Conformity Essay, Research Paper
Conformity is defined by Zimbardo (1992) as, ?A tendency for people to adopt behaviour, values and attitudes of other members of a reference group.? Mann (1969) identified the two major types of conformity: normative conformity and informational conformity.
Normative conformity is caused by a desire to liked. People conform because they think that other members of their reference group will like and accept them. They also want to avoid embarrassment and humiliation from other group members. It is a desire to right that forms the basis of informational conformity; people conform because they look to others whom they believe to be correct to give them information.
In 1951, Asch conducted an experiment into conformity. Previous studies into conformity, such as Sherif?s 1935 study using auto-kinetic effect, were based on ambiguous tasks, where there was no obvious answer. Asch believed that if the answer was made obvious, there could be no doubt that the subject was conforming if he followed the answers of the rest of the group.
In the experiment, a pair of card where shown to people sitting around the table. The first card had a line on it, and the second card had three lines, of varying length. The participants were asked which of the lines on the second card matched the line on the first card in length, and gave their answer in front of the rest of the group. All but one of the participants were confederates of the examiner, and were instructed to give the same wrong answer. The naive participant answered second last.
Asch found that 32% of the trials, the naÏve subject conformed to answer given by the rest of the group, and 72% of naÏve subjects conformed at least once. 13 out of 50 naÏve participants never conformed. When he interviewed the naÏve participants afterward, he found that conformity existed on three levels: distortion of judgement, distortion of perception and distortion of action. Those who experienced distortion of judgement conformed because they trusted the group?s judgement over their own. Those that experienced distortion of action knew that they were right, but changed conformed to avoid ridicule from the rest of the group. Finally, those who experienced distortion of perception actually believed that they saw the group?s choice as matching the line on the card.
Crutchfield thought that the face-to-face arrangements of Asch?s studies might be responsible for the level of conformity found. He conducted an experiment whereby the participants sat in booths, where they could not see or been seen by the other participants, but could see the stimulus cards. In front of them were a series of switches and lights. They were asked to press the switch that corresponded with their judgement when it came their time to answer, and were told that the lights indicated the answers of the other participants. In reality, the lights were controlled by the experimenter, and each participant saw an identical display. This made the experiment more efficient as many naÏve participants could take part at once, and there was no need for confederates.
Despite the absence of a face-to-face group, there was 30% conformity when using Asch?s line comparison tasks, compared with 32% in Asch?s study. When the task was made more difficult, conformity levels rose. As well as these matters of judgement, he also asked participants to agree or disagree with statements. In one example, only 18% agreed with a statement when asked individually, but when led to believe that the rest of the group agreed with this statement, this rose to 56%.
Although the Asch experiment shows that people are willing to conform to an obviously wrong majority, we can also see that pressures to conform are not irresistible. In nearly two thirds of the trials, the participant did not conform, and 13 out of 50 participants never conformed. It should also remember that a minority of participants made more than half of the errors.
There are a number of different explanations as to why most of the answers were non- conforming ones. In his post-experimental interviews, Asch found three distinct categories of independent behaviour: Confidence, Withdrawal, and Tension & Doubt. Confidence: some of the participants were confident that their answers were correct.
Withdrawal: some participants felt the need to act as individuals no matter what the other participants did, and tried to isolate themselves from others by avoiding eye contact etc. They were therefore able to act as individuals by ?removing? the group, and therefore the need to group identification.
Tension and doubt: some participants felt that they had to perform the task as required, no matter what discomfort they were experiencing. They believed that they had to give what they perceived to be the correct answer, even if it may be wrong, as that was what they were asked for.
We can therefore see that reasons for not conforming as diverse as those for conforming behaviour. These findings do not answer the ?conforming personality? question, and there is little evidence about this. More recently, two other theories have been put forward to explain non-conforming behaviour: individualism, and control.
Individualism is the wish to be distinguished in some way from others. Maslach claims that while we want to be like others generally, we still wish to remain individual in other respects, and will therefore sometimes risk the disapproval of the group. Participants who did not conform because of this need may not have actually been experiencing true independent behaviour. Rather, they may be experiencing anti-conformity, where their behaviour was still being determined by the group, but this would not have shown up in the results.
Control Burger (1992) has demonstrated that people who score highly in desire for personal control are more likely to resist conformity pressures than those who have a low score, and this was tested using experiments.
In real life situations, independence may be higher still, as some participants may have felt that they were playing the role that the situation demanded: they did not want to ?rock the boat? by offering a dissenting view. In addition, in real life situations, it is very rarely that we cannot ask for someone else?s advice or opinion, but this was impossible in Asch?s experiment.
Another factor which my have affected the rate of conformity was the cultural background of 1950?s America. Studies by Larsen (1974) and Perrin & Spencer (1981) have failed to confirm Asch?s results. Since the 1950?s, a greater tendency to act independently is evident in both the USA and UK (Nicholson, 1985). However, when Perrin & Spencer conducted a 1981 experiment using youths on probation as naÏve subjects and probation officers as confederates, similar results to Asch?s were found. This may suggest that people?s ability to act individually is informed by their perception of what they have to lose by not conforming.
Independence may be increased in similar experiments by encouraging people to question the reasons why they are being asked to conform, and informing them of the pressures that occur in such situations.