Examine Sherif's Conformity (Social Influence) Experiment

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Conformity is type of social influence that causes one to change their beliefs, attitudes or behaviour in order to suit a particular reference group.

Sherif (1935, cited in McLeod, 2016) conducted a lab experiment using the auto-kinetic effect to investigate how people conform to group norms when they are put in an ambiguous situations.

The participant’s answers converged to one group answer throughout the experiment they experienced Informational social influence (ISI) mainly because they were faced with ambiguity. ISI is the need that one may feel to be certain, and as they were placed in an ambiguous situation, the participants conformed because of this need. Internalisation is the change of both behaviour and opinion. During the experiment their answers converged into one, within the trials, the person whose estimate of movement was significantly different from the other two in the group, conformed to the view of the other two. their judgments had changed and so they internalised with the group estimate. (Deutsch and Gerard ,1955, cited in Hill, 2009)

Asch argued that nothing could be concluded from Sherif’s study as there was ambiguity involved; it could not define the real reason for why people conform. Asch (1956, cited in Cardwell, Meldrum and Clark, 2000) was interested in perceptual conformity and so he conducted a lab experiment, asking one naïve participant to compare the length of a group of lines to one single line in a room of confederates. This was to investigate how social pressure from a majority group could make people conform. Fifty male students were studied in the first initial experiments. Asch instructed the confederates to give the same wrong answer in 12 out of 18 trials. Asch wanted to see how many participant would conform to the group even though the answer was clearly obvious.

When all confederates gave a unanimous answer, 32% of the time the naïve participant conformed. 74% of naïve participants conformed at least once. When interviewing the conforming participants after the experiment, the majority had agreed that they did not believe in their conforming answers, but they had chosen it due to fear of being ridiculed by the group. So they complied due in relation to normative social influence (NSI). NSI is the conflict one faces between their own and others opinion which makes them feel the need to be accepted by that particular society. Depending on these conditions, Deutsch and Gerard ,1955 (cited in Hill, 2009) found that one might feel positively reinforced into agreeing with the public, whilst hiding their own views, which is what leads them to comply.

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Both Sherif and Asch’s experiments produced different understandings of conformity but were still relative. This is because Sherif was measuring norm formation, (conformity via ISI). When an experiment similar to Sherif’s was conducted, by telling the participants that the auto-kinetic effect was an illusion, norm formation ceases as did convergence. The participants were no longer uncertain so they did not internalise and no longer experience ISI. (Sperling, 1946 cited in Gross, 2010).

Sherif’s study’s internal validity was challenged by Asch but was still relatively good as his conclusion was relevant to the hypothesis. Asch’s had very good internal ...

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