Social Control Essay Research Paper Conformityh Conformity

Social Control Essay, Research Paper


h Conformity focuses upon the ways in which other people exert their influence upon us in such a way that we go along with them. For example some teenagers may go along with what their friends do when they themselves would have preferred to have gone elsewhere.

h Conformity normally involves some kind of social pressure in which the individuals intentions conflict with those of the groups. This kind of social pressure is known as conformity. Below are three definitions of conformity. They all have a common theme; that other people bring about a change in an individual or at least induce a situation of conflict.

A change in a persons behaviour or opinions as a result of real or imagined

Pressure from a person or group of people. Aronson (1998)

Yielding to a group pressures or expectations. Crutchfield (1995)

The tendency to allow ones opinions, attitudes, actions and perceptions to be affected by prevailing opinions, attitudes and actions. Reber (1985)

h However this is hard to prove and since the 1930 s this form of social influence has been studied experimentally using a variety of techniques. The major experimenters in this area are M.sherif, S. Asch, R.S.Crutchfield and S.Milgram, who are all social psychologists.


When a stationary spot of light is seen in a dark room it appears to move, this phenomenon is known as the autokinetic effect. Sherif used this effect by firstly bringing individuals into the room and asked them to estimate how far the light moved, for several trials. After this, Sherif allowed the subjects to hear the other subject s answers and found that their answers converged and became similar. Sherif had not told the people that they had to agree on the correct answer, but each could hear the others estimate. The light had only appeared to flicker so there was no right answer and it seemed that a shift of opinion had occurred as a result of knowing what others had estimated.

h One shortcoming of this experiment was that it provided no absolute correct answer against which the participants degrees of conformity could be measured. It would be better to conduct an experiment in which people had to answer questions for which there was a correct solution, so that their degrees of conformity relative to this could be gauged.


In Asch s experiment, subjects were invited to participate in a study of visual perception that involved judging the lengths of lines against a comparison. Each participant was first tested separately. Only three mistakes were made when 36 people did about 20 trials each. In fact, only a few of the participants were real. The rest were accomplices (also known as confederates or stooges) of the experimenter. These people had been instructed to give the wrong answers on some of the trials. Under these conditions, if the assistants said that line A was the same as the standard line, some of the participants conformed and changed their response from the correct answer B, to A. Seventy-four percent of the candidates conformed at least some of the time and the mean average conformity rate for participants was thirty-two percent.


The type of experiment undertaken by Asch is very time consuming, as only one person can be tested at a time. Richard Crutchfield decided to change the experimental method so that several people, usually five, could be tested simultaneously. The same kind of problem as Asch used, was used. Each participant sat in a booth with an array of lights and switches in front of them. They were told to give their answers and each were told that they were last to guess and the others guesses were indicated by the lights on the panel. However each participant was actually given the same display, which on about half the trials was actually incorrect.

The results found were really similar to Asch s but had a lower conformity rate. They were asked if the star had a larger area than the circle and 23 out of 50 of the military men tested agreed that the star had a larger area than the circle. The military men were also tested on their opinions. They were asked privately if they agreed on the statements and when asked privately none of the fifty military men agreed with the statement

I doubt whether I would make a good leader.

But when given bogus agreements in their booths thirty-seven percent agreed.

Crutchfield found that conformity increased with the difficulty of the judgement being made. Crutchfield learnt that the group does not have to be visible to have an effect on their behaviour and that it is enough to know what everyone else is doing.


Stanley Milgram took conformity took to another level he showed that people from different cultures display different amounts of conformity. For example he compared Norwegian and French people.

He tested them on a task that required them to judge which of two sounds lasted longer. Milgram made them wear headphones and hear the two tones followed by the judgements of five other people. The five other people were in fact assistants of milgrams and they were instructed, on over half of the trials, to give an incorrect answer. Stanley Milgrams results showed that the conformity rate of the Norwegians was higher than that of the French. This reflected basic differences in their cultures. When Milgrams participants were allowed to record their results privately rather than call them out, conformity dropped, but was still 50 percent for the Norwegians and 34 percent for the French.

h There are many factors that influence conformity. The main three are as follows:

If the people that are being tested can see the faces of the other people they are expected to conform with, they are more likely to conform. In the experiments, it was proved that people are less likely to conform when they are in private than in a room with others.

When they are not sure of something and the rest of the group is, they are more likely to conform as they do not want to give the wrong answer and are afraid of being mocked or rejected by the group. This is also true the harder the question or task gets, as there is more chance of getting the wrong answer and being mocked.

The third main factor that influences the conformity rate is when the person that is being tested has low self-esteem or confidence. Personal qualities, such as the need to be liked, the perceived status of the group members and the extent to which an individual is attracted to the group- are also factors that influence conformity.

Many people may be more likely to conform when they like the group because they feel that by doing so they will gain the groups approval or liking and so strive to do what they hope is correct.

The need to be liked is particularly apparent in individuals rated as having low-self esteem and therefore makes them conform whereas those individuals who are more confident do not mind being different from the rest of the group, they are less bothered about fitting in and being liked.


h Obedience is doing what you are told, people comply with a demand because they feel they must or should do so. In a lot of occasions, the failure to obey may have severe consequences particularly if the request/demand comes from someone who is perceived to be in authority. Obedience implies that the individual is ordered to go along and do what they are told.

Psychologists after the Second World War were determined to find out why the Germans killed so many Jews in the war, and why they had obeyed orders to kill 6 million Jews. Because of the scale of destruction led by the Nazis, many people started to believe that the perpetrators of such a horror could not have been ordinary men and women.

h In the 1960 s, Stanley Milgram conducted a series of laboratory studies to see just how far people would go.

In 1963, Stanley Milgram carried out the Milgram experiment. The applicants were chosen through recruitment advertisements in the local newspaper.

h Milgrams experiment was conducted at Yale University and on arriving at the laboratory the candidate would meet another man in his fifties. This would be an actor, an assistant of the experimenter.

In Stanley s experiment, he would then appear and introduce himself and explain that the following experiment was to establish the effects of punishment on learning. It was then explained that one of the subjects was to be the teacher and the other to be the learner. The assistant was always assigned the role of the learner and the participant the teacher. The teacher was then shown to a nearby room where the learner was strapped into a chair with his arms attached to electrodes, which could give a shock. The subject was shown the shock generator and was given a mild shock to prove it was real. The assistant then warned the experimenter that he had a heart condition.

h The teacher then sat in a separate room with the shock generator and asked the learner a series of memory questions. The learner would then respond via a light system, and if he responded wrongly, the teacher pressed a 15-volt button. After this the voltage was increased by 15 volts for every wrong answer he gave. At about 150 volts the learner would start to complain; at about 250 volts he yelled, let me out, my hearts bothering me know. At 300 volts he kicked the wall and then went silent. The teacher was not bullied into carrying on, but rather obeyed the calm requests of the authority figure. At one point the subjects were heard to laugh at the point where the learner appeared to be in severe pain. Milgram explained that this was not because they thought the situation was amusing but rather as an expression of deeply felt anxiety. This also occurs when people are under extreme emotional pressure for example when soldiers go into battle or when individuals are hysterical due to bereavement.

h Milgram described the situation beforehand to psychiatrists and they were asked to predict how many people would give shocks as high as 450 volts. The answer was that less than 1 percent would continue to this extreme level.

However the actual results were quite alarming. About forty subjects were tested and 26 out of the 40 subjects (65%) went all the way in steps to the maximum shock levels, and without exception, all of the subjects went as high as 300 volts.

After this it became quite alarming that a significant amount of people could inflict harm on others to such an extent and this gave rise to a series of subsequent studies that attempted to isolate the main factors contributing to obedience.

Factors influencing obedience

h Some of the participants reported that they had contributed to 450 volts because the experiment was carried out at an important American university. Milgram ran the same experiment at an office away from the university and the obedience level was still 49 percent, therefore this was not a major factor.

h Milgram wanted to know if the nearness of the learner was a valid factor and if the teacher was in the same room as the learner and could see the learner, would the obedience rate be lower. He also questioned what would happen if the teacher was requested to hold the learners arms down. Milgram expected the obedience level to be lower this time, and it dropped to forty percent when the learner was in the same room and to thirty percent when the learner s arms were held down. Although it had dropped, the obedience rate still remained quite high and the nearness of the learner was therefore a factor but not an important one.

h A third factor was the presence of the experimenter in his lab coat. Milgram repeated the experiment and in situations where he left the room and issued instructions via the telephone the obedience level dropped to almost zero. In these cases the participant would pretend to press the button or they would press the button for a lesser shock than they ought to.

h Another important factor emerged. On a number of occasions the experimenter was asked if he would accept responsibility for what happened, and he was scripted to say yes. Once this had been established, the participants did not complain much about the experiment and carried on. The experimenters absence seemed to give a greater feeling of personal responsibility for their own actions and it became clear that many people would inflict a greater amount of pain if someone else took responsibility as it took away the guilt. This can be seen in the second world wart where it was often that the nazi war criminals plead that they only did as they were told and that someone else higher up accepted responsibility for it.

h Another factor was seen that if the participants were given an important role, if they felt they were helping with important scientific research, they would continue to higher voltage. This is also apparent with the Second World War, where the nazi war criminals believed that they were doing it for their own country, for a purer, better Germany.

h Crutchfield also states that if the group is too discuss what is going on they find less problems with it and will get on with it. This is also apparent in real life too, where discussion is limited and that all the facts are not known. In some situations there are no facts or correct answers at all, only opinions. The fact that a group believes something may actually prevent its members from looking for further evidence about it.

h Hofling conducted an experiment in 1966 and he shows that obedience to authority is not just confined to the laboratory. Hofling conducted an experiment on nurses on normal duty at two American hospitals. Each nurse received a phone call from a doctor whom she had not met before but who was from the psychiatric department and who said he was coming to see a patient shortly. The doctor asked the nurse to look for a drug called Astroten and administer 20mg to the patient. The label on the container stated that a maximum dosage of 10mg was allowed per day but despite this 21 of the 22 nurses went as far as pouring out 20mg of the drug before being stopped by a confederate of the researchers. There was also a hospital rule not to take orders over the phone. The authority of a doctor over a nurse was enough to produce obedience rather than questioning.


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