity is shaping one’s behavior or
  attitudes to conform to that of others, e.g.,
  group norms
• A famous study about conformity was
  completed by Solomon Asch in the 1950’s
• Asch had subjects come into a laboratory
  setting and give answers to a simple line
  matching task.
Which of the lines on the right
 matches the line on the left?

         A    B   C
         Did you pick Line C?
• This is the sort of task that Asch asked subjects to
• The correct answer is chosen easily by most
  people in the absence of any experimental
• But what if subjects had to give their answers in a
  group where everyone else had given a wrong
  answer (e.g., Line A) instead of the correct
              Asch’s study
• Asch used confederates in order to find out
  what subjects would do in groups where
  others gave the wrong answers
       What are confederates?
• A confederate is a person who acts as if s/he
  is a subject but who is really following the
  instructions of the experimenter.
• Other subjects see the confederate as a
  ―fellow subject‖ but really the confederate
  is acting in the way that the researcher has
  already set up ahead of time.
              Asch’s study
• Subjects were brought into groups where all
  other subjects were confederates (though
  the subjects, of course, didn’t know this).
  They were asked to complete a series of line
  tasks similar to the one you just saw in this
              Asch’s study
• For beginning trials, confederates picked
  the correct line but then as the experiment
  went on, they began to answer incorrectly
• What did Asch’s subjects do?
              Asch’s findings
• Asch’s subjects conformed (i.e., gave the
  WRONG answer) 1/3 of the time.
• 76% of the subjects conformed at least once at
  some time during the experiment
• This is especially important when one realizes that
  these are groups of people with whom the subjects
  have no enduring relationships
• Examine Asch’s data presented in the tables in the
  following slide to see what they suggest about
Asch’s findings   • This chart compares the
                    answers of a ―control‖
                    group who gave their
                    answers without being in a
                    group of confederates who
                    answered incorrectly to
                    the answers of the
                    ―experimental‖ subjects.
                  • The top line is the %
                    correct in the ―control‖
                    subjects; the bottom the %
                    correct in the experimental
                  • Notice that when subjects
                    are not influenced by
                    others, they almost always
                    give the correct answer.
Asch’s findings
          • This chart shows the
            percentage of errors made
            depending upon the
            number of group members
            (who were giving
            incorrect answers).
            Across the bottom
            (horizontal x axis) is the #
            of group members. The
            vertical Y axis shows the
            percentage of errors made.
          • What do you notice about
            the chart?
Asch’s findings
        • This chart compares the
          percentage of correct
          responses given by one
          experimental subject in a
          group where the subject is
          alone in a group with
          confederates who are all
          giving wrong answers vs.
          the % correct given when
          there are two subjects (and
          thus they can ―support‖
          each other in their
          judgments of the correct
             Asch’s findings
• When even one other person (whether a
  confederate or another subject) gives the
  correct answer (even when all the rest of the
  confederates are giving incorrect answers),
  conformity rates decrease significantly.

• In other words, the subject is much less likely
  to go along with the group and give an
  incorrect answer when there is just one other
  person in the room who is also disagreeing with
  the rest of the group.
    Do you think that Asch’s
findings would still hold true in
 the 2000’s???? Are people just
as likely to conform now as they
  were in the 1950’s when Asch
      performed his study?
   Would Asch’s findings still hold true
           in the 2000’s????
• My intro psych class in Fall 2001 semester attempted to
  replicate Asch’s study (In other words, they carried out a
  similar experiment to see if they would get similar results.)
• We tested 4 subjects; students in the class served as
• (Remember that ―confederates‖ are people who appear to be
  subjects but are actually behaving in ways prearranged by
  the experimenter. )
• All of our subjects were females. (All of Asch’s subjects
  were males.)
• We had 20 trials using the same sort of line task as Asch
How did the confederates answer
      in our experiment?

• In 8 of the 20 trials, the confederates gave
  the correct answer; in 10 of the 20 trials, all
  the confederates gave the wrong answer; in
  one trial, all of the confederates but one
  gave the correct answer; in one trial, only
  one confederate gave the incorrect answer.
   What were our findings?
– We found that ALL of our 4 subjects
  conformed to the group’s wrong answer at least
– The range of errors made by subjects was 1-8
  with an average error rate of 3 so our subjects
  also conformed approximately 1/3 of the time
  (just as did Asch’s subjects).
        1950’s vs. 2000’s????
• Even though we might expect that people
  conformed more in the 1950’s, our study
  found that Asch’s findings still hold true
  today. People still are influenced by and
  conform to groups.
                 Social Roles
• Thus far, we’ve been talking about conformity.
  Another type of social influence are social roles.
• Social Roles=patterns of behavior expected in
  certain positions
• For example, there are social roles associated with
  being a student, a teacher, a mother, a son, a police
  officer, a doctor, a prison guard.
• How much do social roles govern our behavior?
                Social Roles
• In the 1970’s, Philip Zimbardo studied social roles
  in an experiment now known as the Stanford
  prison study.
• Watch the video clip on the next slide to learn
  more about Zimbardo’s study. This clip includes
  archival footage (video taken during the actual
• The narrator is Zimbardo himself. (You’ve seen
  him before--he also narrated the sensation &
  perception video that we watched!)
Click Here To View Video
Questions for you to ask yourself
• How do you imagine the experiment would
  have impacted you if you were a subject in
  the experiment?
  – How would you have felt if you were a
  – If you were a guard?
  – What kind of guard would you have been?
  – What kind of prisoner?
      Impact of the experiment
• View the video footage on the next slide of
  two participants in the study discussing
  their reactions with one another
Click Here To View Video
      Impact of the experiment
• The original plan had been for the experiment to
  continue for several weeks, but as the film noted, the
  study was discontinued after 6 days because of
  concerns re: how the subjects were responding.
• Once at a conference where I heard Zimbardo
  presenting, he talked about his prison study. He said
  that in the course of the study, he lost all perspective
  because of his own social role as ―prison warden.‖ He
  said that the reason he ended up calling the experiment
  off is because he was talking with the woman he was
  dating & telling her about the experiment & SHE told
  him it had gotten out of hand. Without her reaction, he
  said he may not have realized that that was the case
  because he was so caught up in his role as ―warden
 Note that this experiment used
controlled experimental design…
• Subjects were RANDOMLY assigned to be
  guards & others to be prisoners
• Do you know why this matters? How
  would things have been different if students
  were asked to volunteer to either be
  prisoners or to be guards? (In other words,
  how would this change in the research
  method change the meaning of the results?)
      Random Assignment
• If you still aren’t sure why the results of this study
  should be interpreted differently if instead of random
  assignment subjects could volunteer to be either
  prisoners & guards, then consider the following hints…
   – If subjects volunteer to be prisoners or guards rather
     than being randomly assigned, then this is not a
     controlled experimental design. It is more like a
     quasi-experimental design. What difference might
     this make? What extraneous variables might create a
     viable alternative explanation?
       Importance of Random
     Assignment to the Zimbardo
• If subjects volunteer, the extraneous variable of
  the pre-existing PERSONALITY of the subjects
  may explain the results.
• In a controlled experimental design (where
  subjects are randomly assigned to groups), the
  personality of the subjects BEFORE THE
  EXPERIMENT began cannot explain their
  behavior in the experiment. Do you understand
  why or why not? If not, talk to your classmates or
  ask me in our next class.
 Questions to consider about the
• Does this experiment convince you that social
  roles have a big impact on our behavior?
• Do you believe that there are some situations in
  which social roles play an even bigger role in
  determining behavior than does an individual’s
  personality? If so, can you really know how you
  would have behaved?
   In the group demonstration in
    class, in Asch’s study & in
  Zimbardo’s study, there was no
 real ―authority‖ to which people
 were responding. If there was an
  ―authority‖ at all, it was simply
the group or what everyone else is
 doing or the expectation of those
         in certain roles….
        Milgram’s study of
      ―obedience to authority”
• In contrast, a study by Stanley Milgram
  specifically looked at how cooperative people are
  willing to be when responding to the request of an
• At the time that Milgram designed his study, a
  famous former Nazi was on trial and using the
  defense that he was just obeying orders. Milgram
  wanted to see if there was a certain personality
  that would be more willing to comply with orders
  from an authority.
              Milgram study
• Milgram wondered if certain types of governments
  might foster be more willing to result in people
  having authoritarian personalities—a type of
  personality he felt was more willing to obey
  authority. So his plan was to do an experiment
  here in the U.S. and then do the same experiment
  in Germany. He expected that there would be
  much lower levels of obedience in the U.S. than in
• Here’s what Milgram did….
              Milgram study
• Milgram recruited subjects by a newspaper ad
  asking for people willing to participate in an
  experiment on learning. The participants were
  paid for their time.
• When subjects arrived, they arrived at the same
  time as another person who posed as a subject but
  who was actually a confederate of the
  experimenter. (Remember confederates behave in
  the way that they are directed to behave by the
              Milgram study
• The subject & the confederate were told that they
  were to participate in an experiment examining the
  effect of punishment on learning. One of them
  would serve as the ―teacher‖ and the other as the
• The confederate was always assigned to be
  ―learner‖ and the subject always assigned to be the
• The subject who was to serve as teacher was to
  read a list of paired words (e.g., boy—automobile;
  house—dolphin; peace—ketchup). The learner
  was to try to memorize this list.
               Milgram study
• The teacher and learner would be in different
  rooms communicating by intercom. The learner
  would be hooked up to a device that would shock
  him (it was always the same ―learner‖ and it was
  always a man). The teacher would be in a
  separate room in front of a panel with a series of
  switches, each of which when thrown would
  deliver a different voltage of shock (from 15 volts
  to 450 volts) to the learner.
               Milgram study
• The teacher was told to read the list of paired
  words to the learner, and then read the first word
  in each pair, 4 choices (one of which was the right
  answer) and then the learner would indicate which
  of the four answers was correct.
• The teacher was told that he was to flip a switch to
  deliver a shock to the learner whenever the learner
  got an answer wrong; with each wrong answer, he
  should progress to the next highest voltage level.
              Milgram study
• To make sure that the teacher believed that the
  learner was actually receiving a shock, he was
  taken into the learner’s room, hooked up and
  given a small electrical current.
• The experimenter applied electrode past onto the
  arms of the learner to ―avoid blisters & burns.‖
  The teacher & ―learner‖ were told that the shocks
  might become extremely painful but would ―cause
  no permanent tissue damage‖
              Milgram study
• In actuality, the learner (again, the same
  confederate working with Milgram) never
  received any shocks.
• The learner followed a script which told him what
  to answer and how to respond to the shock.
• In the next video clip, you’ll see some archival
  footage from the experiment and will, for
  example, hear the learner crying out & asking to
  be let out of the experiment. He is following a
  script in his responses.
   A few more comments before
      you watch the video…
• If the teacher protested and didn’t want to
  continue, the ―experimenter‖ also followed a
  script to guide them in responding. They
  experimenter said things like: ―please continue,‖
  ―the experiment requires that you continue,‖ ―It is
  absolutely essential that you continue,‖ and
  eventually ―You have no other choice, you must
  go on.‖ However the experimenter never used any
  force beyond these verbal prompts to force the
  teacher to continue.
 Before you watch, think about
   how you think people will
  respond to this situation….
• Before he carried out his experiment,
  Milgram asked several psychiatrists to
  predict how many subjects would comply
  with the experiment & shock the learners
• They predicted that only 1% would go to
  the highest voltage.
• What do you think happened? Watch the
  video on the next slide to find out.
Click Here To View Video
            Milgram’s results
• To his surprise, Milgram found that a high
  percentage of people (over 60% of subjects)
  obeyed the experimenter even to the point of
  going to the highest voltage level
• You can refer to Figure 44.2 on p. 611 of your text
  for more info re: the obedience rates.
• Those who did resist most commonly did so early
           Milgram’s results
• In a series of follow-up studies, Milgram &
  his associates varied the details of the study
  to see how this would affect rates of
• Here’s what they found…
• Refer to the scale on the vertical y axis to determine the % of subjects
  who obeyed in administering shocks in the various situations.
      Things to notice about the
          previous chart….
• Obedience is higher when a peer first models
  obedience, when the subject is only expected to
  assist another person who actually administers the
  shock or when the victim (i.e., ―learner‖) is
  physically remote
• Some of the things that decrease obedience are
  when the subject sees another person refusing to
  obey or when two authorities give contradictory
         Some observations….
• The Asch, Zimbardo & Milgram studies all
  demonstrate the impact of situation on our
  behavior—how strong it’s influence can be.
• Milgram’s & Asch’s study also demonstrated that
  subject exhibit less conformity & obedience when
  others were also modeling willingness to disagree
  & refuse to participate. So one person who
  disagrees with an incorrect group decision or
  resists an inappropriate order or an injustice can
  make a big difference!
    Questions to ask yourself…
• Are you surprised to find how many people
  were willing to obey the experimenter in
  this study? Why or why not?
• Some people have criticized the Milgram
  study. They have argued that it was
  unethical to deceive subjects in this manner,
  and they feel that the study never should
  have been done. What do you think?
Reflection/Discussion Questions
 – Do these experiments convince you that
   social forces have a big impact on our
 – Do you believe that there are some
   situations in which social forces play
   more of a role in determining a person’s
   behavior than does that individual’s
 – Can you really know how you would have
   behaved in the situations studied in these

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