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remain independent.

Paths to Conformity and Independence Based on his results and interviews with
participants, Asch classi¬ed them as either yielding (conforming) or independent
(nonconforming) (Asch, 1951). Of the yielding participants, some (but relatively
few) gave in completely to the majority. These participants experienced distortion of
perception and saw the majority judgments as correct. They appeared to believe that the
incorrect line was actually the correct one. The largest group of yielding participants
displayed distortion of judgment. These participants yielded because they lacked
con¬dence in their own judgments”“Iʼm not sure anymore.” Without such con¬dence,
they were not able to stick with their own perceptions and remain independent. Finally,
some yielding participants experienced distortion of action. Here, participants knew that
the majority was wrong but conformed so that they did not appear different to the other
participants”“Iʼll go along” (Figure 7.2). This is what happened to Karl. Interestingly,
there was a remarkable consistency among yielding participants. Once bound to the
majority, they stayed on the path of conformity.
Of the independent participants, about 25% remained totally independent, never
agreeing with the incorrect majority (Asch, 1955). These participants had a great deal
of con¬dence in their own judgments and withstood the pressure from the majority
completely. Other independent participants remained so because they felt a great need
to remain self-reliant; still others remained independent because they wanted to do
well on the task.
Aschʼs interviews tell us that there are many paths to conformity or independence.
Some participants remain independent because they trust their own senses, whereas
others remain independent because they feel a great need to do so. These latter partici-
pants appear to remain independent because of psychological reactance (Brehm, 1966).

Figure 7.2 Based
on postexperimental
interviews, Asch
determined that there was
no one path to conformity.
Different participants
conformed for different
Social Psychology

As described in Chapter 6, psychological reactance occurs when individuals feel that
their freedom of choice or action is threatened because other people are forcing them
to do or say things (Brehm & Brehm, 1981). To reestablish independence, they reject
the majorityʼs pressure and go their own way. Even when individuals choose to remain
independent, however, they still feel the pressure the incorrect majority exerts. Resisting
the pressure of the majority is not easy. Independent participants can withstand that
pressure and stick with their own perceptions.

How Does Social In¬‚uence Bring About Conformity?
What is it about social in¬‚uence situations that causes conformity? When your opinion
is different from that of a unanimous majority, you are faced with a dilemma. On the one
hand, your senses (or belief system) suggest one thing; on the other, the social situation
(the majority) suggests something quite different. Placed in such a situation you expe-
rience con¬‚ict, which is psychologically uncomfortable (Moscovici, 1985). When you
grapple with this con¬‚ict, your tendency is to pay attention to the views of the major-
ity. Once the majority in¬‚uence is removed, however, attention is focused back on the
stimulus (e.g., the judgment of lines in the Asch studies). Once majority in¬‚uence is
removed, you will return to your previous judgments (Moscovici, 1985).
The effects of dividing attention between the majority and the stimulus were
demonstrated in a study in which participants were asked to judge how similar two
noises were in volume (Tesser, Campbell, & Mickler, 1983). Participants performed
this task under conditions of high social pressure, when three members of a majority
disagreed with the participantʼs evaluation of the noise, or under conditions of low
social pressure, when only one person disagreed. Under high social pressure, partici-
pants responded by either attending very little or attending a great deal to the stimu-
lus to be judged. Under low social pressure, participants paid a moderate amount of
attention to the stimulus.
Researchers speculated that high social pressure would lead to high levels of arousal.
This arousal is due to the competing tendencies to pay attention both to the stimulus
and to the source of social in¬‚uence, other people. The net result is that a person will
default to his or her dominant way of behaving. Those who have a strong tendency
to conform may resolve the con¬‚ict by adopting the view of the majority. Others less
prone to the effects of social in¬‚uence may increase their attention to the stimulus as a
way to resolve the con¬‚ict. By focusing on the stimulus, they take their minds off the
social pressure. Like Karl in the jury room, some participants in the Asch studies actu-
ally put their hands over their ears or eyes so that they did not hear or see what other
people said. This was the only way they could resist conforming.
Another way to approach this question is to examine the effects of consensus, or
agreement with others, on our perceptions and behavior. Attitudes and behavior that
are in line with those of others are a powerful source of social reinforcement. We like
it when our attitudes and behaviors are veri¬ed. The perception that our beliefs have
social support is related to higher levels of self-esteem (Goodwin, Costa, & Adonu,
2004). Additionally, we are quicker to express an attitude that has consensual support
than one that ¬‚ies in the face of the majority. This is known as the minority slowness
effect (Bassili, 2003). The larger the majority, the faster we will be willing to express
a view that is in line with that majority (Bassili, 2003). It matters little whether the
attitudes are important to us (e.g., political attitudes) or less important (e.g., foods we
like); we are slower to express attitudes that deviate from the majority than those that
do not (Bassili, 2003).
Chapter 7 Conformity, Compliance, and Obedience 239

It is well known that we tend to match our attitudes and behaviors to those of others
(Prentice & Miller, 1993). Social norms, once they become popular, take on a life of their
own and become “self-replicating” (Conway & Schaller, 2005). Conway and Schaller
offer two explanations for the in¬‚uence of consensus on behavior. First is just plain-
old conformity rooted in our desire not to be different from others, as demonstrated by
the Asch experiments. Second, the attitudes and behaviors of others provide us with
important information about the world and supply “social proof ” for the consensually
accepted beliefs. In other words, we tend to ¬‚ock to attitudes and behaviors that are
widely accepted. So, not only are we repulsed by being an outcast among our peers, we
are attracted to those who hold beliefs with which we agree.

Factors That Affect Conformity
We have established that the opinions of others can alter our behavior. However, we
have not yet explored how variables such as the nature of the task, the size of the major-
ity, and the effect of one other person in agreement work to affect conformity. Next,
we explore several variables relating to the amount of conformity observed in social
in¬‚uence situations.

Nature of the Task
The ¬rst variable that can affect the amount of conformity observed relates to the task
itself. One variable affecting conformity rates is the ambiguity of the task. As the task
facing the individual becomes more ambiguous (i.e., less obvious), the amount of con-
formity increases (Crutch¬eld, 1955). Aschʼs task was a simple one, involving the judg-
ment of the length of lines, and produced a conformity rate of about 33%. Conformity
research conducted with more ambiguous stimuli shows even higher levels of confor-
mity. For example, Sherifʼs (1936) experiment on norm formation using the autokinetic
effect (an extremely ambiguous task) found conformity rates of about 70%.
Other research involving attitudinal issues with no clear right or wrong answer
produced conformity rates similar to Sherifʼs. In one study, highly independent profes-
sionals such as army of¬cers and expert engineers were led to believe that other profes-
sionals had answered an opinion item differently than they had (Crutch¬eld, 1955). For
example, colonels in the army were told that other colonels had agreed with the item
“I often doubt that I would make a good leader.” Now, this is blasphemy for army of¬-
cers, who are trained to lead. Yet when faced with a false majority, 70% of the of¬cers
said they agreed with that item. Privately, they disagreed strongly.
The type of task faced by a group may also determine the type of social in¬‚uence
(informational or normative) that comes into play. For example, informational social
in¬‚uence should be strongest when participants face an intellective issue, in which they
can use factual information to arrive at a clearly correct answer (Kaplan & Miller, 1987).
Normative social in¬‚uence should be more crucial on a judgmental issue. A judgmen-
tal issue is based on moral or ethical principles, where there are no clear-cut right or
wrong answers. Therefore, resolution of the issue depends on opinion, not fact. In a
jury simulation study investigating the use of informational and normative social in¬‚u-
ence, Kaplan and Miller (1987) impanelled six-person juries to judge a civil lawsuit.
The juries were required to award the plaintiff compensatory damages and punitive
damages. Compensatory damages are awarded to reimburse the plaintiff for suffering
and losses due to the defendantʼs behavior. Generally, awarding compensatory damages
is a fact-based intellective task. If, for example, your lawn mower blows up because
the No Pain, No Gain Lawn Mower Company put the gas tank in the wrong place, it
is easy for the jury to add up the cost of the mower plus whatever medical costs were
Social Psychology

incurred. Punitive damages, on the other hand, are awarded to deter the defendant from
repeating such actions in the future. The issue of awarding punitive damages is a judg-
mental task. How much should you punish the manufacturer so that it ceases making
mowers that blow up?
The results of the study indicated that juries doing an intellective task (awarding
compensatory damages) were more likely to use informational social in¬‚uence than
normative social in¬‚uence. When the task has a clear standard, then it is the informa-
tion that majority members can bring forth that convinces other jurors. Juries doing a
judgmental task, on the other hand, were more likely to use normative in¬‚uence. Where
there is no clear-cut answer, the jurors in the majority try to convince the minority to
agree by pressuring them to conform to the group (majority) decision.

The Size of the Majority
The size of the majority also affects conformity rates. As the size of the majority increases,
so does conformity, up to a point (Asch, 1951, 1956; Milgram, Bickman, & Berkowitz,
1969). Generally, as shown in Figure 7.3, there is a nonlinear relationship between the size
of the majority and conformity. That is, majority in¬‚uence signi¬cantly increases until some
critical majority size is reached. After that, the addition of more majority members does
not signi¬cantly increase conformity. For example, Milgram and colleagues (1969) found
that increasing the number of individuals (confederates of the experimenter) on a sidewalk
who looked upward toward the sky increased conformity (the percentage of passersby
looking upward) up to a majority size of ¬ve and then leveled off (see Figure 7.3).
There is no absolute critical size of a majority after which addition of majority
members does not signi¬cantly increase conformity. Milgram and colleagues found that
conformity leveled off after a majority size of ¬ve. Asch (1951), using his line-judgment
task, found that conformity leveled off after a majority size of three. Regardless of the
critical size of the majority, the general nonlinear relationship between majority size
and conformity is ¬rmly established.

Figure 7.3 The effect of
majority size on conformity.
Conformity initially
increases but eventually
levels off.
Adapted from Milgram, Bickman, and
Berkowitz (1969).
Chapter 7 Conformity, Compliance, and Obedience 241

Why does conformity level off after some critical majority size? Two explanations
have been suggested (Baron, Kerr, & Miller, 1992). First, as majority members are added
beyond the critical point, the individual in the conformity situation might suspect that
the additional majority members are going along to avoid making trouble in the group.
If the individual conformer perceives this to be the motive for joining the majority, the
power of the additional majority members is reduced. Second, as the size of the major-
ity grows, each new majority member is probably noticed less. That is, the individual
is more likely to notice a third person added to a majority of two than to notice a tenth
person added to a majority of nine.
Increases in the size of a majority are most likely to produce increased conformity
in normative social in¬‚uence situations, when the situation causes us to question our
perceptions and judgments (Campbell & Fairey, 1989). When a majority is arrayed
against us, and we cannot obtain adequate information about the stimuli that we are to
judge, we conform. This is exactly what happened in Aschʼs experiment.
Normative social in¬‚uence also produces conformity when a judgment is easy
and the individual is sure the group is wrong but cannot resist the pressure of the
majority. This is what happened to Karl in the jury room. Informational in¬‚uence was
nil. The other jurors could not offer any information that Karl did not have already.
They did not dispute the evidence. They made the judgment that the law, not the evi-
dence, was wrong. The jurors wanted Karl to conform to this norm. Eventually, as
we know, he did.
When you know you are right and the rest of the group is wrong, more confor-
mity results when the majority comprises three members than if it comprises only one
(Campbell & Fairey, 1989). This makes sense because it is normative in¬‚uence that is
operating in this situation. But what if you are not certain whether the majority is right
or wrong? In this case, you search for information that could inform your decision, infor-
mation that will help you make the right choice. It is informational in¬‚uence that counts
here. Just a few people, perhaps even one person, can convince you through informa-
tional social in¬‚uence if their information is persuasive (Campbell & Fairey, 1989).

Having a True Partner
Often the changes caused by the forces producing conformity are fragile and easily dis-
rupted. This is the case when we ¬nd that there is another person who supports our per-
ceptions and actions in a given social situation. Imagine, for example, that you have been
invited to a black-tie wedding reception at a posh country club on a Saturday night. When
an invitation speci¬es black-tie, the norm is for men to wear tuxedos and women to wear
formal dresses. Now, suppose that you donʼt want to dress so formally but feel you should
because everyone else will (normative social in¬‚uence). But then suppose that you speak
to a friend who is also attending and who also doesnʼt want to wear a tuxedo or a formal
dress. The two of you agree to wear less-formal attire, and you feel comfortable with your
decision. The next weekend, you are invited to another black-tie party, but this time your
friend is not attending. What will you do this time? You decide to dress formally.
true partner effect
This example illustrates an important social psychological phenomenon. The true
The phenomenon whereby
partner effect occurs when we perceive that there is someone who supports our posi-
an individual™s tendency
tion; we are then less likely to conform than if we are alone facing a unanimous major-
to conform with a majority
ity. This effect was ¬rst demonstrated empirically by Asch (1951). In one variation of
position is reduced if there
his experiment, Asch had a true partner emerge at some point during his conformity is one other person who
experiment. On a given trial, the true partner would break with the incorrect major- supports the nonconforming
individual™s position.
ity and support the real participantʼs judgments. The results of this manipulation were
Social Psychology

striking: Conformity was cut by nearly 80%! As in the example of the black-tie parties,
when we have a true partner, we are better able to withstand the strong forces of nor-
mative social in¬‚uence.
Why does this occur? There are many possible explanations. For example, when
we violate a norm by ourselves, we draw attention to ourselves as deviant. Recall that
some of Aschʼs participants conformed because they did not want to appear different.
Apparently, it makes us very uncomfortable to be perceived by others as different. When
we have a true partner, we can diffuse the pressure by convincing ourselves that we are
not the only ones breaking a norm.
Another explanation for the true partner effect draws on the social comparison
process (Festinger, 1954; Kruglanski & Mayseless, 1990). As discussed in Chapter 2,
social comparison theory proposes that we compare our thoughts, beliefs, and actions
with those of others to ¬nd out if we are in agreement. When we ¬nd that we agree, we
feel validated; it is rewarding when we receive such con¬rmation. Our con¬dence in
our beliefs increases because they are shared with others.
Think back to the second black-tie party. Without a true partner, you bring your behav-
ior into line with the norm in effect: wearing formal attire. Asch (1951) found the very
same thing when he had the true partner withdraw his support of the participant. When
the participant was abandoned, his conformity went back up to its previous level.
The true partner effect applies in jury deliberations; we saw that Karl experienced
great distress when he was the only one holding out for conviction. Earlier in the delib-
erations, Karl had other jurors (true partners) who supported his view. When those jurors
changed their votes, their support for Karl disappeared. Now, Karl faced not only a
unanimous majority but also one that included two former true partners. Would things
have turned out differently if one other juror had stuck with Karl? Perhaps. The courts
have acknowledged that conformity pressures are greater when a person is the single


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