S-Cool Revision Summary

S-Cool Revision Summary

Note: Just because a study takes place in a natural setting it does not mean it is ecologically valid! (this is a common mistake - be warned!) For example, Hofling's study in a natural setting was not ecologically valid, while Milgram's studies in a laboratory probably were.

  1. Key Study: Sherif - Conformity and the Autokinetic Effect (1935) - people change their opinions when in a group - increasing agreement amongst the group.

  2. Key Study: Asch and the Visual Judgement Experiment (1951) - showed how easily people agree with others in a group even when it is obvious the others are wrong. Also demonstrated effects of various factors on conformity, e.g. size of majority, presence of an ally.

  3. Key Study: Phil Zimbardo's Prison Simulation Experiment (1971) - showed how people are influenced by the situation and social role expectations. Normal people quickly became sadistic 'guards' and others became their passive, depressed prisoners. Behaviour became so extreme that the experiment had to be stopped.

  4. Stanley Milgram: 'electric shock' experiments (1963) - also showed the power of the situation in influencing behaviour. 65% of people could be easily induced into giving a stranger an electric shock of 450V (enough to kill someone). 100% of people could be influenced into giving a 275V shock.

  5. Hofling et al: testing nurses' obedience in a natural setting (1966) - again, showed power of situation and of 'authority' figure, even when instructions were against hospital rules and dosage nurses were asked to administer may have been dangerous.

  6. Moscivici et al. influence of a minority (1976) - if something is ambiguous (e.g. blue-green colour) a consistent minority, who appears sure of themselves (e.g. who always say 'green'), may influence others in a group. The effect of such a minority tends to remain even after they have left the group.

Conformity and obedience both involve the '...abdication of individual judgement in the face of some external social pressure...' (Milgram, 1990).

You must still be sure of the distinction between 'conformity' and 'obedience'- basically, that obedience involves instructions or orders from 'authority', conformity does not.

Two processes operate in conformity: normative influence and informational influence.

People are more likely to conform if:

  • Other people can see what they are doing

  • There are three or more others in the group

  • All the others agree with each other

People are less likely to conform when there is just one other person who disagrees with the majority - even if their views are different from the participant's.

In obedience situations people accept authority and deny responsibility for their own actions.

Obedience levels tend to be increased when the 'authority' figure is nearby - what a surprise - a bit obvious really - all children, parents and teachers know this! (Could have saved Milgram an experiment). Note though that we are only talking about obedience to do something a 'normal' person does not really want to do (e.g. homework on your most hated subject, giving people electric shocks).

Don't forget the 35% in Milgram's original study who did not obey - as Zimbardo says, they were the real heroes of the experiment.

Agentic theory An explanation for obedience, individuals see themselves as 'agents' of a higher authority and therefore not responsible for their own actions.
Ambiguous task A task in which it is not clear what the correct response is.
Asch paradigm The method, pioneered by Asch, in which stooges are used to test the behaviour of an innocent participant (who believes the others are participants).
Autokinetic effect An optical illusion in which a still point of light seems to move in the dark.
Conformity Various definitions - basically change in belief or behaviour to fit in with others in a group (no instructions or orders to change).
Demand characteristics People may try to interpret a situation and do what they think a researcher wants them to do - demand characteristics are aspects of situations, which lead people to do this (e.g. prestigious location - Yale University - of Milgram's original obedience studies).
Ecologically valid A study has 'ecological validity' if it can be generalised to other settings away from the original study.
Group norm Beliefs or behaviour established as the common ones for a group.
Informational Influence Pressure to conform through belief that others know better or are more expert.
Membership group Group to which a person belongs e.g. family, religious group or ethnic group.
Normative influence Pressure to conform to a 'group norm' (see above) through fear of rejection (or worse, e.g. bullying, violence).
Obedience Following someone else's instructions or orders to do something. (instructions usually from someone with authority).
Reference group Group to which a person does not belong but to which they aspire to or admire and so may be influenced by (e.g. pop group, film stars, sports heroes, rich and famous etc.).