Examine Ways in Which Society and Culture Can Influence Behaviour Linking to Conformity

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Sometimes people conform even when they are aware that it is not the right thing to do. This essay will explore the reasons and factors that influence conformity. Research into conformity became very important at the end of the World War Two, as many people hypothesised that Germans were born evil. It has since been proven that most people will, at some point in their lives, obey an unjust command. Conformity is a part of social psychology. Social influence involves the exercise of social power by a person or group to change the attitudes or behaviour of others in a particular direction. Social and cultural factors (Perrin and Spencer 1980) that affect behaviour include: social norms, cultural expectations and upbringing. The main concern of social psychologists such as Asch (1951) is to understand behaviour in a social context and the ways in which the social context can influence behaviour. Conformity is a type of social influence involving a change or belief in behaviour in order to fit within a group. Conformity can also be “Yielding to group pressures” (Crutchfield, 1955: 191-198). Conformity can be both desirable and undesirable. The difference between these types of conformity is that desirable conformity is conforming to rules in society such as social norms and law and order, where as undesirable conformity is conforming to something even when the person conforming, knows is it wrong. For example the case of Rodney King which occurred in 1991 is a prime example of what undesirable conformity is. This case involved four police officers being acquitted for using excessive force against a black motorist named Rodney King. This case proved to cause major up roar with the black community as 10 of the jurors who acquitted the police officers of the charger, was white. One of the first psychologist to ever study conformity was Jennes (1932). His experiment focused on why people conform using informational social influence which is defined as: conformity due to the perceived superior knowledge or judgement of others, which can change private opinion. This was proven through this experiment which included a glass jar filled with beans. Participants we’re asked individually to estimate how many beans were in the jar. Shortly after, participants we’re then asked to estimate the number of beans in the jar by means of a group discussion. Towards the end of the experiment, participants were asked to re estimate their guess, and interviewed to see if they would like to change their decision. Almost all of the participants changed their individual estimates, closer to the agreed estimate of the group discussion. Man (1969) identified other types of social conformity: normative and informational conformity. Normative conformity is when a person yield to group pressures because the person wants to fit in with the group. It can also include individuals conforming to prevent being rejected by a group. This type of conformity usually involves compliance where a person publicly accepts the views of a group but privately rejects them. Informational conformity occurs when a person lacks knowledge and looks to the group for guidance, or when the person is in an ambiguous situation and socially compares their behaviour with the group. This was proven with Sherif (1935) using the auto kinetic affect, where he concluded that individuals answers varied on how far the light moved. He found that after the group converged, they conformed to an estimate they all agreed on. This experiment showed that people conform, if they think that others know more than them, and they want to follow the group to do the right thing. This type of conformity usually involves internalisation – where a person accepts the views of the groups and adopts them as an individual. However Sherif’s study (1935) lacked ecological validity because we cannot possibly generalise...
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