Influence of Group Size, Unanimity, Cohesion and Status on Conformity

influence of group size, unanimity, cohesion and status on conformity

Describe the influence of group size, unanimity, cohesion and status on conformity.

Social psychologists wondered: If even Asch’s noncoercive, unambiguous situation could elicit a conformity rate of 37 percent, would other settings produce even more? Researchers soon discovered that conformity did grow if the judgments were difficult or if the subjects felt incompetent. The more insecure we are about our judgments, the more influenced we are by others.

Researchers have also found that the nature of the group has an important influence. Conformity is highest when the group has three or more people and is cohesive, unanimous, and high in status. Conformity is also highest when the response is public and made without prior commitment.


In laboratory experiments a group need not be large to have a large effect. Asch and other researchers found that three to five people will elicit much more conformity than just one or two. Increasing the number of people beyond five yields diminishing returns (Rosenberg, 1961; Gerard & others, 1968). In a field experiment, Milgram, Leonard Bickman, and Lawrence Berkowitz (1969) had 1,2,3,5,10, or 15 people pause on a busy New York City sidewalk and look up.

As Figure  shows, the percentage of passers-by who also looked up increased as the number looking up increased from one to five’ persons.

Bibb Latane (1981) accounts for the diminishing returns of increases in group size with his “social impact theory.” It proposes that social influence increases with the immediacy and size of the group. But as the number of influencing persons increases, the increments in social impact decrease: The second person has less effect than the first, and person n has less effect than person (n – 1).

The way the group is “packaged” also makes a difference. Researcher David Wilder (1977) gave University of Wisconsin students a jury case. Before giving their own judgments, the students watched videotapes of four confederates giving their judgments. When presented as two independent groups of two people, the participants conformed more than when the four confederates presented their judgments as a single group. Similarly, two groups of three people elicited more conformity than one group of six, and three groups of two people elicited even more. Evidently, the agreement of several small groups makes a position more credible.



Imagine yourself in a conformity experiment where all but one of the people responding before you give the same wrong answer. Would the example of this one nonconforming confederate be as liberating as it was for the subjects in Milgram’s obedience experiment? Several experiments reveal that someone who punctures a group’s unanimity deflates its social power (Allen & Levine, 1969; Asch, 1955; Morris & Miller, 1975).

As Figure  illustrates, subjects will nearly always voice their convictions if just one other person has also done so. The subjects in such experiments often later say they felt warm toward and close to their nonconforming ally, but deny that the ally influenced them: “I would have answered just the same if he weren’t there.


It’s difficult to be a minority of one; few juries are hung because of one dissenting juror. These experiments teach the practical lesson that it is easier to stand up for something if you can find someone else to stand up with you. Many religious groups recognize this. Following the example of Jesus, who sent his disciples out in pairs, the Mormons send two missionaries into a neighborhood together. The support of the one comrade greatly increases a person’s social courage.


Observing someone else’s dissent—even when it is wrong—can increase our own independence. Charlan Nemeth and Cynthia Chiles (1988) discovered this after having people observe a lone individual in a group of four misjudge blue stimuli as green. Although the dissenter was wrong, observing him enabled the observers later to .exhibit their own form of independence. In a  follow-up experiment, 76 percent of the time they correctly labeled red slides “red” even when everyone else was calling them “orange.” Lacking this model of courage, 70 percent of the time observers went along with the group in calling red “orange.”


A minority opinion from someone outside the groups we identify with—from someone at another college or of a different religion—sways us less than the Same minority opinion from someone within our group (Clark & Maass, 1988, 1989). A heterosexual arguing for gay rights would more effectively sway het- erosexuals than would a homosexual. The more cohesive a group is, the more power it gains over its members. In college sororities, for example, friends tend to share binge-eating tendencies, especially as they grow closer.

In experiments, too, group members who feel attracted to the group are Ian –. responsive to its influence {Berkowitz, 1954; Lott & Lott, 1961; Sakurai, They-do not like disagreeing with group members. Fearing rejection by people they like, they allow them a certain power. In his Essay Concerning Human Understandings, the seventeenth-century philosopher John Locke recognized the cohesiveness factor: “Nor is there one in ten thousand ‘who is stiff and insensible enough to bear up under the constant dislike and condemnation of his own club.”



As you might suspect, higher-status people tend to have more impact. Studies of jaywalking behavior, conducted with the unwitting aid of nearly 24,000 pedestrians, reveal that the baseline jaywalking rate of 25 percent decreases to 17 percent in the presence of a nonjaywalking confederate and increases to 44 percent in the presence of another jaywalker. The nonjaywalker does best in discouraging jaywalking when he or she is well dressed (although, strangely, jaywalking confederates do not trigger more jaywalking when well dressed). Clothes seem to “make the person Australia too. Michael Walker, Susan Harriman, and Stuart Costello (1980) found that Sydney pedestrians were more compliant when approached by a well-dressed survey taker than one who was poorly dressed

Milgram (1974) reports that in his obedience experiments people of lower j status accepted the experimenter’s commands more readily than people of higher status. After delivering 450 volts, one subject, a 37-year-old welder, ; turned to the experimenter and deferentially asked, “Where do we go from here, Professor?” (p. 46). Another subject, a divinity school professor who dis-i obeyed at 150 volts, said: “I don’t understand why the experiment is placed! above this person’s life,” and plied the experimenter with questions about “the ethics of this thing” .

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