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Gail Rudge Describe and criticise two studies from psychological research on either conformity or obedience Conformity involves a change in behaviour or opinion in order to fit in with a group. This may be family or peers (a membership group) or it may be pop and sports stars (a reference group). This group can be either a majority or a minority group. (S-cool Student Site) Two processes have been identified in causing people to conform (Deutsch and Gerard (1955)), these are normative influence which often comes from peer pressure such as fear of rejection and wanting approval and informational influence which is the fear of looking unintelligent and believing others know better especially with something unfamiliar or difficult. There have been many studies done by psychologists into why people conform two examples of which are Zimbardo et al (1973) and Moscovici et al (1969) which are described as follows: Zimbardos aim in his Stamford prison experiment was to examine conformity to social roles and expectations in other words to see the effect of making 'good', 'normal' people into prisoners and prison guards.
Zimbardo was also criticised for acting the role of 'prison superintendent'. In Zimbardos defence he only found out himself late on that he had the backing of the police to do the arrest and there was no time to tell the participants. He also couldn't really tell them what was going to happen without it becoming unrealistic. The study was stopped early and the participants had no lasting effects from the study, after extensive debriefing and follow-ups years later. Infact they revealed they had learned an important lesson in that we can all be overwhelmed by social influences. Zimbardo himself now acknowledges that he shouldn't of acted the role of superintendent but still believes that there should still be an independent monitor in this sort of research so that not only are the participants protected valuable information can also be acquired. Moscovicis aim of his study was to investigate minority influence and examine whether a minority are most likely to influence a majority if they are consistent in their views.
Zimbardo's experiment is interesting in that it shows conformity to a wider society and not to just those in a room, and has been compared to the Abu Gharib prison, where because the guards were hardly trained they fell into stereotypical roles. There have been criticisms of both studies in that they were both done in America in the late sixties and early seventies that were still considered to be very conformist times. However similarities with the studies findings in real life have become apparent over the years. Moscovici is supported by Baron and Byrne (1991) who argue, "Minorities often have appear to have deep convictions because they often take unusual stands. This makes others take them seriously"(Minority Influence Class Handout (14.10.04)) Further studies into other areas of social influence such as obedience, examples being Milgram and Hofling have demonstrated that as well as being 'swung' by minority and majority influence, authoritarian figures can also play a part too. It is fair to say that psychological studies are as important today as they were thirty odd years ago into giving us some insight into the various aspects of social influence and how it effects us, not only as individuals but society as a whole.
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