Roles, & Obedience to
• Conformity is shaping one’s behavior or
attitudes to conform to that of others, e.g.,
• 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
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 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.
• 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
• 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 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
• 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.
• This chart shows the
percentage of errors made
depending upon the
number of group members
(who were giving
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
• 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
• 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
• 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.
• Thus far, we’ve been talking about conformity.
Another type of social influence are social roles.
• Social Roles=patterns of behavior expected in
• 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?
• In the 1970’s, Philip Zimbardo studied social roles
in an experiment now known as the Stanford
• 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
– 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?)
• 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 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 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
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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‖
• 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
• 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
• 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
• 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
• Some of the things that decrease obedience are
when the subject sees another person refusing to
obey or when two authorities give contradictory
• 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?
– 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