Conformity and Obedience

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Unit: Conformity and Obedience

Produce a written description/evaluation of Sherif’s (1935) and Asch’s (1956) studies of conformity, with an emphasis on the reasons why people conformed in the experiments.

Conformity is defined by Aronson (1988, cited in Psychology for A Level, pg. 43) as ‘a change in a persons behaviour or opinions as a result of real or imagined pressure from a person or group of people.

Sherif’s (1935) study of the autokinetic effect, which was an optical illusion, is one of the classic conformity experiments. He placed people in a completely dark room and let them observe a pinprick of light for some time; this gave them the illusion that the light moved erratically. Sherif asked individuals to estimate how far the light moved on several trials. Their estimates were typical to that individual. He then asked people the same question in-groups of two or three. Their estimates were of a normative value, (typical to that group). When people were alone again they continued to estimate consistent with the group norm.

Sherif’s (1935) study was ambiguous, (there was no right or wrong answer), and this made it difficult to draw any definite conclusions about conformity. It meant that individuals relied on the judgements of others when they had no clear way of deciding what judgements to make for themselves. Conformity effects would be better assessed more directly, by having all but one of the participants taking part to give the same answer and then seeing what effect this has on the remaining participant. Jacobs and Campbell carried out an experiment such as this in 1961, using the autokinetic effect. They found strong evidence of conformity.

Asch (1955) criticised Sherif’s (1935) study as being ambiguous and uncertain. In his 1955 conformity study, where he asked people to take part in a ‘simple perception task’, he showed them slides of several lines and asked them which of the three comparison lines was similar to another. The group...
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