Paper 1- Types and Explanations of Conformity (AQA)

Conformity, the tendency to adjust our thoughts, feelings, or behaviours to align with those of a group, is a pervasive aspect of human social behaviour.

In the realm of psychology, researchers have meticulously examined the various facets of conformity, unveiling distinct types and shedding light on the underlying mechanisms.

In this exploration, we delve into the types of conformity and the explanations that underpin this fascinating social phenomenon.


Types of Conformity: Internalisation, Identification, and Compliance

1. Internalisation: Internalisation represents the deepest level of conformity, characterised by the genuine acceptance of group norms and values as one's own. When individuals internalise, they incorporate the beliefs or behaviours of the group into their core values, and this influence persists even in the absence of group pressure.

2. Identification: Identification involves adjusting behaviour to align with a group without necessarily adopting the group's beliefs. In this type of conformity, individuals are motivated by a desire to be associated with the group or gain acceptance, yet they may not fully endorse the group's principles.

3. Compliance: Compliance is the most superficial form of conformity, where individuals adjust their behaviour without necessarily changing their beliefs. This type of conformity is often driven by the desire to avoid conflict, gain approval, or adhere to social norms temporarily.


Explanations for Conformity: Informational and Normative Social Influence

1. Informational Social Influence: Informational social influence occurs when individuals conform to a group's perspective because they believe the group possesses valuable knowledge or information. In such situations, people may adjust their views to align with the group's insights, driven by a desire to be accurate and make informed decisions.

2. Normative Social Influence: Normative social influence, on the other hand, stems from the human need for social approval and acceptance. Individuals conform to group norms to fit in, avoid rejection, or gain social approval. This type of conformity is more about compliance with societal expectations than an intrinsic change in belief.

Asch's Conformity Experiment (1951): Unveiling the Power of Social Pressure

Aims: In 1951, Solomon Asch conducted a landmark laboratory experiment to explore the impact of social pressure from a majority on an individual's tendency to conform. The primary aim was to investigate the extent to which individuals would conform to an obviously incorrect majority opinion in a controlled setting.

Procedures: Asch's sample comprised 50 male students from Swarthmore College in America, who believed they were participating in a vision test. The participants were placed in a room with seven confederates (actors) who had pre-agreed on their answers. The real participant, unaware of the confederates' status, was led to believe that all eight individuals were legitimate participants. During a line judgement task, participants had to vocalise which line (A, B, or C) most closely matched a target line. Despite the correct answer being evident, the confederates consistently provided incorrect responses on 12 critical trials out of the 18 total trials. Asch aimed to observe whether the real participant would conform to the majority view, even when it contradicted the obvious correct answer.

Findings: Asch measured the conformity levels by noting the number of times each real participant conformed to the majority view. The results were striking, with participants conforming to the incorrect answers on 32% of the critical trials, on average. Alarmingly, 74% of participants conformed on at least one critical trial, while 26% never conformed. In comparison, Asch conducted a control group where a single participant completed the same experiment without confederates, revealing that less than 1% of participants gave an incorrect answer under such conditions.

Conclusion: The findings from Asch's experiment indicated a significant propensity for individuals to conform to an erroneous majority opinion. Participants, despite being aware of the correct answers, succumbed to the pressure exerted by the group. Asch concluded that normative social influence, driven by the desire to fit in and avoid potential ridicule, played a crucial role in explaining the observed conformity.

Evaluation of Asch's study 

Strength: Asch's experiment demonstrated a controlled and systematic exploration of conformity within a laboratory setting. The meticulous design allowed for the manipulation of variables, providing valuable insights into the impact of social pressure on individual decision-making. The study's internal validity is enhanced by the rigour of its procedures.

Weakness: One notable weakness lies in the biased sample, consisting solely of 50 male students from Swarthmore College. The lack of diversity raises concerns about the study's population validity, as the results may not be generalisable to other populations, such as female students. Further research involving a more representative sample is necessary to determine the universality of the observed conformity patterns.

Moreover, the ecological validity of Asch's experiment is questionable. The artificial nature of the line judgment task may not accurately reflect real-life conformity dynamics, limiting the applicability of the findings to everyday situations. The study's reliance on a controlled task raises concerns about its external validity and generalisability to more complex, real-world scenarios.

Finally, ethical concerns arise due to Asch's use of deception and the potential for psychological harm. While the deception was deemed necessary for valid results, it raises ethical dilemmas. Participants were unaware that they were participating in a conformity experiment, potentially influencing their behaviour. Additionally, the psychological stress reported by some participants highlights the ethical challenges associated with studies of this nature. Asch's post-experiment interviews aimed to mitigate these concerns but do not entirely eliminate ethical considerations surrounding participant well-being.


Variables Affecting Conformity: Insights from Asch's Classic Study

Solomon Asch's groundbreaking studies on conformity, particularly his Line Discrimination study, delved into the variables that influence the likelihood of conforming to group opinions.

1. Group Size: Asch found that the size of the group significantly influenced conformity. Smaller groups had less impact on participants, with conformity rates increasing as the size of the group grew. This suggests that the pressure to conform is more pronounced in larger social settings.

2. Unanimity: The presence of a unanimous majority significantly increased the likelihood of conformity. Even if just one confederate provided a different answer, conformity levels decreased. This highlights the potency of unanimity in shaping individual conformity.

3. Task Difficulty: Asch varied the difficulty of the task at hand in his experiments, discovering that conformity rates were higher when the task was more challenging. When faced with uncertainty, individuals were more likely to defer to the opinions of the group.

Asch's studies provide valuable insights into the nuanced dynamics of conformity. Understanding the interplay between group size, unanimity, and task difficulty enriches our comprehension of how social influence operates in real-world scenarios.

In conclusion, the exploration of conformity, its types, and the underlying explanations opens a window into the complexities of human social behaviour. Recognising the intricacies of internalisation, identification, and compliance, along with the influences of informational and normative social influence, allows us to navigate the subtle nuances of our interactions within groups. Additionally, insights from Asch's studies underscore the importance of considering variables such as group size, unanimity, and task difficulty when examining conformity in different contexts. As we unravel the layers of conformity, we gain a deeper appreciation for the delicate dance between individual autonomy and the compelling force of group dynamics.




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