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and are evil deeds done
He told the other jury members that he would change his verdict to not guilty but
by evil persons?
that he “would just never feel right about it.”
12. What research has been Why did Karl change his verdict, even though he did not agree with his
done to study obedience?
fellow jurors? This case, vividly brought to life in the PBS ¬lm Inside the Jury
13. What factors in¬‚uence Room, forces us not just to look at Karl™s behavior but also to speculate about
obedience?
our own. Would each of us be as willing to compromise our beliefs in the face
14. Are there gender of a unanimous majority who think differently? Under what conditions can our
differences in obedience? behavior be modi¬ed by others? These questions are at the very core of what
distinguishes social psychology from other areas of psychology: the in¬‚uence of
15. Do Milgram™s results
apply to other cultures? others on our behavior. In Chapter 6, we saw how persuasive arguments from
others can in¬‚uence our behavior. Karl was certainly exposed to such arguments.
16. What criticisms of
However, he did not accept them as a basis for changing his verdict. Rather,
Milgram™s experiments
have been offered? Karl modi¬ed his verdict in response to the knowledge that all of his fellow jurors
believed that Leroy Reed should be found not guilty. Thus, as Karl™s case illustrates,
17. How does disobedience
sometimes we modify behavior based on perceived pressure from others rather
occur?
than through a process of accepting what they say.
Like Karl, we are often in¬‚uenced by what those around us do. For example,
when you are seated in a classroom, you will note that most people are behaving
similarly: They are taking notes and listening to the professor. In social situations,
such as the classroom, the behavior of others often de¬nes the range of appropriate
behavior. This is especially true when the situation is new or ambiguous. What
if, for example, the ¬re alarm rang while you were sitting in class? Would you
immediately get up and leave, or would you look around to see what others
do? Most people insist that they would get up and leave. However, experience
teaches us otherwise. If your classmates were just sitting in their seats calmly, you
probably would do the same. The social in¬‚uence processes that operate on you
in the classroom situation can also be applied to understanding situations like
Karl™s changing his verdict.
In this chapter, we explore three types of social in¬‚uence: conformity,
compliance, and obedience. We ask: How does social in¬‚uence sometimes
cause us to do or say things that we don™t necessarily believe in, as was the case
with Karl? Why was Karl able to hold out when there were others on his side
but ¬nally gave in when he was the only one in favor of conviction? What other
factors and types of situations make us more or less likely to conform? When we
conform, do we always conform with the majority, or can a minority sometimes
lead us to conform to their point of view? Under what conditions do we comply
with or agree to a direct request? And, ¬nally, what factors lead us to obey the
orders of a person in a position of authority? These are some of the questions
addressed in this chapter.
Chapter 7 Conformity, Compliance, and Obedience 233


Conformity: Going Along with the Crowd
As a juror, Karl was placed in an uncertain position because he was receiving con-
¬‚icting input about the situation. From the judge and the prosecution, he received a
message about the law that convinced him Reed was guilty and that his responsibility
as a juror was to convict him of violating his parole. From his fellow jurors, on the
other hand, he received a different message, a message that made him doubt this con-
clusion. The other jurors told him that in their opinion, Reed should be found not guilty
despite the evidence. They believed that extenuating circumstances, including Reedʼs
lack of intent to commit a crime, made a not-guilty verdict appropriate. Additionally,
Karl was well aware that he was the only juror holding out for conviction. The force
brought to bear by the social situation eventually caused Karl to change his verdict,
although privately he did not agree with most of his fellow jurors. Karl was the victim
of social in¬‚uence.
If Karl had been responsible for deciding Reedʼs fate on his own, he would have
convicted him. But once he was in a social context, he had to reconsider his personal
views in light of the views of others. He yielded to group pressure even though he felt
the group was wrong. Karlʼs behavior is illustrative of what social psychologists call
conformity A social
conformity. Conformity occurs when we modify our behavior in response to real or
in¬‚uence process that involves
imagined pressure from others. Notice that nobody directly asked or ordered Karl to
modifying behavior in
change his verdict. Instead, he responded to the subtle and not-so-subtle pressures
response to real or imagined
applied by his fellow jurors. pressure from others rather
than in response to a direct
request or order from another.
Informational and Normative Social In¬‚uence
What is it about the social situation that can cause us to change our opinion, even if we
privately feel such an opinion shift is wrong? To adequately address this question, we
need to make a distinction between two kinds of social in¬‚uence: informational and
normative (Deutsch & Gerrard, 1955).
Sometimes we modify our behavior in response to information that we receive from
others. This is known as informational social in¬‚uence. In many social situations, informational social
in¬‚uence Social in¬‚uence
other people provide important information through their actions and words. Imagine
that results from a person
yourself in the place of one of Karlʼs fellow jurors, say, the jury foreperson. You think
responding to information
the defendant is guilty, but nine of your fellow jurors think the opposite. They try to
provided by others.
convince you of the defendantʼs innocence by sharing their perceptions of the evidence
with you. One juror may remind you of an important piece of information that you had
forgotten; another may share an interpretation of the defendantʼs behavior that had not
occurred to you. If you modify your opinion based on such new or reinterpreted infor-
mation, you are responding to informational social in¬‚uence. The persuasion process
discussed in Chapter 6 illustrates informational social in¬‚uence.
This is, in fact, what happened to the foreperson in the Reed case. Initially, he
was among the three jurors who were voting to convict. But after hearing the group
discuss the issues and the evidence, he came to see the crime and the surrounding
circumstances in a different way. Based on his reinterpretation of the evidence, he
decided to change his verdict. He did so in direct response to what was said and how
other jurors said it.
Generally, we are subject to informational social in¬‚uence because we want to be
accurate in our judgments. We use other peopleʼs opinions as a source of information by
which to test the validity of our own judgments. We conform because we perceive that
Social Psychology
234

others have correct information (Campbell & Fairey, 1989). Shifts in opinion based on
informational social in¬‚uence result from the sharing of arguments and factual infor-
mation (Kaplan & Miller, 1987). Essentially, opinion and behavior change come about
via the kind of persuasion processes discussed in Chapter 6.
normative social Conformity also comes about as a result of normative social in¬‚uence. In this type
in¬‚uence Social in¬‚uence of social in¬‚uence situation, we modify our behavior in response to a norm, an unwritten
in which a person changes social rule that suggests what constitutes appropriate behavior in a particular situation. Our
behavior in response to
behavior is guided not only by rational consideration of the issue at hand but also by the
pressure to conform to a norm.
discomfort we experience when we are in disagreement with others. We are motivated to
norm An unwritten social conform to norms and to the implicit expectations of others in order to gain social accep-
rule existing either on a wide
tance and to avoid appearing different or being rejected (Campbell & Fairey, 1989).
cultural level or on a smaller,
During deliberations, Karl was not in¬‚uenced directly by the informational content of
situation-speci¬c level that
the jury deliberations. Instead, the fact that others disagreed with him became crucial. The
suggests what is appropriate
behavior in a situation. arguments and opinions expressed by the other jurors suggested to him that the operational
norm was that the law didnʼt apply in this case; Reed ought to be acquitted despite evi-
dence pointing to his guilt. Karl changed his verdict in order to conform to this norm.
In a normative social in¬‚uence situation, at least two factors are relevant. First, the
input we obtain from others serves as a clue to the nature of the norm in effect at any
given time (Kaplan & Miller, 1987). Karl was surprised to discover what the norm was
in the jury room. Second, the size and unanimity of the majority convey information
about the strength of the norm in effect. As we see later in the chapter, these two vari-
ables are important in determining the likelihood and amount of behavior change in a
social in¬‚uence situation.
Although both informational and normative social in¬‚uence can exert powerful
control over our behavior, their effects are different. The changes caused by informa-
tional social in¬‚uence tend to be stronger and more enduring than those caused by nor-
mative social in¬‚uence (Burnstein & Sentis, 1981). This is because changes caused by
new information or a new interpretation of existing information may be persuasive and
convincing. As we saw in Chapter 6, the opinion changes that result from persuasion
are usually based on our accepting information, elaborating on it, and altering our atti-
tudes and behavior accordingly. This type of information processing tends to produce
rather stable, long-lasting change.
For normative social in¬‚uence to occur, we need not be convinced that our opinion
is incorrect. We respond to our perception of what we believe others want us to do.
Consequently, a change in opinion, attitude, or behavior brought about by normative
pressure is often fragile. Once normative pressure eases up, we are likely to go back to
our previous opinions. Karl went along with the other members of the jury, but he did
not really believe they were right. In fact, Karl stated that he would go along with the
majority but that he would “never feel right about it.”
Because norms play such an important role in our behavior, and because normative
social in¬‚uence is so critical an element in conformity and other forms of social in¬‚u-
ence, we turn now to a more detailed discussion of these important forces.

Social Norms: The Key to Conformity
Norms play an important role in our everyday lives. These unwritten rules guide much
of our social behavior. Humans seem to be predisposed to form norms”and conform
to them”even in the most minimal situations. Norms exist on many levels, ranging
from broad cultural norms to smaller-scale, situation-speci¬c norms. We have cultural
Chapter 7 Conformity, Compliance, and Obedience 235

norms for how close we stand to another person when talking, for how men and women
interact in business settings, and for the clothing we wear. We have situation-speci¬c
norms for how to behave in class or in the courtroom.
Violating norms makes us uncomfortable. We are embarrassed if we show up at
a wedding reception in casual dress and ¬nd everyone else dressed formally, or if we
go to tennis camp in tennis whites only to discover everyone else wearing the camp
T-shirt. In general, standing out from the crowd, being the only different one, is some-
thing human beings donʼt like.
To get a better idea of how norms develop and how normative social in¬‚uence
works, imagine that you are taking part in an experiment. You are sitting in a totally dark
room waiting for a point of light to appear on the wall across from where you are sitting.
After the light is shone, you are asked to judge how far the light moved (in inches). In
fact, unknown to you, the light is stationary and only appears to move, a phenomenon
called the autokinetic effect. If asked to make successive judgments of the amount of
movement that you perceive, what will occur? Will your judgments vary widely, or will
they show some consistency? If you have to do the same task with two others, will your
judgments remain independent or blend with those of the others?
These questions were asked by Sherif (1936, 1972) in his classic studies on norm
formation. When participants did the task alone, Sherif found that their judgments even-
tually re¬‚ected some internalized standard that put a limit on their estimates of how far
the light moved. That is, rather than being haphazard, individual participants showed
evidence of establishing a range and norm to guide their judgments. When these par-
ticipants were then placed within a group context, the individualized ranges and norms
blended into a single group norm.
The results from this experiment showed that subjects who did the task alone
showed a wide range of judgments (from 1 inch to 7.5 inches). But after three sessions
in which the individuals judged the distance in groups, their judgments converged, pro-
ducing a funnel-shaped graph. According to Sherif, this convergence shows that the
group, without speci¬c instructions to do so, developed a group norm. Interestingly,
this group norm was found to persist even when the participants were brought back to
do the task again a year later.

Classic Studies in Conformity
The convergence of judgments shown in Sherifʼs study should not be surprising. The
autokinetic effect is misleading, so the task was ambiguous, depending on subjective
estimates of the distance traveled by a light. Individual judgments eventually converged
on a group norm, demonstrating conformity. But what happens if the task is less ambig-
uous? Do participants still conform to a group norm? Or do they maintain their inde-
pendence? These are some of the questions Solomon Asch addressed in a now-classic
series of experiments (1951, 1955, 1956).

The Asch Paradigm
Imagine that you have signed up for an experiment investigating perceptual judgments.
When you arrive at the lab, you ¬nd that several other participants are already present.
You take the only remaining seat. You are told that the experiment involves judging the
length of lines presented on a card at the front of the room. You are to look at each of
three lines and decide which one matches a standard presented to the left (Figure 7.1).
The experimenter tells you that each of you will give your judgment orally one after
another. Because you are in the last chair you will give your judgment last.
Social Psychology
236




Figure 7.1 A line
judgment task that might
have been used by Asch in
his conformity experiments.
The participant was
required to pick a line from
the right that matched the
standard line on the left.




The experiment begins uneventfully. Each member of the group gives what you con-
sider the correct response, and then you give your response. But soon the others begin to
give answers you believe to be incorrect, and you must decide what to do. Should you give
the correct answer (which is obvious) or go along with the others, who are wrong?
Before we see what happened, letʼs take a closer look at the Asch paradigm. The
“other participants” were not really participants at all. They were confederates of the
experimenter who were instructed to give incorrect answers on several “critical trials.”
Misinformation provided by the incorrect majority places the real participant in a
dilemma. On the one hand, he has the evidence of his own senses that tells him what
the correct answer is. On the other hand, he has information from the majority con-
cerning what is correct. The participant is placed in a situation in which he must decide
between these two competing sources of information. From these competing sources
of information, pressure on the participant arises.
Now, when you are faced with a situation like the one created in the Asch experi-
ments, there are two ways you can test reality to determine which line really matches
the standard. You can jump up, whip out your pocket measuring tape, rush to the front of
the room, and measure the lines. This is directly testing your perceptions against reality.
However, you probably wonʼt do this, because it will violate your sense of the operative
social norm”how you should act in this situation. The other way is to test the accuracy of
your perceptions against those of others through a social comparison process (Festinger,
1954). Aschʼs paradigm strongly favors doing the latter. Given that participants in these
experiments probably will not measure the lines, what do they do about the con¬‚ict
between information from their own senses and information from the majority?

Conformity in the Asch Experiments. Aschʼs experimental paradigm placed the
participantʼs own perceptions into con¬‚ict with the opinions of a unanimous majority
advocating a clearly incorrect judgment. When confronted with the incorrect majority,
Aschʼs participants made errors in the direction of the incorrect majority on over 33%
Chapter 7 Conformity, Compliance, and Obedience 237

of the critical trials. Therefore, Asch showed a conformity rate of 33% on his line-
judgment task. Almost all participants knew the correct answer. When they did the same
task alone, the error rate (mismatching the line with the standard) was 7.4%, one-fourth
the error rate when other participants were present. Yet many changed their opinions
to be in conformity with the group judgment. So, even with a simple perceptual task,
an individual may abandon his or her own judgment and go with the majority. Why
would we do this? As we see next, there are different reasons why people conform or

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