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Conformity and Obedience - Essay Example

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Conformity is acting in terms of the accepted behavior of a social group or a change in the behavior of the minority to fit the behavior of the majority. For example, Arthur Jenness's study showed that when asked to estimate the number of beans in a bottle people would come up with different results, he then asked them to come up with a group estimate, then a second individual estimate…
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Conformity and Obedience
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Download file to see previous pages After a time he told them all to drink a mixture of Cool-aid (a grape flavored soft drink) and cyanide, as well as various other drugs. Most obeyed him, and those who didn't told of parents first giving the drink to their children, before themselves. (Melton, J. Gordon, The Peoples Temple and Jim Jones: Broadening Our Perspectives)
1. The conformity to norms is often quite unconscious. It has been internalized (learned well), probably in early childhood. Our societal norms are seldom doubted; rather, we take them as givens, as "the way things are." The learning is supported throughout life by the "validity" of the norm -- i.e. it works because it is the norm.
2. But sometimes we choose, consciously, to conform, as when we join a group voluntarily. We adopt certain norms because the group is attractive to us and we identify with the group and its values or goal. In its more dramatic forms, this is called conversion.
3. In other cases, we conform because we are forced to, i.e. we are conscious of our conformity but it seems a lot less voluntary. This is often called compliance, and it can be brought on by anything from a gun to the head or the promise of candy. In other words, it is conformity due to the sanctions the society or group has in effect.
4. But most of what we call conformity in the research literature concerns something "somewhat conscious" and "not quite voluntary." It is usually brought on by social anxiety -- fear of embarrassment, discomfort at confusion, a sense of inferiority, a desire to be liked, and so on. I think it should be called defensive conformity.
Solomon Asch and his students have conducted the basic research on this kind of conformity:
Imagine that a person, "A" has volunteered for a psychology experiment, and he shows up at the lab at the promised time. There is a table with four chairs around it, three already occupied by other students. So "A" takes the last chair and prepares himself for some kind of psychological bizarreness. Finally, the experimenter comes in carrying two stacks of rather large cardboard cards. He introduces himself and thanks you for volunteering and begins to explain: One set of cards, as evidenced by the top card, shows three lines at a time, each line of a different length. The other set shows one line at a time. The task is called "line-length judgment" and looks to be very easy: Even from a distance, the line among the three that matches the single line is very clear.
The experiment begins. The experimenter points at the first student. He looks at the lines, hems and haws a bit... and chooses the wrong match! Oh well, there's one in every crowd. The experimenter just nods sagely to himself. He points at the second volunteer, and he too hems and haws... and chooses the wrong line! Now "A" begins to feel a bit uncomfortable. The experimenter points at the third person -- your last chance -- and he, too, chooses the obviously wrong answer. Now it's "A's" turn. Being a person of integrity, you clearly announce the correct answer -- at which point, all three volunteers and the experimenter give you a look like you're from outer space.
The experimenter reveals the second card of ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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