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Should Research into social influence be banned?

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Should Research into social influence be banned? In this report I will look at whether conformity studies are justifiable, both ethically and scientifically, and what conclusions can be drawn from them. I will be looking in detail at experiments carried out by Milgram, Ash, Moscovici and a few others, and discussing whether they are ecologically, ethically and scientifically valid. In doing this I will consider the ethical guidelines and try to decide whether there was a need for them to be broken and if it was essential for the experiment. The key guidelines are consent/informed consent, deception, and protection from harm. In some experiments however it is hard to decide whether a guideline has been broken or not and which one it would be. I will describe and explain each experiment in some detail and then come to a conclusion at the end of the report explaining my view on whether research into social influence should be banned. Milgram 1963 (Teacher/Learner) Aim: To investigate how far people will go to obey an authority figure. Method: * Subjects were gathered using applications in a newspaper, and were all voluntary. They were told the nature of the experiment was to investigate the effects of punishment on learning. The subjects were always 'Teachers' (chose by a fixed lottery) and who they thought were other participants as the 'Learners' were actually actors. There were 40 males from ages 20-50 and were paid $4.50 just for turning up. * The subjects were put into a generator room where they had a switch board type thing in front of them with a number of buttons all with increasing levels of voltage upon each of them, going up to 450 volts. * They were told to give the participant in the other room a shock of electricity for every wrong answer to a memory question. The shocks increased in voltage after every question. ...read more.


Very few complained however this could be due to ego and not wanting to sound silly. In other words they wanted to conform to the 'norm'. Justification: The results from Milgram's study are very important to society and prove that people do conform to authority. They also tell us how people might resist social influence, as there were low percentages of it. People have independent behaviours, which involves the true rejection of social influence to behave in accord with one's own internal attitudes regardless of whether they coincide with the influences. Anti-conformity involves resisting social influence by deliberately opposing the majority and refusing to behave like them. This behaviour is still affected by society however. We may do this for reasons like Group Identity, psychological reactance, and Socialisation. Scientific Justification: Orne and Holland (1986) argued that the experiment lacked experimental validity as the subjects thought the learner would not actually come to harm. They suggested that they were involved in 'pact of ignorance' with the experimenter and obeyed in the same way a person would put their head under a guillotine which has just sliced a cabbage in two. However the participants genuine distress, their ratings of shock pain and their comments during debriefing count against this. As does the study done by Sheridan and King (1972). Some psychologists have suggested that the experiment is an artificial test of obedience and therefor lacks ecological validity. Milgram argues that while there are important differences between experimental and real life obedience, there is a fundimental similarity in the psychological process at work-especially the process of Agency. The subjects were also American, male and volunteers which is an unrepresentative sample that may have already been more obedient and helpful. Asch 1950's - (Line Comparison) Aim: To see whether people conformed to social influence when the task is unambiguous and clear. Method: * Participants were given two cards, one containing a single line and the other contained 3 separate lines all different lenghts but one was the same as the line on the other card. ...read more.


Ethical problems and Defence: The experiment breaks ethical guidelines of Deception and Informed consent however if it wasn't to do this, the whole experiment would be pointless. It doesn't have ecological validity because it is such a random subject and has no comparison to every day life. People's perception of colour isn't really important and has no real use apart from that minorities can effect the majority. Eyesight can vary from person to person and is therefor too vague. Experimenter bias could of also played a part in the conformity and the type of attitude the stooges had would of effected the way the participants answered. For example if the stooges were aggressive then the participants would have been more likely to conform with them so that they didn't feel out of place or different from the rest. The levels of conformity were so low that these other explanations to why people conformed are more reliable. Should research into social influence be banned? All of the experiments above have broken some guideline, and all have broken that of informed consent. However it can be argued that if this had not been so, the experiments would have no meaning as the participants would know how to act. These experiments however help to: - explain social situations. They give us an insight into why people conform to others beliefs or actions because they do not want to be different to society and stand out. Living examples of this are, in World War Two German soldiers killed innocent people because they were following orders. - The information the experiments give us. The information could be used in marketing to sell a brand or type. Brands are just popular names which the public buy. People buy brands because they are 'the best'. - school situations. Teachers could understand students and what to do when some students are obviously following a crowd to fit in even though the person isn't like the others. Conformity is a hard subject to measure, and there needs to be lots of experiments to do this. Paul Anstey 02/05/07 ...read more.

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