To What Extent Are Conformity and Obedience Likely Outcomes of Human Behaviour and Can Individuals Avoid These Social Influences?

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Conformity and obedience are forms of social influences which strongly affect our behaviour in social situations from following fashions to committing immoral acts because we are commanded to by someone who appears to be in a position of authority. This essay looks at to what extent are conformity and obedience likely outcomes of human behaviour and can individuals avoid these social influences? Conformity is a change in belief or behaviour in response to real or imagined group pressure when there is no direct request to comply with the group nor any reason to justify the behaviour change (Gross: 2010: P401). Research has shown that when confronted by social norms individuals will often adjust their behaviour closer to the perceived norm. The Asch (1951) experiment involved subjects performing a perception task saying which of a selection of lines matched a control line in length. The subjects were unaware that the other participants in the room were confederates. During the experiment confederates would give the same incorrect answer to the question. Asch found that no one conformed on all the critical trials, and 13 of the 50 participants (26 per cent) never conformed. One person conformed on 11 of the 12 critical trials, and about 75 per cent conformed at least once during the experiment. (Gross: 2010: P403). This is backed up by Doms and Avermaet (1981) experiment they reproduced the same result as Asch. Obedience means behaving as instructed, but not necessarily changing your opinions. Obedience happens when you are explicitly directed to do something. Most obedience is reasonable, but when it is to unjust authority, the consequences may be disastrous. (Flanagan: 2008: P125) In Milgrams experiment (1963) each participant took the role of a teacher who would then deliver a shock to the student every time an incorrect answer was produced. Whilst the participant believed that he was delivering real shocks the student was actually a confederate in the...
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