Social influence is the effect one person or a group has on the attitudes or behaviour of another. There are several different kinds of social influence. This essay the focuses on conformity - yielding publicly to group pressure, and sometimes yielding privately also (e.g. Asch (1951)); also on obedience – behaving as instructed, for example Milgram (1974). Studies of these kinds of social influence aim to show how much individuals will conform or obey authority, and suggest possible reasons for these effects.
Asch’s (1951) study aimed to investigate whether individuals would conform when the group is clearly wrong. The control group made less than 1% of errors. In experimental groups, 74% of participants conformed at least once. Participants said they knew others were wrong but did not want to look different. A few thought that the group must be right because they had a better view. This shows that group pressure is strong since most people conformed against their own judgement at some point. It also shows that there were individual differences, since 5% always conformed while 26% never did.
The majority of conformity studies tend to show the effect found in Asch’s study, i.e. quite a high percentage of people show conformity behaviour. There are several explanations of majority influence on individual behaviour. Informational influence: people feel the need to be right. When uncertain the group has informational power over an individual because it can provide information about what is correct. This effect is likely to lead to internalisation – the individual starts to believe what they conform to. This is supported by a greater level of conformity behaviour shown with greater uncertainty, difficulty of task and unanimity of majority. However it does not explain conformity in studies like Asch’s where the... [continues]
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