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Social Influence: Conformity and Resistance

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Ian Harris

on 25 May 2012

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Transcript of Social Influence: Conformity and Resistance

Social Influence There are many everyday examples of social influence: Sex specific dress codes Paying for things before we use them rather than afterwards Listening to the teacher in a classroom There may be no logical reason for us to go along with some of these ‘rules’ they are just things we are in the habit of doing, e.g. men not wearing dresses. For others there may be very good reasons, e.g. listening to the teacher will help us to understand the subject and get better marks in the exams. Even in those cases where there may be a good reason to go along with the rules we know that this may not be our real reason. For example, listening to the teacher isn’t always motivated by the desire for better exam grades, perhaps we want the teacher’s approval or to avoid their disapproval or maybe we just can’t think of anything else to do. Social psychologists are interested in these other reasons. Defining Social Influence as Conformity A change in behaviour or belief as a result of real or imagined group pressure
David Myers (1999) This definition is popular because it reflects something of our experiences of conformity. Most people have adapted their behaviour or ideas at some point in their lives because they think that this is what everyone else is doing or thinking. However, this makes conformity sound like something we are conscious of doing and have control over. Individuals are quite capable of conformity without even realising what they are doing. Sometimes we may even mistake our tendency to conform to group norms for independent choice. Consequently, other psychologists have suggested defining conformity as: A tendency for people to adopt the behaviour, attitudes and values of other members of a reference group
Philip Zimbardo (1995) Explaining Social Influence Deutsch and Gerard (1955) explained social influence in terms of two processes which satisfy some of our basic needs. Consequently their theory is called the Dual Process Dependency model. They argued that: We all need to feel accepted. Consequently, we try to make ourselves similar to everyone else in easily recognisable ways. This gives rise to a normative social influence of the group, i.e. the group sets the standards of what is normal and therefore, acceptable. We all need to feel that we know what is right. We don’t like uncertainty. Consequently, we look to the group to tell us what is right and beyond question. This gives rise to an informational social influence of the group This approach has been criticised for separating the effects of these two processes out too much. Insko et. al. (1983) suggest that they work together to affect levels of conformity. So it would be more realistic to say that we conform to group norms and beliefs as we come under normative and informational social influences. Another criticism of the dual process dependency model is that it sees social influence and the groups that it works through as a product of the needs of individuals. Turner (1991) argues that individuals want to belong to a group for its own sake. According to this explanation we identify with the group and adopt its norms in order to belong. This may satisfy our needs for approval and certainty but even if it doesn’t we will still try to identify ourselves as members of the group or define ourselves as having category membership simply in order to belong. This self stereotyping is caused by a process that Turner called referent informational social influence which he thought had three stages: Acknowledging the group Learning the group’s norms Adapting behaviour to comply with the group’s norms According to Turner referent social influence sets the normative and informational influences of the group dictating the optimum level of conformity for its members self stereotyping. Newcombe’s classic study of attitude change amongst female college students in the 1930’s is considered to be good supporting evidence for Turner’s approach. Types of Conformity Compliance – publicly changing your behaviour to conform to that of others whilst privately retaining your own ideas. This may be caused by normative social influence, i.e. going along with the group so as not upset anyone or attract their disapproval or ridicule. Identification publicly and privately adopting the values, attitudes and behaviours of the group because you want to feel like you belong. These changes are dependent on the continued presence of the group. Once you have left the group you may abandon some or all of their values, attitudes and behaviours. This temporary conversion may be due to informational referent social influence. This is rather like individuals claiming that it seemed like a good idea at the time. Internalisation – this is when you convert to the group and no longer need it’s continued presence to ensure your adoption of its values, attitudes and behaviours. This may be due to informational social influence, i.e. when you are convinced that the group’s ideas are right. http://flavor8.com/index.php/2007/06/26/spinning-woman-optical-illusion/ How may of these people would dress like this without the influence of their peers? Having conformed to some of the normal behaviours of the group the individual begins to adopt some of these as part of their daily lives Types of Resistance Anti-conformity – this happens when the individual rejects the attitudes, values and behaviours of the group. It may look like they have escaped the social influence of the group but in reality they continue to define themselves in relation to it. For example, university students in the 1960’s claimed to be engaged in radical politics that rejected the values of their parents’ generation. However, for many this was merely an extension of teenage rebellion. Instead of developing a genuinely new and different way of relating to the world these students simply took to doing the opposite of what their parents expected. Independence – here the individual does not define themselves in relation to the group at all. It may be that some of his or her attitudes, values and behaviours are the same as those of the group but this is purely coincidental. If the group decided to change any of these things it would have no influence on the individual. But preceding norms of behaviour and their underlying values will be retained. Contradictions between these mean that identification isn't particularly reliable and the individual is likely to abandon the norms of the group especially if their extrinsic motivation (e.g. affection/approval of another group member or elevated social status) fails. Once the groups norms have become thoroughly embedded in the individual's daily life they are much more likely to internalise the values that these norms express. This makes the individual an ideal candidate for promoting the group's values independently. If the group's objective include recruiting new members it will usually only trust this task to those members who clearly demonstrate internalisation.
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