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Conformity and Obedience

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Influences of Conformity and Obedience

Marla Ocasio

Social Psychology 555

December 24, 2012

Diana Dobier, PsyD

Influences of Conformity and Obedience

There are many concepts important to analyze social influence. Two of these concepts are conformity and obedience. The influence the majority has on a person is conformity. The influence of authority on subordinates is obedience. Both concepts are related because both can persuade a person or a group of people to change thoughts, behavior, and actions for particular situations. Social influence includes a variation of beliefs, attitudes, ideas or behavior as a result of the interaction among people (Fiske, 2010).

The Concepts of Conformity and Obedience

Cialdini and Goldstein (2004) define conformity as "the act of changing one's behavior to match the response of others" (p. 606). Conformity is important because it enhances the sense of belonging and self-esteem in members of the group. Fiske (2010) indicates that a group plays an important role on the behavior of their members promoting conformity. When individuals are in a group setting is easier to see conformity because of the group pressure, they tend to do and say things they would not do in a different situation. Guansong, Qinhai, Fangfei, & Lin (2012) explain the importance of the internal factors of conformity. The example used by Guansong and colleagues explain that parents using threats to their children to make them study put a negative psychological pressure on them. Children will obey just to avoid punishment. However, if a different approach is used and children are motivated to learn they will enhance themselves because they know the importance of learning. Instead of obey to avoid punishment children will conform to their parents' wishes.

According to Guandong et al., (2012) obedience means that the person (or subject) keeps the same attitude or action to avoid punishment or to gain a reward. Obedience is often related to negative feelings the "purpose reason, thinking process, and emotional feelings of the subject's negative obedient behavior has internal consistency" (p. 1370). Obedience is operates by social forces that comes from the authority, victims, or peers (Fiske, 2010). Conformity and obedience are different. Conformity is to follow the crowd or surrender to group pressure. This is done because is important to be accepted or to "fit in" the group. On the other hand, obedience is behaving as told. Obedience usually involves one person, the authority. Society needs authority for everyone to coexist. Milgram in his research study could prove that individuals obey destructive and legitimate authority, these effects last over time (Fiske, 2010). People are thought to be familiar with group setting, which is why they automatically know how to behave and interact with one another, including conform or obey to the norms of the group.

Classical Study on the Effect of Group Influence on the Self

An individual social status and shared group membership are the two factors responsible for a person capacity to persuade others within a group. Because of the person's social status for example an architect, he or she can greatly influence others that are within the group because others look up that person. The person's influence on other members of the group can be: true influences or power-based influences. In other words, members of the group can behave in ways to simply please others, or they can also choose to show their true self by behaving in ways they felt is appropriate. By becoming member of a group, each member is expected to behave in ways that are acceptable to the group; and the members can sometimes act not as an individual, but as collective or unified members of a group.

Milgram obedience studies were directly related to social psychology. In the 1950s special attention was directed to social psychology and the powerful effects that social situations has on the way people think, act, and behave (Benjamin & Simpson, 2009). His work studied if the average individual would obey an authority figure even when the task requested would harm another individual.

The teacher was asked to read a list of words and the learner had to repeat the words back. If the learner answers were incorrect, the teacher had to shock the learner starting at 15 volts increasing up to 450 volts. With every wrong answer the teacher is supposed to increase the shock. The teacher thought shocks were administered; however, the learner was never harmed. Fiske (2010) wrote "Milgram explicitly understood the conditions for obedience to reflect the social force field operating on the participant" (p. 544). His findings showed that 62% obey when the learner "screamed and protested of heart condition" (p. 543), 40% obeyed when the teacher was in the same room and when the participant's had to place the learner's hand on the shock plate only 30% of the them obeyed. When the experiment was repeated in another office 48% obeyed. In the occasion of disagreement with the experiment only 10% obeyed. (Fiske, 2010).

Although Milgram's studies cannot be replicated today because of ethical guidelines, many psychologists are in agreement that the field is more aware of ethical issues when conducting research. The importance of his studies has helped social psychology with more emphasis on the power of situations and the relation with behavior, also with new highlights of the way attitudes and behavior are interpreted. Also, with a shift from laboratory research to field studies (Benjamin & Simpson, 2009).

Contemporary Research on the Effect of Group Influence on the Self

There is no doubt that humans conform. Haun and Tomasello (2011) conducted a research study to show that young children conform even when they know better. Children are subject to group pressure at early age. For the study the participants chosen were four-year-old children in a group of four. From the group of children three are the majority and one was coded as a minority child. Children were gender mixed, all German



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