Conformity and Obedience

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Conformity and Obedience
Task: outline and evaluate findings from conformity and obedience research and consider explanations for conformity (and non-conformity), as well as evaluating Milgram’s studies of obedience (including ethical issues).

The following essay will be about understanding what is meant by and distinguishing the differences between the terms conformity and obedience. It will show the evaluation of two key psychological studies which seek to explain why people do and do not conform, also with explanations of minority influence. Whilst seeking to understand the reasons why people obey authority, it will show an evaluation of Milgram’s study of obedience, discussing the ethical issues raised from the research and assessing whether the knowledge gained about human behaviour justifies Milgram’s experiments.

Most people like to feel that they make their own decisions, but in reality they are often just ‘conforming’ by adjusting their actions, attitudes or opinions so that they fit in with those of other people, or just simply to ‘go with the flow’. This happens as a result of real or imagined group pressure (Myers) in (Cardwell 2001), and may result in a change in beliefs or behaviour. Nobody tells you to conform, and you may not even realise you are doing it as it is implied or implicit. Throughout the course of our lives we become associated with or attached to groups which will each have its own responses expected of it. As a bus passenger you are expected to behave in a certain way, although your attitude may not be as important. As a football fan your attitude towards your team is important where as your behaviour may not be as important. As a parent the attitudes towards your children are supposed to include encouragement and you expected to demonstrate protective and helpful behaviour. It can be found to say that recognising and acting within the pro-social norms of a group may be seen as a desirable act, whereas unthinking conformity to a deviant group opinion might be considered less attractive and more of a trait. Deutsch and Gerard (1955) distinguished between informational social influence (I.S.I) and normative social influence (N.S.I).

I.S.I - To feel in charge of our lives we all have a basic need for certainty. We need to know our beliefs and ideas are correct and acceptable. If we don’t know how to behave in a situation such as first day at college/work, we look for information to tell us the correct way to act. When were unsure about something we seek for others opinion. In this way we can use that information to evaluate and form our own opinion; although this happens more in situations we’re not familiar with. There is also novel or ambiguous situations, such as when a fire alarm goes off accidently, people may look to others for guidance. If they appear to know the answer people will probably go along with or conform to their behaviour. If we conform because of I.S.I it’s highly likely that we internally believe the opinions we adopt. At first we’re unsure what to believe, which is why we compare our ideas with others, and become converted to share their views. ISI is based on the need to be right. When people are unsure of their own judgement they often accept the judgement of others as a guide. N.S.I – we conform in order to belong, to be liked and to be approved by others as people are more likely to accept us if we agree with them. All social groups have norms which define appropriate behaviour for its members. Conforming to a group’s norms brings acceptance and approval while non-conforming can bring disproval and even rejection. According to Kelman (1958) there are three forms of N.S.I. They are compliance, internalisation and identification. You may publically go along with a group’s ideas or norms to be accepted. People act in accordance with the majority but don’t agree or change their own beliefs or ideas privately. This is called Compliance. Internalisation is where...
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