Explanations for conformity: informational social influence and normative social influence

Explanations of Conformity

AO1, Description:

Remember, there are two types of conformity – Internalisation and Compliance. For your exam you need to know how to explain both these types of conformity. Thankfully, on explanation/theory can be used to explain both these types of conformity. This theory is call The Dual-Processing Dependncy Model.

The Dual-Processing Dependency Model, Gerrard and Deutsch (1955)

Deutsch and Gerard (1955) developed the Dual-Processing Dependency model which suggested that people conform for one of 2 reasons:

  • Normative social influence (NSI) (explanation of compliance)
  • Informational social influence (ISI) (explanation of internalisation)

 

(1) AO1, Dewcription – Normative Social Influence (NSI) – Explanation of Compliance:

This relates to an individual adapting to a group position in order to be accepted and gain approval and not be perceived as deviant by the other members of the group.   It is based on the desire to be liked.  This type of influence also occurs as it is rewarding to be accepted and be a part of a group.  This usually involves public compliance – in a group we may ‘go along’ with the behaviour and the attitudes of others without truly believing or accepting it.  In this instance, we do not privately accept what we are saying or doing publicly.

Research to illustrate NSI:

Asch’s study can be seen to confirm this explanation of compliance. In Asch’s study, the participants were aware that they were giving an obvious incorrect answer, in interviews after the experiment the participants confirmed that the reason why they did this was because they wanted to be liked and accepted into the group/majority.

 

Evaluation, AO3 of the Normative Social Influence Explanation:

Strengths:

(1) Point: Research has supported the normative social influence explanation as to why people conform. Evidence: For example, Asch’s (1951) research demonstrates how individuals will conform with the majority on an unambiguous line comparison test (even when they know their response is incorrect) in order to be liked or in an attempt to avoid standing out from the group. Evaluation: This is a strength because it shows that the normative social influence explanation is a valid assumption as to why people conform with the majority (i.e. for group approval).

 

(2) Point: Furthermore, the practical value of this explanation has been highlighted in recent research emphasising the role of normative social influence in bullying. Evidence: For example, Garandeau and Cillessen (2006) have shown how groups with a low quality of interpersonal friendships may be manipulated by a skilful bully so that the victimisation of another child provides the group with a common goal creating pressure on all group members to comply. Evaluation: This is a strength because the research illustrates that sometimes the desire for acceptance is so strong that it outweighs an individuals’ moral code, showing the NSI’s assumption that people conform for group approval is valid.

 

Weaknesses:

Point: The normative Social Influence explanation can be criticised for not acknowledging the importance of belonging to a group. Evidence: For example, many studies (Sherif and Rohrer) have shown how conformity to group norms can persist long after the group no longer exists. Evaluation: This is a weakness because participants in an experiment cannot fear group exclusion which implies that factors other than dependency on the group may be important as regards to whether or not an individual conforms.

 

(2) AO1, Description – Informational Social Influence (ISI) – Explanation of Internalisation

In this case, people are unsure what to do in a situation (e.g. they may not know what is the right or correct way to act) and so they look to others with seemingly more information in order to identify correct behaviour.  Thus if a situation is ambiguous (no obvious right or wrong answer), we look to others as a source of information to help us perceive the situation accurately and reduce ambiguity.  We tend to seek guidance from people who we see as being better informed than ourselves.  It is based on the desire to be right.  This usually involves private acceptance (internalisation) – in this case people conform to the norms of others because they genuinely believe that they are right. This can result in a change in private beliefs and attitudes.

Research to Illustrate ISI :

Jenness (1932) gave participants a task with no clear answer; estimating how many jellybeans were in a jar. He found that individual estimates moved towards the                   estimates of others, showing that they genuinely (privately) believed the estimates of others to be correct. Demonstrating internalisation true conformity. Jenness’ participants answered in secret and so did no have to fear group disapproval, therefore the fact that the individual answers reflected the group indicates that they believed them to be true, they looked to others for information in an ambiguous situation.

 

Evaluation (AO3) of Informational Social Influence

Strengths:

(1) Point: Further research has supported the assumptions of the informational social explanation as regards to why people conform. Evidence: For example, Fein et al (2007) showed how judgements of candidate performance in US presidential debates could be influenced by the knowledge of others’ reactions. Participants saw what were supposedly the reactions of their fellow participants on screen during the debate. This produced large shifts in participants’ judgements of the candidates’ performance. Evaluation: This is positive as the research demonstrates support for the informational explanation assumption demonstrating the power of informational influence in shaping opinion.

 

(2) Point: Research has supported the suggestions of the informational social influence explanation as regards to why people conform. Evidence: For example, Sherif’s (1936) research demonstrates how the exposure to other people’s beliefs (i.e. their estimates as regards to how far and in which direction to light spot moved) has an important influence on other participant’s estimates especially when the participants are uncertain about what to believe themselves. Evaluation: This is a strength because the research supports the informational social influence explanation of conformity and the assumption that individuals will be influenced by members of majority who appear more informed than themselves.

 

Weaknesses:

(1) Point: Sherif (1936) study can be criticised as to the extent in which it demonstrates conformity. Evidence: For example, Cardwell et al (1996) suggests that Sherif’s study demonstrates how groups norms emerge and not necessarily the process of conformity (specifically internalisation). He suggests that majority influence means a majority influencing a minority who then conform to the majority view. In Sherif’s study there was no majority or minority group, simply a number of people who had different views. Evaluation: This is a weaknesses because if Sherif’s study is not a true demonstration of conformity and internalisation then it cannot be used in support of informational social influence as an explanation of conformity.

 

 

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