Conformity and Obedience - Social Psychology - Lecture Slides, Slides for Social Psychology

Social Psychology

Description: Keywords in this lecture are: Conformity and Obedience, Conformity, Obedience, Predicts Conformity, Lai Massacre, Varieties of Conformity, Autokinetic Phenomenon, Contagious Yawning, Group Pressure, Morality of Teacher
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Conformity and Obedience

Social Psychology Conformity and Obedience

• What is conformity?

• What are the classic conformity and obedience


• What predicts conformity?

• Why conform?

• Who conforms?

• Do we ever want to be different?

The My Lai Massacre

• During the Vietnam War, as during any war, many

acts of brutality were committed by soldiers on both

sides; and most people seem to realize this.

Nevertheless, one particularly horrifying incident

appalled people around the world. On March 16th,

1968, American soldiers killed hundreds of people

living in a village called My Lai. According to Paul

Meadlo, a soldier who participated in the shootings,

the leader of the operation, Lieutenant William Calley,

ordered his men to shoot everyone in the village:

The My Lai Massacre

Question: He told this to all of you, or to you particularly?

Answer: Well, I was facing him. So, but the other three, four

guys heard it and so he [Calley] stepped back about ten, fifteen

feet, and he started shooting them. And he told me to start

shooting. So I started shooting, I poured about four clips into

the group....

Question: And you killed how many? At that time?

Answer: Well, I fired them automatic, so you can‟t — You just

spray the area on them and so you can‟t know how many you

killed „cause they were going fast. So I might have killed ten or

fifteen of them.

Question: Men, women, and children?

Answer: Men, women, and children.

The My Lai Massacre

Question: And babies?

Answer: And babies....

Question: Now, you‟re rounding up more?

Answer: We‟re rounding up more, and we had about seven or eight people.

And we was going to throw them in the hootch, and well, we put them in the

hootch and then we dropped a hand grenade down there with them. And

somebody holed up in the ravine, and told us to bring them over to the

ravine.... [T]hey had about seventy, seventy-five people all gathered up. So

we threw ours in with them and Lieutenant Calley told me, he said, “Soldier,

we got another job to do.” And so he walked over to the people, and he

started pushing them off and started shooting.... And so we started pushing

them off, and we started shooting them, so all together we just pushed them

all off, and just started using automatics on them....

(New York Times, November 25, 1969; transcript of CBS Network Radio

interview of Paul Meadlo by Mike Wallace, November 24, 1969)

The My Lai Massacre

• The matter-of-fact manner in which this man related the

horrifying incidents of that day seems unnatural. Was he a

sadistic psychopath who enjoyed murdering defenseless

people — from babies held by their mothers to elderly women

and men? Some people might answer ―yes.‖ Other people

probably would note that being a soldier in a war-related

situation causes a person to act differently than he or she might

have in most other situations. Regardless of the preferred

explanation, however, probably most people would assign

responsibility for this man’s actions to him: he consciously and

deliberately chose to kill those people on that day. Some

people might even argue that he could have tried to stop the

other soldiers from shooting the villagers.

The My Lai Massacre

• But consider the fact that a large group of soldiers took part in

the killings. Not one of them refused (at least not overtly) to

take part in the killings. Not one said that the killings were

wrong and that they should stop. Could they all have been

psychopaths? When the man was asked why he took part in

the killings, he answered that he was following orders and that,

for various reasons, it had seemed like ―the right thing to do‖ at

the time. His words suggested that he placed most of the

responsibility for the killings on Lieutenant Calley: he felt that,

when Calley ordered the massacre, he had no choice but to pull

the trigger. Furthermore, his explanation implied that virtually

anyone, if put in the same situation, would have done the same

thing. It seems likely that most of us, if we were trained soldiers

placed in a similar situation, would have acted in a similar


What Is Conformity?

• Conformity: A change in behavior or belief as the

result of real or imagined group pressure.

– Conformity carries negative implications in Western

individualistic societies.

• Varieties of conformity: – Compliance: Conformity that involves publicly acting in

accord with an implied or explicit request while privately

disagreeing. We conform to gain reward or avoid

punishment of some kind.

– Obedience: Acting in accord with a direct order or command.

– Acceptance: Conformity that involves both acting and

believing in accord with social pressure.

What are the Classic Conformity and Obedience


Sherif’s Studies of Norm Formation

• Sherif (1935) wondered whether it was possible

to witness the birth of a social norm in a

laboratory environment.

 Autokinetic Phenomenon:

Self (auto) motion

(kinetic). The apparent

movement of a stationary

point of light in the dark.


Contagious Yawning

• Social Contagion and suggestibility

• Yawning is a fixed action pattern that c an be

triggered by a sign stimulus.

What are the Classic Conformity and Obedience


Asch’s Study of Group Pressure

• Asch’s studies of

group pressure

What are the Classic Conformity and Obedience


Milgram’s Obedience Experiments

• People often comply with social pressures to conform,

such as seen in Asch’s study.

• How will people respond to outright commands?

• What happens when the demands of authority clash

with the demands of conscience?

What are the Classic

Conformity and

Obedience Studies?

Milgram’s Obedience


What are the


Conformity and






What are the Classic Conformity and Obedience


Milgram’s Obedience Experiments

• Prod 1: Please continue.

• Prod 2: The experiment requires that you


• Prod 3: It is absolutely essential that you


• Prod 4: You have no other choice; you must go


What are the Classic Conformity and Obedience


Milgram’s Obedience Experiments

What are the Classic Conformity and Obedience


Milgram’s Obedience Experiments

The Ethics of Milgram’s Experiments

• Importance of debriefing.

• Led to new ethical rules regarding deception.

• In follow up studies, the ―teachers‖ did not

appear to have been harmed.

What are the Classic Conformity and Obedience


What Breeds Obedience?

• Morality of teacher

• The victim’s distance

• Closeness and

legitimacy of the


• Institutional authority

• The liberating effects

of group influence

What are the Classic Conformity and Obedience


Reflections on the Classic Studies

• The power of the situation

What are the Classic Conformity and Obedience


Reflections on the Classic Studies

• Milgram and Asch devised experiments in which participants had to choose between what they believed and what others expected of them.

• Strong social influences can make people conform to falsehoods and commit acts of cruelty.

• ―The most fundamental lesson of our study, is that ordinary

people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process.‖

– Milgram, 1974

What Predicts Conformity?

Group Size

 Three to five people will create much more

conformity than just 1 or 2.

What Predicts Conformity?


 A single dissenter is often enough to eliminate


What Predicts Conformity?


 Cohesiveness: A ―we feeling‖; the extent to

which members of a group are bound together,

such as by attraction for one another.

 The more cohesive the group, the more


 People will conform more if the particular

culture strongly encourages respect for social


What Predicts Conformity?

Other Factors

 Lower status individuals exhibit more conformity

to a group that contains high status individuals.

 Conformity also higher if the group is seen as

high status.

 Public response makes for more conformity

 If we make a prior commitment, then are faced

with group pressure to conform to a different

thing, we rarely back down from our original


Why Conform?

• Normative Influence: Conformity based on a

person’s desire to fulfill others’ expectations,

often to gain acceptance.

– Often we do not want to be ―different‖ so we play


• Informational Influence: Conformity occurring

when people accept evidence about reality

provided by other people.

– Implies a change of attitudes and beliefs.

Who Conforms?


• Situations almost always are a better predictor

of behavior than personality.

• Personality traits predict ―average‖ behavior

across multiple situations.

• When the influence of the situation is weak, the

consequent behavior is more likely to be a

result of individual personalities.

Who Conforms?


• Cultural values influence conformity.

• Culture shaping usually occurs top-down,

as cultural elites control dissemination of

ideas and information.

– Paris Hilton is more likely to dictate fashion

than I am!

Do We Ever Want to Be Different?


• Individuals value their sense of freedom and self-


• When social pressure becomes so blatant that it

threatens their sense of freedom, people often rebel.

• Reactance: A motive to protect or restore one’s sense

of freedom. Reactance arises when someone

threatens our freedom of action.

Testing Conformity

An Interesting Test

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