In psychological terms, conformity refers to an individual`s urge to follow the rules or behaviours of a social group to which he belongs. Psychologists have put forward many theories to find out why people conform and obey and have completed studies to confirm their ideas. In this essay I will explain why people conform and obey.
An important experiment demonstrating under which circumstances people showed conformity was done by a psychologist named Asch (1956). Asch`s experiments were made up to look like a vision test to the participating.The naive subjects did not know that the other participants in the experiment were all confederates. When all the confederates gave the same, but obviously wrong answer, many of the subjects conformed and gave the same wrong answer.
Nearly 75 percent of the participants in the conformity experiments went along with the rest of the group at least a single time. These experiments also looked if a high number of confederates produced more conformity. When just one confederate was present in the group it caused no significant impact on the answers of the subjects (Fraser, 2001).The level of conformity which was reached after tree or more confederates were present, however, was considerably higher.
Asch also found out that having one of the confederates give the correct answer while the rest of the confederates gave a false answer would dramatically lower conformity among the subjects. In this situation, just five to ten percent of the participants conformed to the rest of the group (Asch, 1956). This indicates that social support is an important tool whether a person conforms or not.In most cases, the students stated that even though they knew the rest of the group was wrong, they did not want to face rejection from the group.
In other words were they anxious to be approved of and so they conformed. Moreover, a few of the participants suggested that they actually believed the other members of the group were correct in their answers. These experiments suggest that conformity can be influenced both by a need to fit in and a belief that other people are smarter or better informed.Looking at the level of conformity seen in Asch`s experiments conformity might be even stronger in real situations where the situations are more ambiguous or more difficult to judge.
Even though in real life those situations may not be so significant and clear as they are in the laboratory, the actual social pressure to conform is probably much higher. This can dramatically increase the need to conform. However, in such an experiment held in a laboratory it is not certain if the participants actually only conformed for this reason. Maybe they just choose to conform because they were somehow encouraged to do so.
Individuals may have been motivated to avoid conflict which made them behave in such a way rather than the actual desire to conform to the rest of the group. Obedience might be closely linked to conformity. It is different however because obedience is about social power and status whereas conformity is about the need to be accepted (Milgram, 1974). The study by Milgram is a classical example for obedience.
Participants were made to give increasing electric shocks to someone when he gave the wrong answer to a question. The person receiving the electroshocks was an actor.However, the participants did not know this fact. Milgram found that two-thirds of the participants did give the actor even the highest level of shock, even though they believed that the actor was suffering great pain and distress.
There can be many reasons why subjects obeyed and inflicted such high levels of pain upon the actor. the fact that the experiment was held in a professional setting, a university, might have a big influence because the subjects thought nothing could go wrong in such an environment. Moreover, the experimenter was an authority figure and he was present in the room with the participants.The subjects trusted him and furthermore they were told that if anything went wrong it would not be their responsibility.
It was also easier for them to shock the actor because the subjects could not see him which made it seem less real to them or it could have been because the subject had taken on a role so they felt that they were someone else. Milgram found that subjects were more likely to obey in some circumstances than others. It might be that people simply justify their behaviour by giving the responsibility to the authority rather than themselves or that the behaviour in question seems to be a routine to them.The studies by Milgram show that the situation plays a large part in the levels of conformity shown but individuals also differ.
For example, it might be that people who mainly conform tend to have less ego strength, less leadership ability and less mature social relationships. They might also feel inferior to the rest. Moscovici (1969) studied the influence of minorities on the responses of a larger group during an experiment about blue and green colour perception. He found out that the conflict faced by an individual to conform or resist is increased by the consistency of the minority and by the consensus among its members (Fraser, 2001).
The conformity rates were higher if all the confederated answered with the same false answer. Moscovici claims that this is due to the fact that the different answer cannot be blamed on inferior judgement or qualities of just one individual. Moreover, the subjects seemed to have the desire to reach an agreement with the minority which led to the attempt to see what the minority was seeing. The subjects made an effort to look for green in the blue stimuli.
They might have modified their own perception or their definition of green and of blue for this purpose.Moreover, it was mentioned that the subjects felt less certain than the minority. It appears that the effect of consistency is stronger than the dependence towards the majority and the social pressure following from the group. In conclusion I think that the reason for both conformity and obedience is to a big part fear.
People conform because of the fear of not fitting-in a social group which would lead to feelings of rejection. Obedience is partly the fear of punishment. People only really obey an authority figure that could make the consequences of not obeying very unpleasant.In everyday situations, however, people also obey orders because they want to get rewarded and because they believe an authority is legitimate.
Moreover, the consistency of the behaviour is a source of influence when a minority is concerned because it makes the individual feel less certain. A consistent minority seems trustworthy because the different opinion cannot be blamed on the false judgement of just one and this makes it look like the minority actually has a good reason for behaving in such a way.