Conformity and Compliance

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Conformity and Compliance
Chapter 14
Social Psychology
Robes, hoods,
and group rituals help create deindividuation in these Ku Klux Klansmen by focusing their attention on membership in
their organization and on its values. The
hoods also hide their identities, which reduces their sense of personal responsibility and accountability and makes it easier
for them to engage in hate crimes and
other cowardly acts of bigotry. Deindividuation operates in other groups, too,
ranging from lynch mobs and terrorist
cells to political protesters and urban rioters. Through deindividuation, people appear to become “part of the herd,” and
they may do things that they might not
do on their own (Spears et al., 2001).
advantage of this norm by leaving some candy with the bill. Customers who receive
this gift tend to reciprocate by leaving a larger tip than customers who don’t get candy
(Strohmetz et al., 2002). The reciprocity norm probably exists in every culture, but
other norms are not universal (Miller, 2001). For instance, people around the world
differ greatly in terms of the physical distance they keep between themselves and others while talking. People from South America usually stand much closer to each other
than do people from North America. And as suggested in the chapter on psychological disorders, behavior considered normal and friendly in one culture may be seen as
offensive, or even abnormal, in another.
The social influence exerted by norms creates orderly social behavior. But social
influence can also lead to a breakdown in order. For example, deindividuation is a
psychological state in which a person becomes “submerged in the group” and loses the
sense of individuality (Cialdini & Goldstein, 2004). When people experience deindividuation, they become emotionally aroused and feel intense closeness with their group.
This increased awareness of group membership may lead people to follow the group’s
norms, even if those norms promote antisocial behavior (Spears et al., 2001). Normally
mild-mannered adults may throw rocks at police during political protests, and youngsters who would not ordinarily commit hate crimes have done so as part of gangs. Such
behavior becomes more extreme as people feel less identifiable. An analysis of newspaper accounts of lynchings in the United States over a fifty-year period showed that
larger lynch mobs were more savage and vicious than smaller ones (Mullen, 1986).
Deindividuation provides an example of how, given the right circumstances, quite normal people can engage in destructive, even violent, behavior.
deindividuation A psychological state
occurring in group members that results
in loss of individuality and a tendency
to do things not normally done when
conformity Changing one’s behavior
or beliefs to match those of others,
generally as a result of real or imagined, though unspoken, group pressure.
compliance Adjusting one’s behavior
because of a direct request.
Conformity and Compliance
When people change their behavior or beliefs to match those of other members of a
group, they are said to conform. Conformity occurs as a result of unspoken group
pressure, real or imagined (Cialdini & Goldstein, 2004). You probably have experienced
group pressure when everyone around you stands to applaud a performance that you
thought was not particularly great. You may conform by standing as well, though no
one told you to do so; the group’s behavior creates a silent, but influential, pressure to
follow suit. Compliance, in contrast, occurs when people adjust their behavior because
of a request. The request can be clear and direct, such as “Please do me favor,” or it can
Social Influence
Standard line
Test lines
Types of Stimulus Lines Used in
Experiments by Asch
Participants in Asch’s experiments saw a new set of lines
like these on each trial. The
middle line in Part B matches the one in
Part A, but when several of Asch’s assistants claimed that a different line
matched, so did many of the participants.
Try re-creating this experiment with four
friends. Secretly ask three of them to say
that the test line on the left matches the
standard line; then show this drawing to
all four. Did the fourth person conform to
the group norm? If not, do you think it
was something about the person, the
length of the incorrect line chosen, or both
that led to nonconformity? Would conformity be more likely if the first three
people had chosen the line on the right?
(Read on for more about this possibility.)
be more subtle—as when someone simply looks at you in a way that lets you know the
person needs a favor.
Conformity and compliance are usually generated by spoken or unspoken norms.
In a classic experiment, Muzafer Sherif (1937) charted the formation of a group norm
by taking advantage of a visual illusion: If you look at a fixed point of light in a pitchdark room, the light will appear to move. Estimates of how far the light seems to move
tend to stay the same over time if an observer is alone. But when Sherif tested several
people at once, asking each person to say aloud how far the light moved on repeated
trials, their estimates tended to converge; they had established a group norm. Even more
important, when individuals who had been in the group were later tested alone, they
continued to be influenced by this norm.
In another classic experiment, Solomon Asch (1956) explored what people do when
faced with a norm that is obviously wrong. The participants in this experiment saw a
standard line like the one in Figure 14.8(A); then they saw a display like that in Figure
14.8(B). Their task was to pick out the line in the display that was the same length as
the one they had first been shown.
Each participant performed this task in a small group of people who posed as fellow participants but who were actually the experimenter’s assistants. There were two
conditions. In the control condition, the real participant responded first. In the experimental condition, the participant did not respond until after the other people did. The
experimenter’s assistants chose the correct response on 6 trials, but on the other 12 trials they all gave the same, obviously incorrect, response. So, on 12 trials, each participant was confronted with a “social reality” created by a group norm that conflicted with
the physical reality created by what the person could clearly see. Only 5 percent of the
participants in the control condition ever made a mistake on this easy perceptual task.
However, among participants who heard the assistants’ incorrect responses before giving their own, about 70 percent made at least one error by conforming to the group
norm. An analysis of 133 studies conducted in seventeen countries reveals that conformity
in Asch-type situations has declined somewhat in the United States since the 1950s but
that it still occurs. It is especially likely in collectivist cultures, where conformity to
group norms is emphasized (Cialdini et al., 2001).
Why did so many people in Asch’s experiment give
incorrect responses when they were capable of near-perfect performance? One possibility, called public conformity, is that they didn’t really believe in their responses but
gave them simply because it was the socially desirable thing to do. Another possibility
is that the participants experienced private acceptance. Perhaps they used the other people’s responses as a guide, became convinced that their own perceptions were wrong,
and actually changed their minds. Which possibility is more likely? Morton Deutsch
and Harold Gerard (1955) reasoned that if people still conformed even when the other
group members couldn’t hear their response, then Asch’s findings must reflect private
acceptance, not just public conformity. Actually, although conformity does decrease
when people respond privately, it doesn’t disappear (Deutsch & Gerard, 1955). So people sometimes say things in public that they don’t believe in, but hearing other people’s responses also appears to influence their private beliefs (Moscovici, 1985).
Why are group norms so powerful? Research suggests several influential factors
(Cialdini & Goldstein, 2004). First, people are motivated to be correct, and norms provide information about what is right and wrong. This factor may help explain why
some extremely disturbed or distressed people consider stories about suicide to be
“social proof ” that self-destruction is a reasonable way out of their problems (Cialdini,
2001). Second, people want others to like them, so they may seek favor by conforming
to the norms that those others have established. Third, conforming to group norms
may increase a person’s sense of self-worth, especially if the group is valued or has high
prestige (Cialdini & Goldstein, 2004). The process may occur without our awareness
(Lakin & Chartrand, 2003). For example, observations of interviews by Larry King, the
television talk show host, revealed that he tended to imitate the speech patterns of
Why Do People Conform?
Chapter 14
The faithful
who gather at Mecca, at the Vatican, and
at other holy places around the world exemplify the power of religion and other
social forces to produce conformity to
group norms.
Social Psychology
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Tutorial: Conformity and
the Asch experiment
high-status guests but not low-status ones (Gregory & Webster, 1996). Finally, norms
affect the distribution of social reward and punishment (Cialdini, 1995). From childhood on, people in many cultures learn that going along with group norms is good
and earns rewards. (These positive outcomes presumably help compensate for not
always saying or doing exactly what we please.) People also learn that breaking a norm
may bring punishments ranging from scoldings for small transgressions to imprisonment for violation of norms that have been translated into laws.
When Do People Conform? People do not always conform to group influence. In
the Asch studies, for example, nearly 30 percent of the participants did not go along with
the assistants’ obviously wrong judgments. Countless experiments have probed the question of what combinations of people and circumstances do and do not lead to conformity.
For example, ambiguity, or uncertainty, is important in determining how much conformity will occur. As the features of a situation become less clear, people rely more
and more on others’ opinions, and conformity to a group norm becomes increasingly
likely (Cialdini & Goldstein, 2004). You can demonstrate this aspect of conlearn formity on any street corner. First, create an ambiguous situation by having
doing several people look at the sky or the top of a building. When passersby ask
what is going on, be sure everyone excitedly reports seeing something interesting, but
fleeting—perhaps a faint flashing light or a tiny, shiny high-flying object. If you are
especially successful, conforming newcomers will begin persuading other passersby that
there is something fascinating to be seen.
If ambiguity contributes so much to conformity, though, why did so many of Asch’s
participants conform to a judgment that was clearly wrong? The answer has to do with
the unanimous nature of the group’s judgment and the number of people expressing
that judgment. Specifically, people experience intense pressure to conform as long as the
rest of the group all agree with each other. If even one other person in the group disagrees with the majority view, conformity drops greatly. When Asch (1951) arranged for
just one assistant to disagree with the others, fewer than 10 percent of the real participants conformed. Once unanimity is broken, it becomes much easier to disagree with
the majority, even if the other nonconformist does not agree with the person’s own view
(Turner, 1991).
Conformity also depends on the size of the majority. Asch (1955) demonstrated this
phenomenon by varying the number of assistants in the group from one to fifteen.
Social Influence
Conformity to incorrect norms grew as the number of people in the group increased.
However, most of the growth in conformity occurred as the size of the majority rose
from one to about three or four members. This effect probably occurs because pressure to conform has already reached a peak after someone has heard three or four people agree. Hearing more people confirm the majority view has little additional social
impact (Latané, 1981).
Conformity can also occur through minority influence, by which a minority of group
members influence the behavior or beliefs of the majority (Kenrick et al., 2005). This
phenomenon is less common than majority influence, but when members of a numerical minority are established group members, agree with one another, and persist in
their views, they can be influential (Martin, Gardikiotis, & Hewstone, 2002). Perhaps
because the views of a numerical minority are examined especially carefully (Martin &
Hewstone 2003), minority-influenced change often takes a while to occur. And these
changes may involve only a moderate adjustment of the majority view (Alvaro & Crano,
1997; Crano & Chen, 1998).
Does gender affect conformity? Early research suggested that women conform more
than men, but the gender difference stemmed mainly from the fact that the tasks used
in those studies were often more familiar to men than to women. This fact is important because people are especially likely to conform when they are faced with an unfamiliar situation (Cialdini & Goldstein, 2004). No male-female differences in conformity have been found in research using materials that are equally familiar to both
genders (Maupin & Fisher, 1989). So why do some people still perceive women as more
conforming than men, despite evidence to the contrary? Part of the answer may lie in
their perception of the relative social status of men and women. People who think of
women as having lower social status than men in most social situations are likely to
see women as easier to influence, even though men and women conform equally often
(Eagly, 1987).
Creating Compliance In the experiments just described, the participants experienced psychological pressure to conform to the views or actions of others, even though
no one specifically asked them to do so. In contrast, compliance involves changing what
you say or do because of a direct request.
How is compliance brought about? Many people believe that the direct approach is
always best: If you want something, ask for it. But salespeople, political strategists, social
psychologists, and other experts have learned that often the best way to get something
is to ask for something else. Three examples of this strategy are the foot-in-the-door
technique, the door-in-the-face procedure, and the low-ball approach.
The foot-in-the-door technique works by getting a person to agree to small requests
and then working up to larger ones. In the original experiment on this strategy, homeowners were asked to do one of two things. Some were asked to allow a large, unattractive “Drive Carefully” sign to be placed on their front lawns. About 17 percent of
the people approached in this way complied with the request. In the foot-in-the-door
condition, however, homeowners were first asked only to sign a petition supporting
laws aimed at reducing traffic accidents. Several weeks later, when a different person
asked these same homeowners to put the “Drive Carefully” sign on their lawns, 55 percent of them complied (Freedman & Fraser, 1966).
Why should the granting of small favors lead to granting larger ones? First, people
are usually far more likely to comply with a request that doesn’t cost much in time,
money, effort, or inconvenience. Second, complying with a small request makes people
think of themselves as being committed to the cause or issue involved (Burger &
Guadagno, 2003). In the study just described, participants who signed the petition
might have thought, “I must care enough about traffic safety to do something about
it.” Compliance with the higher-cost request (displaying the sign) increased because it
was consistent with these people’s self-perceptions and past actions (Burger &
Guadagno, 2003).
The foot-in-the-door technique can be amazingly effective. Steven Sherman (1980)
created a 700 percent increase in the rate at which people volunteered to work for a
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