The Features of Conformity and Obedience
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Debra Gray defines conformity as “A change in behaviour in response to
real or imagined group pressure when there is neither direct request
to comply with the group nor any reason to justify the behaviour
change”. Conformity is the degree to which members of a group will
change their behaviour, views and attitudes to fit the views of the
group. The group can influence members via unconscious processes or
via overt social pressure on individuals.
Influence by peers: People have the need to fit in with the society
not many people dare to be different. Psychologists have discovered
that even the most independent-minded of us will conform to social
pressure when we are with a group of people
Emphasis on importance: People see being accepted by others and the
sense of belonging as something much more important than actually
being right or wrong in a situation. It can sometimes be easier for
somebody to be wrong but like everyone else than being right but
different to others. I personally believe that this is wrong though, I
would rather express my views on something regardless of the
controversy they may cause.
Regulates behaviour: The fact that people want to be alike and to be
able to relate to others makes it easier for their personal views to
be manipulated by the group norm, sometimes, a look of disapproval can
be enough for someone to keep their viewpoints quiet and decide to
agree with the majority. This is a worrying thought as if we loose our
individuality we will never grow as much as we could as if we let our
own thoughts be heard, we would end up in a very narrow minded society
where a few people with stronger personalities and that dare to speak
their mind will most probably gain control over us all, and society
will follow this leader who may not necessarily be the most adequate
like a flock of sheep would not questioning the situation or making a
Behaviour similarities to peers: Often with people within the same
social section, such as of the same age, gender, race, or religion,
tend to act like and behaviour by a member of these social groups that
doesn’t fit in with the tendencies it would be frowned upon within
their social group.
Psychological need to be accepted: If someone persistently refuses to
agree with the group, he or she is frequently rejected and ignored.
Humans have the need to be in groups and have people to relate to, we
all need some form or companionship, and for this reason most of us
tend to tweak our attitudes slightly if these cause people to not want
to be around us.
Psychologists have been carrying out studies to investigate this since
the 1930’s to investigate how this occurs and what affects these
The main experiment carried out to analyse the way in which people
conform was the one carried out by Solomon Asch first carried out in
1951; this experiment was put in place to investigate how people
follow the group norm even though they know that the group was
obviously in the wrong this is how the experiment took place:
The participants were given with an unmistakable task, a line
judgement task. Participants were presented with two cards. One had on
it a 'standard' line: on the other were three comparison lines. They
were asked to judge which of the comparison lines were equal in length
to the standard line.
Below I have included the image they where presented.
This was done with a control group of 37 people, where the pressure to
conform was removed. It was also done with an experimental group
containing 6-8 confederates and 1 participant, who was second to last
to answer. At first the confederates gave the correct answer, and then
they changed to giving the same agreed wrong answer.
The results where that, in the control group 35 of the participants
made no errors, 1 made a single error. Only 0.7% of the judgements
In the experimental groups 37% of the judgements were incorrect. Of
the 125 participants, only 25% gave the correct answer every time,
compared to the 95% result from the control group.
This was clearly a case of normative social influence, as participants
did not want to stand out or to risk group disapproval. It was a case
of public compliance. The power of majority influence was shown as
participants sweated and squirmed.
A good current affair example of conformity could be the incidents
which took place in Abu Ghraib which I discussed in detail within task
1.It is possible that not all the soldiers that got involved in these
horrendous activities would of done this if they hadn’t felt a group
pressure to do so.
Obedience can be easily confused with conformity and sometimes the
meaning can seem very similar but the main difference is that in
obedience differently to conformity you are actually instructed to do
something and what you personally think about it or is you disagree is
irrelevant whereas in conformity you aren’t told to do anything you
are choosing to behave in a way that will most probably comply with
what you believe that the majority would rather you do.
In obedience you are being told what to do by someone of a higher
status than you. In conformity you feel the psychological need to be
accepted by others.
I would personally define obedience as the action of following the
instructions received by a superior, regardless of your personal
feelings towards this.
Being ordered or instructed to behave in a specific way: Obedience
involves a person in authority telling you to do something or to
behave n a specific way. You may not want to do this but as you are in
a lower rank to the person ordering you have to carry these activities
out regardless of your personal views. An example may be for example
within the RAF a person in a higher rank may say to you “Get rid of
those side burns” and although you may not want to you will do this.
This shows that you are moulding your behaviour to what you are told
to, regardless of what you personally want.
Ordered by someone in higher authority: If somebody that was in the
same social level s you and had the same authority as you, ordered you
to do something you didn’t want to do, you would be much less likely
to carry this request out. In obedience it is important that the
person giving the order has authority over the person being ordered.
Involves social power and status: You are more likely to obey
somebody’s commands if you believe them to have more social power and
status than you. You will see them as higher class people and will
want to be respectful and follow their orders. A great example of this
is that within Milgram’s study it was found that people were more
likely to obey if the person in charge was looked more professional or
more important, in this case it was if they wore a white coat
(doctors) this gave them a sense of importance and power.
I will now write about two social studies carried out to investigate
how people obey to authority and what affects this. Firstly I will
explain an experiment carried out by Milgram.
He placed a newspaper advertisement offering $4.50 for an hours work,
in response to this an individual turns up to take part in a
Psychology experiment investigating memory and learning. He is
introduced to a stern looking experimenter in a white coat and a
rather pleasant and friendly co-subject. The experimenter explains
that the experiment will look into the role of punishment in learning,
and that one will be the "teacher" and one will be the "learner." Lots
are drawn to determine roles, and it is decided that the individual
who answered the ad will become the "teacher." (The drawing of lots
was rigged, so that the actor would always end up as the "learner.")
Your co-subject is taken to a room where he is strapped in a chair to
prevent movement and an electrode is placed on his arm. Next, the
"teacher" is taken to an adjoining room which contains a generator.
The "teacher" is instructed to read a list of two word pairs and ask
the "learner" to read them back. If the "learner" gets the answer
correct, then they move on to the next word. If the answer is
incorrect, the "teacher" is supposed to shock the "learner" starting
at 15 volts.
The generator has 30 switches in 15 volt augmentations; each is
labelled with a voltage ranging from 15 up to 450 volts. Each switch
also has a rating, ranging from "slight shock" to "danger: severe
shock". The final two switches are labelled "XXX". The "teacher"
automatically is supposed to increase the shock each time the
"learner" misses a word in the list. Although the "teacher" thought
that he/she was administering shocks to the "learner", the "learner"
is actually a student or an actor who is never actually harmed.
It was found that at times, the worried "teachers" questioned the
experimenter, asking who was responsible for any harmful effects
resulting from shocking the learner at such a high level. Upon
receiving the answer that the experimenter assumed full
responsibility, teachers seemed to accept the response and continue
shocking, even though some were obviously extremely uncomfortable in
The theory that only the most ghastly monsters on the merciless fringe
of society would submit to such cruelty is disclaimed. Findings show
that, "two-thirds of this studies participants fall into the category
of ‘obedient' subjects, and that they represent ordinary people drawn
from the working, managerial, and professional classes (Obedience to
Authority)." Ultimately 65% of all of the "teachers" punished the
"learners" to the maximum 450 volts. No subject stopped before
reaching 300 volts.
Here I have included an image of how the experiment was laid out:
Milgram also conducted several follow-up experiments to determine what
might change the likelihood of maximum shock delivery. In one
condition, the touch-proximity condition, the teacher was required to
hold the hand of the learner on a "shock plate" in order to give him
shocks above 150 volts.
The most interesting finding from this follow-up experiment is that
32% of the subjects in the proximity-touch condition held the hand of
the learner on the shock plate while administering shocks in excess of
400 volts. Further experiments showed that teachers were less obedient
when the experimenter communicated with them via the telephone versus
in person, and males were just as likely to be obedient as females,
although females tended to be more nervous.
There was another main study carried out to analyze obedience in a
real life scenario, this was done in a hospital with nurses. It was
conducted in the following way the study was set in a psychiatric
hospital in the America. The participants were 22 nurses on night
An unknown 'doctor', who was a confederate, telephoned the hospital
and spoke to a nurse. He instructed them to give medication to a
patient. The medication was a drug with a maximum dosage of 10Mg
(which was shown on the label of the bottle). The doctor instructed
the nurse to give a dosage of 20Mg to the patient and said that he
would sign the relevant authorisation papers when he arrived in the
hospital in 10 minutes time. It was hospital rules to not take these
kinds of orders on the telephone.
This was done with each of the 22 nurses. The result was that 21/22 of
the nurses obeyed the telephone instruction and began to prepare the
medication before they were stopped and the situation was explained to