BTEC Public Services - Understanding Discipline


Unit 3

Conformity and Obedience Wednesday 30th September


Please read through the handout and fill in the gaps

This should take you approximately 1hour and 20 Mins



Good Luck Designing Your Experiment

Please write your name here _____________________


Conformity and Obedience amount to Social Influence.

What would your definition of Social Influence Be ? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Definition of Social Influence

Social Influence is the process by which an individual's attitudes, beliefs or behaviours are modified by the presence or actions of others.

The 2 main areas of Social Influence study are


1) Conformity

2) Obedience

1) Conformity

Definitions of Conformity

Conformity is 'a change in a person's behaviour or opinions as a result of real or imagined pressure from a person or group of people'.

Another definition of what conformity might be is a 'tendency for people to adopt the behaviour, attitudes and values of other members of a reference group'.


Most people tend to conform to Social Norms( SN=Rules indicating how individuals are expected to behave in specific situations)


Social Norms Exercise.

Working in your groups write down what the social norms are for the following

1) Attending a football match


2) Attending a wedding


3) Going to a girlfriend's/boyfriends house for the first time.


4) Attending a class at college


Write 2 to 3 sentences for each. Time Allowed 20 Minutes


Majorities on Minorities (Conformity)

A very famous Psychological Study on Conformity

Asch - Social Pressure and Conformity

Solomon Asch asked participants to respond to a series of simple problems

On each problem participants had to indicate which of the three comparison lines matched a standard line in length.(see figure one at the back of this handout)

Several other people (usually 6-8) were also present during the session; but unknown to the real participant, all were accomplices of the experimenter. On certain occasions known as critical trials (12 out of 18) the accomplicies offered answers that were clearly wrong: they unanimously chose the wrong line as a match for the standard line. Moreover they stated their answers before the participant did. Therefore on these critical trials, the participants faced the dilemma described above, should they go along with the other people present or should they stick to their own judgements. The results of this experiment demonstrated

1) 76% of those tested went along with the group's false answers at least once,

2) in fact , they voiced their agreement with these errors about 37% of the time.

3) 13 out of 50 participants never conformed. Some of these 'independent' participants were confident in their judgements. More often, however, they experienced tension and doubt but managed to resist the pressure being exerted by the unanimous majority

Do you think you would have conformed in this experiment Yes /No. Please give a reason. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Asch investigated the effects of shattering the

groups unanimity by having one of the accomplices break with the others. In one experiment the person who had broke with the others gave the correct answer becoming an 'ally' of the real participant ; in another experiment the'ally' chose an answer in between the one given by the group and the correct one; and in a third experiment the 'ally' chose an answer that was even more incorrect than that chosen by the majority. Results indicated that conformity was reduced under all three conditions. A strange finding was that conformity was reduced the most under the condition where the 'ally' expressed views even more extreme(wrong) than the majority.

Asch investigated the size of the majority and conformity. He discovered if the majority only consisted of 2 people conformity of the naive articipant dropped to 12.8 % of

their total judgements. Asch found that conformity increases with group size upto about 3 members but then seems to level off. It is argued that conformity levels off at 3 members because individuals exposed to social pressure with in excess of 3 group members will start to suspect collusion.

Asch investigated the nature of the task and conformity, he discovered if the task details were left unclear or if the task was made more difficult, that this would increase conformity.

Asch discovered that when participants write their answers rather than call them out loud, conformity levels dropped sharply. This is an illustration of the difference between Public Compliance and Private Acceptance

In conclusion - It seems to be the unanimity(togetherness) of the group that is crucial to conformity: it is much easier to resist group pressure when this togetherness is lacking.

Groupwork until the end of the session

Your task is to pretend that you are Psychologists and that have to design an experiment to demonstrate how people conform. (use your imagination and experiences in life to help you with this i.e. at the some point of your life have you been in a situation when you have had to agree to something or go along with a situation even if you knew that something or situation was wrong.) Who knows we might be able to try your experiments out on other students/staff within the college)


























Insko et al (1985) argue that there are two powerful psychological needs that lead people to conform to social norms rather than rebel against them:

1) Normative Social Influence -

At certain times we are influenced by others because we want approval or because we want to be seen as a part of a group. Conforming to Social roles is an example of a normative social influence. The Stanford Prison Study-Zimbardo et al (1973) wanted to find out if alleged brutality by prison guards was caused by an inevitable outcome of the role or due to personal characteristics of the prison guards. 24 male volunteers were randomly assigned the role of prisoner or guard in a simulated prison in the Stanford University Psychology department. The 'prisoners' were arrested, searched, given I.D numbers, issued with uniforms and ankle chain. Guards had uniforms, clubs, handcuffs and reflective sunglasses. Zimbardo intended the study to last 2 weeks but the increasing malice of the guards and depression levels of the prisoners forced it to be abandoned after 6 days. The guards woke prisoners in the night, locked them in closets and got them to clean the toilet with their bare hands. This prisoners also demonstrated different behaviour, one went on hunger strike, and the prisoners who broke down asked to be paroled and not simply to quit the experiment. This study demonstrates the strong pressures which are in existence which make people comply with social norms and roles.

2) Informational Social Influence - a desire to be in the right in effect looking towards others who we see as correct, to give us clues(information) about how to behave, particularly in new situations.

Sherif(1935) - Investigated the emergence of group norms using the autokinetic effect.

Sherif asked individual participants to make a judgement as to how far the light appeared to move on a number of trials. It was discovered that each individual's estimates were relatively stable but between participants there was a certain amount of variation demonstrated. The same participants were then told to work in three's, announcing their estimates outloud, their judgements converged until a group norm emerged. Sherif then altered his procedure so that participants made their first judgements in the group situation, his findings in this condition were that group norms emerged even quicker than in the previous procedure. Sherif argued that this study demonstrated that when faced with an ambiguous situation, the participants looked to others in the group for guidance, that is they experienced informational influence. In simple terms Sherif argued that his results suggest that people will adjust their judgements to bring them into line with those of other people even when they do not perceive themselves and the others as constituting a group.

Evaluation of Sherif

Stoner(1968) study of 'risky shift' found that when individuals tended towards a cautious decision, the group was more cautious. If the individual opinion was risky, the group decision was more risky. The shift was always in the direction of greater polarisation, and individual opinion, tested later, changed in the direction of the group.

Asch(1952) - Informational social influence ; in an unambiguous situation. Asch(1952) suggested that Sherif's results had been caused by an ambiguous stimulus. Asch presented groups of participants with an unambiguous problem: on card one there were 3 lines (see Asch study in your notes)

Minorities on Majorities (Conformity)

Under certain circumstances minority influence can over a period of time become influential - Next Session

'A' Level

Social Influence(Continued)

Can anybody think when a minority has a social influence over a majority.Write down an example (2 mins)


Minorities on Majorities

There are a number of situations when small minorities have influenced majority decision.

Status and Power

It is possible that individuals who are in positions of high status are able to use their power over others to make their own minority view turn into a majority one.

Hollander(1964) - Suggested that the initial problem for a person with a minority view is to first achieve a position of status and power. Hollander argued that the way to attain such a position was to conform with the status quo and demonstrate a certain amount of competence within the general area. Over a period of time this conformity to social norms and group expectations allows the individual to accumulate 'idiosyncracy credits'. These idiosyncracy credits permit the individual to express his/her own deviant, minority view; the more credits which have been accumulated the more a group will tolerate deviant, original and/or innovative ideas from the person.

However, Homans(1961) argued that both high and low status persons in a group conform least to group norms. Homans argues that high status people have little to lose by acting independently; if wrong idiosyncracy credits are spent, on the other hand if the person is right a greater number of credits become accumulated which in turn adds to the persons legitimacy which leads to the person having an even better chance of next time turning his/her minority view into a majority one. However Wiggins,Dill and Schwartz (1965) argued if the minority position taken by the person 'gets in the way' of the group goal then that person will lose status very quickly within the group and that person will no longer be tolerated.

Behavioural Style

Moscovici and Nemeth(1974) argued that persuasion is successful in the absence of status and power because of the 'behavioural style' of the minority group or person.

A famous example of this is Freud who found himself as a very unpopular figure when he first brought out his theory of childhood sexuality, however Freud did not give in to the opposing majority view and carried on insisting his theory was correct, Freud was so good at influencing people that his theory was accepted and a lot of his terminology is now found in everyday language i.e. Freudian Slip

The behavioural style of influential minorities has four main components

1) Consistency

2) Certainty in the correctness of the ideas or views they are putting forward

3) Appearing to be objective and unbiased

4) Resisting social pressure and abuse

It has been argued that Minority influence creates conflict rather than avoiding or reducing it.

Moscovici et al(1969) asked 6 participants to estimate the colour of 36 slides. All the slides that were used in the experiment were blue but their brightness was altered(varied) by adding filters.

Each participant in the experiment had good eyesight

Two of the six participants were accomplices of the experimenter, they called the slides green on all trials, in effect they constituted a consistent minority.

The results of the experiment showed that naive participants called the slides green (they conformed to the minority) in 8.42% of the trials, 32% of all naive participants reported a green slide at least once, this demonstrated that it was possible for a minority to demonstrate social influence.

Moscovici then started a second stage his experiment he put participants into cubicles by themselves and shown a further sequence of coloured slides. In this sequence three were obviously blue, three obviously green and ten were blue/green. It was found that participants who were exposed to a minority(in stage 1) of the experiment tended to see the blue/green slides as green. However, this tendency was absent in the participants who had been in the control group in stage one (not exposed to the control group) The experiment demonstrates how consistent minorities effect influence in two ways

1) At the time at which the minority is forming its view

2) After the minority view has been made and when the minority is absent.

According to Moscovici(1985) there are certain criteria that minorities must have in order to exert social influence on majorities:

1) The minority behavioural style must be consistent in its opposition to the majority

2) The minority behavioural style must not appear over repetitive by repeating the same arguments over and over again

3) The minority behavioural style will be more influential if its main and important views demonstrate consistency with current social trends.


Can anybody give me a definition of compliance

Baron and Byrne(1977) stated that compliance is defined as 'a response to a direct attempt to influence someone by means of a request.'

Cialdini(1994) studied compliance professionals (i.e Salespeople, fund-raisers) basically professionals whose job it was to get people to comply. He concluded that there were six basic principles for gaining compliance

1) Friendship/Liking - In general people are found to be more willing to comply with requests from friends or from people we like than from requests from strangers or people that we don't like. Liden and Mitchell(1988) argue that impression management techniques can be used for purposes of Ingratiation (in other words creating the write impression and getting somebody to like us so they are therefore more likely to agree to our requests)

2) Commitment/Consistency - (The Foot in the Door) - The- foot-in-the-door technique, is where a person first makes a small request followed by a large request, it is often successful in getting people to comply with the large request. Once the target person says yes to the small request, it is more difficult for that person to say no to a larger subsequent request because this would create inconsistency with the persons first response. Therefore a person has a desire to be consistent. Freedman and Fraser(1966) asked homeowners if they would display a very large sign in their garden which read 'Drive Carefully'. There were 2 experimental conditions and a control group. The control group were simply asked to display the large sign without a prior smaller request. Experimental group A were first asked to display a small sign reading 'Drive Carefully'(same type of request; experimental group B were first asked to sign a petition about a conservation matter(different kind of request). Greatest compliance for the large request(displaying the very large sign) was found when the small request had been of the type i.e small sign there was 75% compliance .When the smaller request was different(i.e petition) compliance dropped to about 50%. In the control group compliance was only 17%.

There is also the opposite to this study and it is called The 'Door-in-the-face technique'- Cialdini et al(1975) stopped college students in the street and presented them with a huge request. (The request was would the students serve as unpaid counsellors for juvenile delinquents two hours a week for the next two years ?) None agreed. When the experimenters scaled down their request to a much smaller one (Would the same students take a group of delinquents on a 2hr trip to the zoo) 50% agreed. Less than 17% of students in a control group(those who were just asked about taking the delinquents to the zoo) agreed to take the delinquents to the zoo. The Door-in-the-Face technique can be explained as a procedure for gaining compliance in which requesters begin with a large request and then, when this is refused, retreat to a small one(the one they actually desired all along.


Obedience is classified as the most direct form of Social Influence, Obedience is basically yielding to direct orders from another person.( The main thing to remember is that the connotation about obedience is that one need not believe in what one in fact does, but merely that one feels compelled to obey)

Milgram(1963) studied obedience, Milgram wanted to discover if participants would inflict harm simply because they are ordered to do so. He studied participants who were representative of the general population in his controversial(unethical) series of experiments.

For each experiment 40 male participants(all were recruited via newspaper adverts) were used, each participant was paid $4.50 for volunteering. All the participants were informed that they were going to be participating in a study on the role of punishment in learning and memory. The experimenter wore a grey laboratory coat( why do you think the experimenter wore a grey laboratory coat - to enhance his authority), each participant in turn was introduced to the experimenter and also to another participant - the participants were asked to draw lots to find out who would be the 'teacher' and who would be the 'learner' in the experiment.(The drawing of lots was always fixed so that the real participant was always the teacher and the other participant(accomplice of the researcher) was always the learner)

The learner(accomplice of the experimenter) was strapped into an 'electric chair' in a room next door to where the teacher sat.

The teacher's (naive participants) role was to administer an electric shock(electric shock not real but naive participant not aware of this task-in fact the only electric shocks that were given in the whole experiment were to the naive participants if they for some reason doubted that the electrical shocks received by learners were real) everytime the learner made a mistake on a simple learning task(word Pairs) The apparatus used to give the electric shocks contained 30 numbered switches with the first labelled 15 volts, the second labelled 30 volts and so on upto 450 volts. Everytime the learner made a mistake the teacher was instructed to increase the strength of the electric shock(this basically meant that if the learner kept on making mistakes they would soon be receiving big electrical shocks)

During the session the learner (following instructions from the experimenter) made lots of mistakes. This resulted in a lot of teachers(participants) being faced by a serious dilemma, should they continue punishing the learner with increasingly painful shocks? Or should they refuse to continue ? If the teacher hesitated the experimenter pressurised them to continue with a series of graded 'Prods' one after the other. These were 'Please Continue' , 'The experiment requires that you continue' , 'It is absolutely essential that you continue' , 'You have no other choice you must go on.'

You would probably think that most participants would not continue with the high doses of electric shocks

What percentage of teachers(Participants) continued giving shocks to the maximum of the 450 volt Level ?

The actual amount of participants who continued through the entire series to the 450 volt level was 65%.(26 out of 40 participants) 5 participants stopped at 300 volts, 4 participants stopped at 315 volts, 2 at 330 volts and one each at 345 volts, 360 volts and 375 volts.

It was noted that many of the participants displayed signs of severe stress and discomfort during the experiment and showed a great deal of relief when it was over.

Milgram argued that there were several factors that could explain the obedience

What do you think these might be write down 3 factors each(5-10mins)

1. Credibility and respect, the experiment took place at the prestigious Yale University

2. Worthy purpose, the participants believed that the experiment was for a worthy purpose i.e advancing knowledge of learning processes.

3. Volunteering Victims, the participants believed that the victims had volunteered and therefore had an obligation to take part even if the procedures became unpleasant.

4. The participants also felt obligated to take part as planned

5. Being Paid increased the sense of obligation

6. Fair lot drawing, so the learner couldn't feel aggrieved at being the one who was punished.

7. Participants were naive about experimental conditions, therefore the situation was novel to them.

8. Long-Term scientific gain, participants were assured of the fact that the shocks were painful(in the short-term) but not dangerous, this was balanced with the possibility of Long-Term scientific gain.

9. Willingness of learners to take part upto 300 volts.



Variations on Milgram's original study

1) If the learner and the teacher were in the same room, the number continuing to 450 volts dropped to 40%

2) If the participant(learner) had to force the learners hand on a metal shock plate in order to receive the shock, 30% went upto 450 volts.

3) When the experiment was completed in a run down office in Bridgeport rather than the prestigious Yale University. 50% went upto 450 volts.

4) When women were used in the experiment the results were identical (65%-obeyed,450 volts)

5) When the participant was only required to read the word pair and another teacher(a confederate-accomplice of the experimenter) administered the shock. 95% of participants went upto 450 volts

6) If the experimenter left the room after giving initial instructions, giving all further instructions by telephone. The obedience rate dropped to 20%.


Evaluation of Milgram Obedience Experiment

Baumrind(1964) criticised Milgram on Ethical grounds, he argued that Milgram did not take adequate measures to protect his participants from the stress and emotional conflict they experienced.

In response Milgram sent a questionnaire to every participant, 84% reported that they had been pleased to be involved,only 1.3% reported negative feelings about the experience.

Orne and Holland(1968) argued that Milgram's studies lacked in both experimental realism(the extent to which the situation forces participants to take the study seriously) and mundane realism(ecological validity the extent to which the study relates to real life). They argued that participants did not believe they were really giving electrical shocks and they were not really distressed, just pretending in order to please the experimenter and to continue to play their role in the study.

Hofling et al(1966) conducted a study with nurses. They arranged for a nurse(participant) to receive a phone call from an unknown Doctor, who then asked her to administer 20 Milligrams of a drug called Astrogen to a patient so that it would have taken effect before he arrived. If the Nurse had obeyed she would be breaking several hospital rules, 1- Giving twice the maximum dose allowable for this drug, 2- Administering a drug not on the ward stock list for that day, 3- Taking a telephone instruction from an unfamiliar person, 4- Acting without a signed order from a Doctor.

Despite this 95% of the nurses(participants) started to give the medication(Placebo) until they were stopped by another nurse strategically placed nearby.



















A study of prisoners and guards in a simulated prison

The information needed from this study was to find out why prison officers performed brutal acts on prisoners.

24 male volunteers were given the role of prisoner or guard in a pretend prison .

The 'prisoners' were arrested, searched, given ID numbers, issued with uniforms and ankle chain.

Guards had uniforms, clubs, handcuffs and reflective sunglasses.

The study in the pretend prison was supposed to last 2 weeks but the study had to be cut short


1) The guards became very violent and nasty to the prisoners

2) The guards woke prisoners in the night, locked them in closets and got them to clean the toilet with their bare hands.

3) The prisoners also started to act in a strange way, one went on hunger strike, and the prisoners who broke down asked to be paroled and not simply to quit the study.

This study shows the strong pressures which make people obey authority.

Task - In groups discuss your experiences of the prison game.

Discuss the following

If you were a prisoner did you feel compelled to obey the guards

If you were a guard did feel a sense of power(authority) over the prisoners

Do you feel if you were left for 6 days that you would be acting in the same way as the people in the study above

Each group is to report back their thoughts to the rest of the class

Task Time 30mins