To what extent has research supported the view that the majority exerts a significant degree of influence over the individual?

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Azmeralda AbraheemPsychology Mrs Braude

‘To what extent has research supported the view that the majority exerts a significant degree of influence over the individual?’

The purpose of Asch’s experiment was to investigate into whether or not participants would conform in the presence of a group, making wrong judgements. In order for him to explain his hypothesis, he conducted an experiment involving 123 American male undergraduates. He showed a pair of cards to people around a table with one ‘standard’ line on it, and three other comparison lines, and asked the participants to vocally express which line they thought was a match to the standard line. The correct answer was always obvious (this reduced the chance of another variable being introduced into the experiment involuntarily) and within each group of 5-7 confederates, was only one “naive” participant.

From the experiment, Asch was able to find that 75% of the participants conformed at least once, 5% of the participants conformed every time and 25% of the participants didn’t conform at all. For the 75% that conformed at least once or of the 5% who conformed every time and gave obvious wrong answers, we can come up with the idea that they were following normative social influence as the participants didn’t want to stick out or be seen as an outcast among strangers. This type of influence is associated with compliance, because the participants didn’t believe in their answers, but felt the need (due to the social pressure of the other confederates giving a wrong answer) to agree with the group as to be recognised as a member, than an outcast. After the experiment, Asch ran post-experimental interviews with all the participants in order to find out why they conformed personally. The participants gave three main explanations into why they conformed. These included 1) they genuinely doubted their own judgement – distortion of judgement (informational normative influence), 2) they guessed what the point of the experiment was and decided to follow what they were expected to do by the researcher as not to ‘upset’ the experiment (demand characteristics) or, 3) they feared rejection by the other confederates and went along with everyone else’s answer (normative social influence) In conclusion, these results indicate that the majority does exert a significant degree of influence over an individual as many of the participants conformed at least once, if not constantly due to normative and informational social influence.

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However, if we analyse Asch’s experiment and results more critically and in depth, we are able to see that there is much more to it than just this. When evaluating an experiment, we must look at important factors such as its internal validity. It could be argued that Asch’s study lacked internal validity and it wasn’t actually conformity, because the participants may have guessed the purpose of the study and simply gave wrong answers thinking that is what their mentor wanted them to do. This means that the majority doesn’t actually exert that much pressure and his results are inaccurate. ...

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