Conformity is an area of psychology classified under social behaviour. It focuses on social influence within a group involving altering behaviour or beliefs in order to fit in with others. There are three types of conformity proposed by Kelman (1958), including compliance, identification and internalization. Compliance refers to conforming in a group setting, adopting various behaviours and opinions of other group members, but only when in their company and not when alone. Identification refers to conforming to a group both openly and when alone, but not upholding these views or behaviours after leaving the group. Lastly, internalisation refers to conforming to a group both openly as well as alone and keeping the same views or behaviours even long after leaving the group. Deutsch and Gerrard (1955) also propose two distinct reasons for conformity: normative social influence and informational social influence. Normative social influence relates to social norms and how an individual can be influenced by friends or peers. Those affected by normative social influence feel a pressure to conform in order to be viewed as having much in common with a group as well as being likeable, acting on group pressures to achieve this. Although normative social influence is the main reason for social conformity, informational social influence also plays a large part in why people conform. Informational social influence occurs when an individual finds him or herself in a new environment, mimicking the behaviour of those around them in order to not stand out or appear incorrect.
One example of a study relevant to conformity is Jenness’ Beans in a Jar study, conducted in 1932. The study aimed to see whether personal estimates of how many beans there were in a jar could be affected by the estimates of others in a group. Jenness asked 101 male and female psychology students individually to guess the number of beans in a jar, and then split them into small groups, asking them to discuss their answers with the other group members and come up with a group estimate. He then called up each individual participant again and asked them to give their estimates again. Overall, Jenness found that most participants changed their original answer to one much closer to the group estimate, trusting the opinions of others in the group more than their own.
Two years later, in 1935, Sherif conducted the Autokinetic Effect experiment, aiming to prove that people were likely to conform in new situations where they were unsure of themselves and their surroundings. He sorted participants into groups of three and instructed them to sit in a dark room whilst he projected a small dot of light onto a screen in front of them. Due to the Autokinetic Effect, the light looked as though it was moving despite being stationary, and Sherif used this, asking the groups to estimate how far the light was moving, individually at first, and then in groups of three. When asked individually, participant responses varied considerably from
Another example of a relevant study is Asch’s Investigation into Conformity, conducted by Soloman Asch in 1951. Asch aimed to see if participants would be swayed by other peoples’ incorrect answers to respond to questions incorrectly during a task in which the correct answer was evident. His method involved using 50 male, American participants. He told them that they would be involved in a visual perception experiment, then placed each participant into a group with seven others, who, unbeknownst to the participant, were not other participants, but confederates. The group was shown a series of cards and asked to compare the line on each card to three comparison lines, stating which line matched the card out loud in front of the group. The confederates had been secretly briefed to answer wrongly on 12 out of 18 trials. The true participant was also always either second last or last to answer, leaving them in a position where they had to choose between conforming to the majority or choosing the obviously correct answer. Asch found that the group greatly influenced the participant, with 32% of critical trials being answered incorrectly, though 25% of participants didn’t conform at all, and there were significant individual differences in how participants answered.
Mori and Arai’s No Need to Fake It: Reproduction of the Asch Experiment without Confederates is a later study relevant to conformity, conducted in 2010. The study aimed to replicate Asch’s study without using confederates, in order to ensure everybody was behaving naturally. Mori and Arai’s method involved using 104 Japanese participants, both male and female, and having each participant wear a pair of filtered glasses allowing them to look at the same lines but see different answers, making everybody a true participant. The participants were in groups of four, and the participant with the different filter was always third to answer. Despite the change, Mori and Arai found that for female participants, results were similar to Asch’s study, though males did not conform to the majority, which Mori and Arai suggested was due to the difference between the roles of men and women in society.
Aim: To discover whether people will conform to a group norm in an ambiguous task; more precisely, to discover whether people’s responses in a task will differ when they are exposed to other people’s judgements.
Experimental hypothesis: Participants will conform to other’s written responses when guessing the number of beans in a jar during an ambiguous task.
Null hypothesis: Participants will not conform to other’s written responses when guessing he number of beans in a jar during an ambiguous task. Any changes will be a result of chance factors.
Method Design: The experimental design used by the experimenter was independent groups. A lab experiment was used in order to have maximum control over variables in a highly supervised environment. The independent variable in the experiment was the use of an already filled-in estimate sheet as well as a blank estimate sheet, and the dependent variable was each participant’s estimate of the number of jelly beans in a jar. The extraneous variables that were limited included X.
Participants: The number of participants used was X, all between the ages of 16-17. Opportunity sampling was implemented by the researcher because it was the most convenient sampling method and allowed for ease in finding participants, as it involves asking people available at a given time.
Materials: The experimenter used a blank conformity estimate sheet as well as a filled-in, false estimate sheet with absurdly high estimates prepared by the experimenter to measure conformity levels. A brief was included, and ay beans was required. Ballpoint pens were also included for participants to write their estimates along with standardised instructions to ensure the experimenter explains the experiment to all participants in the same way. A consent form was presented to participants at the start, and a debrief was also needed to present to participants at the end.
Procedure: Participants were invited to take part in a study they were told was related to visual perception. In actuality, the study was observing conformity. The participants were put into groups and each group was individually asked to estimate the amount of jelly beans in a jar, with some groups recording their answers on a previously filled-in sheet by the experimenter, and others recording their answers on a blank estimate sheet. They were then debriefed at the end and informed that they were allowed to withdraw from the experiment if they wished.