Why Do People Conform and Obey

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Why do people conform and obey?
Psychology
Essay 4

Essay: Why do people conform and obey?

In psychological terms, conformity refers to an individual`s urge to follow the rules or behaviours of a social group to which he belongs. Psychologists have put forward many theories to find out why people conform and obey and have completed studies to confirm their ideas. In this essay I will explain why people conform and obey.

An important experiment demonstrating under which circumstances people showed conformity was done by a psychologist named Asch (1956). Asch`s experiments were made up to look like a vision test to the participating. The naive subjects did not know that the other participants in the experiment were all confederates. When all the confederates gave the same, but obviously wrong answer, many of the subjects conformed and gave the same wrong answer. Nearly 75 percent of the participants in the conformity experiments went along with the rest of the group at least a single time.

These experiments also looked if a high number of confederates produced more conformity. When just one confederate was present in the group it caused no significant impact on the answers of the subjects (Fraser, 2001). The level of conformity which was reached after tree or more confederates were present, however, was considerably higher. Asch also found out that having one of the confederates give the correct answer while the rest of the confederates gave a false answer would dramatically lower conformity among the subjects. In this situation, just five to ten percent of the participants conformed to the rest of the group (Asch, 1956). This indicates that social support is an important tool whether a person conforms or not. In most cases, the students stated that even though they knew the rest of the group was wrong, they did not want to face rejection from the group. In other words were they anxious to be approved of and so they conformed. Moreover, a few of the participants suggested that they actually believed the other members of the group were correct in their answers.

These experiments suggest that conformity can be influenced both by a need to fit in and a belief that other people are smarter or better informed. Looking at the level of conformity seen in Asch`s experiments conformity might be even stronger in real situations where the situations are more ambiguous or more difficult to judge. Even though in real life those situations may not be so significant and clear as they are in the laboratory, the actual social pressure to conform is probably much higher. This can dramatically increase the need to conform. However, in such an experiment held in a laboratory it is not certain if the participants actually only conformed for this reason. Maybe they just choose to conform because they were somehow encouraged to do so. Individuals may have been motivated to avoid conflict which made them behave in such a way rather than the actual desire to conform to the rest of the group.

Obedience might be closely linked to conformity. It is different however because obedience is about social power and status whereas conformity is about the need to be accepted (Milgram, 1974). The study by Milgram is a classical example for obedience. Participants were made to give increasing electric shocks to someone when he gave the wrong answer to a question. The person receiving the electroshocks was an actor. However, the participants did not know this fact. Milgram found that two-thirds of the participants did give the actor even the highest level of shock, even though they believed that the actor was suffering great pain and distress. There can be many reasons why subjects obeyed and inflicted such high levels of pain upon the actor. the fact that the experiment was held in a professional setting, a university, might have a big influence because the subjects thought nothing could go wrong in such an environment. Moreover, the...
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