"To what extend has research supported the view that the Majority exerts a significant degree of influence over the individual".

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Aneil Patel                   Psychology

“To what extend has research supported the view that the

Majority exerts a significant degree of influence

Over the individual”

Conformity is form of social influence which results from exposure to the opinions of a majority. Zimbardo et al (1995) define it as a “tendency for people to adopt the behaviour, attitudes and values of other members of a reference.” The two most obvious reasons why people conform are because of ‘normative influence’ and ‘informational influence’ an alternative explanation is ‘referential social influence’.

Minority influence is a form of social influence where people reject the established norm of the majority of group members and move to the position of the minority. There are many situations where social influence where social influence can be attributed to exposure to persuasive influence of a minority position, or even a lone dissenter. Consequently although initially dismissed as eccentric or unacceptable by the majority, the views of the minority may become increasingly influential.

In Asch’s study, he showed a series of lines to participants seated around a table, all but one were confederates of the researcher. In each trial, participants were shown a ‘test’ line and asked which of the three other lines was the same. On six neutral trials the confederates gave correct answers, on the other twelve unanimously agreed on the same incorrect answer.

The results were 32% of the trials where confederates had unanimously given a wrong answer. Inexperienced participants conformed to the majority view and 72% of the inexperienced participants conformed a least once (compared to a figure of only 5% when making decisions in private). Some conforming participants went along with the majority because they believed that their perception must be inaccurate and the majority’s accurate. Some yielded because they did not want to be in the minority and risk being ridiculed by the rest of the group.

Asch change the size of the majority, as a result the conformity levels were close to zero when only one confederate was used, 12.8% when two were used, and 32% with three confederates. Further increases in the size of the majority did not produce significant increases in conformity. When Asch changed the mode of the response the participants were required to write their answers down instead of calling them out, the levels of conformity dropped significantly.

One of the main criticisms of Asch’s studies was that participants were conforming because they were reluctant or embarrassed to expose their private views in a face to face situation. Consequently, the level of conformity should decrease if they are allowed to write their answers down where there is no face to face contact between group members. This suggests that many people engage in public compliance rather then private acceptance. Conformity therefore does no necessarily mean agreement.

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Harris (1985) argues that as the majority of trails in the Asch studies produced                                             non-conforming responses, this was a demonstration of independence that conformity.

Smith and Bond (1998), suggest that conformity to a majority is more likely in collective cultures then in individualist cultures (like the UK and USA). Asch’s line-matching experiments show that people are sometimes prepared to deny what they know to be true in order to gain the approval of the group. This is an ...

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