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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Norms, Conformity & Social Learning Approach

Write a comprehensive note on the following:                         

       i)     Norms          ii)    Conformity     iii)   Social Learning Approach


i)             Norms

Wrightman has proposed that conscience operates, when each individual is working on his or her own, but when the person functions in “organizational mode” one’s individual conscience is no longer relevant. Such persons are operating in an agential state, or a condition in which the person sees himself or herself as an agent for carrying out another person’s wishes, in contrast to a state of autonomy, or acting on one’s own.

According to social-psychological research, the presence of others, “whether in immediate sense or in the actor’s psychological definition of the situation” (Warner and DeFleur, 1969), exerts influence on the individual to act in a manner that is consistent with what those others are perceived to feel is appropriate and desirable conduct. According to this research it was noted that behaviour in group tends to differ from behaviour that occurs in private settings.

The idea of social influence or of conforming to the expectations of the group implies the existence of some standard around which our attitudes and behaviour cluster. That standard is most often socially defined and so can be referred to as a social norm. Social norms constitute “ought to” definition; they define for us the behaviours and attitudes that are appropriate for given situations; they tell us what we ought to do and, conversely, what we ought not to do. From a sociological perspective, norms constitute one of the essential ingredients that hold the fabric of society together. Alongwith attending sanctions, they account largely for the existence of social order. Without some degree of adherence to normative prescriptions, social life would be characterized by general disorganization and chaos. From a social psychological perspective adherence of social norms helps to account for the regularities in individual behaviour. As the individuals ^row to maturity, they are taught to socialization process that certain types of behaviour are appropriate and others are inappropriate and unacceptable. Sanctions, in the form of approval, praise, scorn, or punishment, are used to enforce the norms. Behaviour that is consistent with social norms brings approval from others, and this increases the portability of such behaviour occurring again. Behaviour contrary to norms, on the other hand, usually elicits disapproval or some other form of negative sanction, decreasing the probability that similar behaviour will be repeated.

The Origin of Social Norms:

Summer proposed that much of our daily action is governed by folkways or relatively informal traditions and customs that are passed from one generation to the next. The best explanation of norms lies in the observation that norms emerge to provide meaning and structure in what would otherwise be an ambiguous situation. New norms emerge to fill the gaps left by the ambiguity or the inapplicability of existing norms. Some degree of consensus on the new norms is necessary; otherwise, the outcome is likely to be anarchy and destruction. The emergence of new norms in response to ambiguity is illustrated by the research conducted by Muzafer Sharif who employed autokinetic effect in studying the process of norms formation. In one of his experiments, Sharif brought a group of subjects into a dark room to observe a totally stationary light, and asked them to estimate how far the light moved. Sharif was very successful in creating a situation totally ambiguous in a physical sense because there were no criteria available for the subjects to use in estimating movement of the light. After a series of trials, Sharif began to observe a most interesting social-psychological phenomenon: the range of estimate by his respondents began to converge toward the mean. For example, after the first trial, the . range of estimated movement varied from two or three inches to several times that amount. After additional trials, the more extreme estimate tended to become less extreme, therefore moving toward the mean. Eventually the group came of establish a “norm” or a generally agreed-upon estimate of light movement. In other words, a social norm developed to provide meaning to an ambiguous situation. There are two sources of information to determine the validity of our opinions and actions— physical reality and social reality (Second and Backman, 1974). We obtain information from the physical environment and our opinion and behaviour are determined on the basis of this physical reality. Social reality is the evaluation and judgement of others and is an important source of information. People define and interpret our world for us and we look to the response of others before taking actions ourselves. The key seems to be that the more ambiguous the physical stimuli, the more likely we are to rely on social definition of reality. The most interesting example in this regard is the science fiction tale of the invasion of the Eastern United States by the aliens from outer space. The radio drama was presented in the format of on-the-scene descriptions. Thousands of listeners switched on the radio after the programme had begun. They defined the events as real and panicked. Police phone lines were clogged with incoming calls and intersections were jammed by people fleeing their homes. However, social definitions of the situation, apparently filled the gap provided by physical ambiguity. Listeners interpreted their inability to get a call a result of alien destruction of communication line. In the heat of panic, the same definition could apparently be applied to different conditions. For example, some people rushed to the window and saw a great deal of traffic, which they defined as a result of large number of people fleeing before their attackers. Some others defined no traffic that all people have been killed by the invaders.

ii)           Conformity:

Conformity is to be defined as yielding to group expectations or definitions of the situation. It implies some degree of conflict between what the group demands of the individual and what the individual would otherwise do. There are different types of conformity.

  1. Individuals living in traditional-directed societies rely primarily on standards handed down from the past. These individuals rely on elder-imposed sanctions.

2.   Inner-directed societies are characterized by individuals who rely on a set of internalized norms to govern their behaviour. These societies rely on self-imposed sanctions.

3.       The third type of conformity is the other-directed in which person continually looks to others for directives concerning appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. This is the person who goes along with the crowd in order to be popular and feel accepted. Even this behaviour is contrary to his or her own personal norms and values. In this case, behaviour fluctuates as the situation and the evidence change. Although we all conform, and conformity to a degree is necessary in order to avoid caos, the other directed person carries it too far.

iii)    Social Learning Approach

Social learning approach is a perspective that states that people learn within a social context. It is facilitated through concepts such as modeling and observational learning.

According to this approach sex-typed behaviour is seen as a consequence of the rewards and punishments that a child experiences as he or she engages in various behaviours. This approach assumes that a male child will be rewarded for engaging in behaviour characteristics of male children and punishment for doing what girls do and vice versa in the case of girls. Boys are given gun, motorcycle, and car etc, to play with, and girls are given dolls and pottery. Gradually, the child learns to discriminate between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour and then generalizes it. The social-learning model also esplains a second process of observational learning. It is generally acknowledged that a child learns many things by merely observing the role model (parents or peers) engaging in behaviour. The child need not be rewarded or punished but through observational learning he or she comes to discriminate between appropriate and inappropriate sex-typed behaviour. A daughter learns the requisite feminine behaviour by observing her mother in the kitchen. Thus, when the child plays at making bread, her this behaviour is associated with her mother’s feminine behaviour of making bread.

An important factor of Bandura’s social learning theory is the emphasis on reciprocal determinism. This notion states that an individual’s behaviour is influenced by the environment and characteristics of the person. In other words, a person’s behaviour, environment, and personal qualities all reciprocally influence each other.[3] Bandura proposed that the modeling process involves several steps:[3]

1.       Attention – in order for an individual to learn something, they must pay attention to the features of the modeled behaviour.

2.       Retention – humans need to be able to remember details of the behaviour in order to learn and later reproduce the behaviour.

3.       Reproduction – in reproducing a behavior, an individual must organize his or her responses in accordance with the model behavior. This ability can improve with practice.

4.       Motivation – there must be an incentive or motivation driving the individual’s reproduction of the behaviour. Even if all of the above factors are present, the person will not engage in the behaviour without motivation.

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