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Social Influence Assignment (Psychology) - Essay Example

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To conform or to be independent?” and “how is a person shaped and molded by his or her social influences?” are just only some of the questions that the social psychologist Solomon Asch tried to answer in his experiment that highlighted the fragility of the person in a mass…
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Social Influence Assignment (Psychology)
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To conform or to be independent?” and “how is a person shaped and molded by his or her social influences?” are just only some of the questions that the social psychologist Solomon Asch tried to answer in his experiment that highlighted the fragility of the person in a mass society when he is confronted with the contrary opinion of a majority, and the tendency to conform even if this means to go against the persons basic perceptions (Asch, 1955).
His experiment was driven mainly by the idea that the conformity of a person depends on two variables and their respective relationship with the assumption of conforming to society: conformity is directly proportional to the number of confederates or accomplices in the group and it is directly proportional as well to the unanimity of the control group. In truth however Asch hypothesized that the majority would not conform to anything that was obviously wrong and held that “individuals are not as malleable or submissive as prevailing doctrines maintained” (Friend et.al., 1990, p.31).
According to Blass (1998, p. 46), the original focus of Asch’s studies was to study conformity to behavior of greater consequence than judging lengths of line, yet this technique was employed nevertheless because of its correspondence as empirical and statistical data and the convenience in presenting its findings. Thus the experiment was conducted by seating participants, including confederates, in a room and they were asked a variety of questions on lines such as which line matches with another and other comparative questions depicted on a pair of cards. They were all asked to announce their answers out loud and the confederates always recited their answers before the participant who was being studied. At first, the confederates delivered accurate answers but they eventually opted to have wrong answers as per instruction. During the course of the experiment, the two variables as stated earlier, namely the number of confederates and the unanimity of the answers of the group, were gradually changed.
Keeping in mind the two choices of the studied participant which was to either act out of his or her own independence, that is to ignore the majority, or to conform, which is to ignore his own senses, the results were as follows: Of the 123 put to the test, in ordinary circumstances individuals matching the lines will make mistakes less than 1 per cent of the time, under group pressure, studied subjects swung to acceptance of the majoritys wrong judgments in 36.8 per cent of the selections (Asch, 1955). When a participant had only one individual who contradicted his answers, he was swayed little, when increased to two, they accepted the wrong answer 13.6 per cent of the time and when opposition was three, the participant’s errors jumped to 31.8 per cent, though further increase did not affect results anymore (Asch, 1955). Unanimity, on the other hand was changed by introducing a “truthful partner” or an extremist dissenter which produced a drop in error to only 9 per cent (Asch, 1955).
There is wisdom in seeing how choices of other people, though they do not directly affect others in any way, still have influence over other people but there are underlying assumptions that this experiment contributes to society: First, there is a threshold in the chances that a person may commit to the majority’s decision instead of his own judgment. Statistically, this is about a third which means that individual decisions are still consciously independent about two out of three instances. Second, and perhaps much more valuable, is in recognizing the collective effect that a small minority can have over one’s own choices.
In light of these findings, order in society has been reevaluated using the very same principle of conformity. Stanley Milgram, highly influenced by Asch, has developed the idea of conformity further by producing a similar experiment where the procedure is devised for studying obedience (Milgram, 1963). As Tarnow (1996, p.1) would put it, conformity experiments will provide a “new rationalization for the phenomenon of splitting”, but again, all this depends on one’s own perception, experience and perhaps even culture. Finally as Asch (1956) himself would say, when consensus comes under the dominance of conformity, the social process is polluted and the individual at the same time surrenders the powers on which his functioning as a feeling and thinking being depends and thus, his education and values that guide his conduct become questionable. It is at this point that we can also whether these values that guide a person’s conduct is right or wrong, independent of other’s influences. But perhaps the more debatable question is ‘does our very concept of ethics change with society thus forcing it to conform?’
References:
Blass, T. (1998). The Roots of Stanley Milgram’s Obedience Experiments and Their Relevance to the Holocaust [Abstract]. Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen. p. 46
Friend, R., Rafferty, Y., Bramel, D. (1990). A Puzzling Misinterpretation of the Asch ‘Conformity’ Study. European Journal of Social Psychology. Vol 20, 29-44. p. 31
Tarnow, E. (1996). Like Water and Vapor-Conformity and Independence in the Large Group [Abstract]. Behavioral Science v41, 136-151. p.1
Milgram, S. (1963). Behavioral Study of Obedience. J. Abnormal Soc. Psychol. 67:371-8. Yale University, New Haven, CT.
Asch, S. (1953). Opinions and Social Pressure. Retrieved from: http://www.panarchy.org/asch/social.pressure.1955.html Read More
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