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Group Conformity Studies

Group Conformity Studies

Author: Paul Hannan

Identify the development and theories of social conformity.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to this episode of Sociology-- Studies of Society. Today's lesson is on group conformity studies. As always, don't be afraid to pause, stop, rewind, or even fast forward to make sure you get the most out of this tutorial.

So today we're looking at group conformity studies. Now to really understand what the studies are, let's first figure out what social conformity is. Now, conformity is just changing one's beliefs and behaviors to match groups. And it can really be as simple as you going to get a haircut. You are maybe going to make sure your haircut fits in with society's or the people that you think are cool. And social conformity can be as complex as people following Hitler and the Nazis in Germany.

So one of the first people to really scientifically look at social conformity is Solomon Asch. Now, he's famous for his Asch experiments. And this really tested conformity in a really small group setting. Individuals were given a pretty obvious answer to a question. And then they were seen if they would conform or not, because everyone else around them would be end up giving the wrong answer first.

So me show you an example of that. So you'd be presented a card. And a card on the left there is just-- this is a line. Then you'd be asked A, B, or C, which line is the same length as the first card you were shown?

Now, it's pretty obvious when you look at your screen there, the answer is B. I mean they are the exact same length line. I made these myself. But if you look, maybe, yeah-- but you're pretty sure. I mean, you're pretty sure it's not C. And you're pretty sure it's not A. So even though you may be 100% certain that it's B, you're very-- pretty close. I mean, everyone looks at this and says, OK, it's gotta be B.

Now, the way this experiment was set up though is you have a small group of people around. And this experiment would be shown to them. But only one person was actually being experimented on. In a room of-- let's say there's seven people in there, six people would be confederates. And those are people who actually know about the experiment. And they're going to give a set scripted answer, to really have the experiment happen to that last person, the actual person that's being tested if they're going to conform or not.

So in this case, everyone in the room would say the answer is A, first person, A; second person, A. And then by the time it gets to you at that last step, are you doubting yourself? Do you believe in yourself? Are you still going to say B, even though everyone else in the room said A?

Well, Solomon Asch found that many people end up giving a different answer. And there's a couple different reasons why that people gave. Some actually started to challenge their own correctness. And they thought, well, maybe A is the correct answer. And other people knew that B was right answer. But they didn't want to appear dumb by giving a different answer from everyone else.

Now, Stanley Milgram is another person who did a famous test on conformity. And he really was looking more specific at the way authority plays into social conformity. And so in this case, a participant was instructed to give a shock to somebody else. And he was trying to see the different situations in which the shock happened.

Now, Stanley Milgram did his experiments in the post-World War II world. So he's really specifically trying to see how Nazism and fascism was able to work in those societies. And he ended doing many, many different types of variations on this experiment. But the basic setup was that some would come in. They'd be a random person. They could be from any profession. And they'd be asked to help the experiment out by shocking someone else.

And this someone else in this case was someone who worked for Stanley Milgram. So not a random person, even though you're being led to believe they are. And when that person got a question wrong, you were told to shock them.

And the shocking machine had different levels of it. And each time they got it wrong, you increase the level. And there was actually some markers on it, so like danger zone. And Milgram was seeing what kind of things would get someone to push the shock all the way to danger.

And the person that was supposedly being shocked was an actor. And there's some really interesting audio clips of the person, like violently yelling out, oh, ouch, ouch. That's killing me, ouch, it hurts. And Milgram was trying to see how far he could push people to be shocking them. And he found all sorts of different factors. A person in a lab coat would be getting more people to push themselves further than someone not in a lab coat.

But it was really interesting looking at conformity. And in general he found that people want to conform. They end up following authority because they, I guess, in some ways believe in authority.

This is just an actual-- the advertisement that he used. And you may not be able to read it that well. But I just have it up there because he really looked at people from all different types of walks. And he found that regardless-- pretty much regardless of your background, you were as likely to conform as the next person.

Now, the last thing we're going to look at is groupthink. Now, groupthink is just the idea that people will stay silent in a group situation when they feel the need-- not even when they feel the need-- just to better match a group's views.

This can happen on many, many different levels. Kind of the most iconic example of that is the Bay of Pigs. And they don't know very many specifics of the Bay of Pigs. I mean, it had to do with JFK. This idea to send this group of Cubans, who were exiles from Cuba, and get them trained up and send them back to overthrow Castro.

Everyone inside this group-- the group kind of got on this tension, with, oh, this is a great idea, great idea. And no one would speak up that this idea was horrible. And it was a really-- I mean a really failed operation. And it really marred JFK.

Now, he lucked out, that he did a really good job in the next crisis, which was the Cuban Missile Crisis. So the Bay of Pigs isn't what people really think of when they think of JFK's policy decisions. But people there stayed silent in those meanings, to better match the groups.

And it can kind of be a feedback loop, where you stay silent at one time. And then the group starts to think it's a better idea. And then other people in the group start to buy in. And before you know it, it's this kind of uncontrollable growth, and this weird, set apart from society decision.

So today's take-away message. Social conformity is just changing one's beliefs and behaviors to match the group's. And we had Solomon Asch, who looked at conformity, looking at giving really simple answers-- or sorry-- obvious answers to questions. But other people in the room gave the wrong answer first, and seeing how much people would conform.

And Stanley Milgram looked at conformity using roles of authority. And he faked giving shocks to participants and wanted to see how far he could push people with that. And then we learned about groupthink and the idea that people will stay silent in some group situations to better match the group's views.

Well, that's it for this lesson. Good work. And hopefully you'll be seeing me on your screen again soon. Peace.

Terms to Know
Group Conformity

Changing your behaviors or beliefs so that you are more in line with the sentiments and practices of a group.

Janis' Groupthink

Irving Janis' advanced the idea that the tendency towards group conformity results in taking a narrow view of an issue, akin to "tunnel vision."

Solomon Asch Study

Study of social conformity involving visual perception from the 1950's where accomplices to the study answered incorrectly, putting pressure on the subjects to do so as well. Asch found that one-third of all subjects chose to conform by answering incorrectly.

Stanley Milgram Research

Series of research studies from the 1960's to determine how people respond to authority. The premise of the study was that subjects were told they were participating in a study of how punishment affects learning. The subjects were assigned the role of a teacher and told to administer shocks for incorrect responses. Almost two-thirds of the subjects administered shocks up to potentially deadly levels at the prompting of the researcher.

People to Know
Solomon Asch

American psychologist who studied social conformity in groups.