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Outline Some Criticisms of Majority Social Influence Research and Consider Whether these are Fair

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Outline Some Criticisms of Majority Social Influence Research and Consider Whether these are Fair Majority social influence is the way in which a person's beliefs, attitudes or behaviours are modified by the presence or actions of others. This is through either normative social influence- based on a person's desire to be liked, or informational social influence- based on a person's desire to be right. This area is interesting to psychologists, and many have attempted to understand what leads people to conform in human nature. There are two key studies into conformity- Asch (1951) and Zimbardo (1973), both are important in understanding the effects of the majority influence and helping us to grasp why conformity happens. However, each study has its strengths and limitations. A key study in observing how and why people chose to yield to the majority was Asch's (1951) experiment using the comparison of lines. In each trial seven male students were used as the participants, one of which was the 'na�ve' participant and was the observational subject from whom the results would be collected. The other six were confederates of the experimenter, and were told what answers to provide in the study. The group were shown two cards at a time, one with three lines of different lengths on, and the other with a comparison line (which matched one line from the first card). ...read more.


So, although his original experiment had limitations, one of its greatest strengths was that it could be used years later for extended research. This has contributed greatly to psychologists' understanding of conformity in different situations and varied cultures. One of the most infamous and influential studies into the effects of conformity is Zimbardo's (1973) Prison Simulation Study. Male students were paid to take part in the prison simulation, randomly being allocated the role of either guard or prisoner. The guards were permitted to create their own rules, and were told they could do as they saw fit (within reason) to maintain law and order inside the jail. However, the experiment was taken further than anyone had anticipated when the men conformed so greatly to their perception of the stereotypical guard that the investigation had to be stopped. The participants- who had previously been classed as 'showing no sadistic tendencies', were shaped by their expectations of prison guards. This moulded their behaviours and attitudes, forcing them to conform to a stereotype; as can be seen in everyday life, but to a lesser extent. Such great changes in character occurred across only six days, it is hard to imagine how much people may change in real life in order to conform and be accepted. ...read more.


In order to have been successful additional safety precautions ought to have been put in place before the experiment began. The results could not have been predicted- if they were the study wouldn't need to be carried out- however some of the suffering could have been prevented if safety measures were present. The levels of sadism seen should never have been reached before the simulation was brought to an end. Overall, although the study provided a great and influential insight into the workings of human behaviour in conformity, these positive effects are outweighed by the negative effects from the ethical guideline breaches. Participants could have been severely harmed both psychologically and physically, and may not have recovered. This should never happen in a psychological experiment, not matter how much can be learnt from the results and conclusions. Many of the criticisms of these research pieces are fair. They can be discussed to a great extent, especially in the area of ethics. The criticisms serve to ensure that the conclusions are applied accurately, and to improve further experiments. They also help to mould psychology so that when a study goes wrong- like Zimbardo's simulation- the same mistakes are not made again. This helps us to form the ethical guidelines of psychology, and to judge what makes an experiment reliable. Overall this improves the field of psychological experimentation. ...read more.

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