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Social influence is the change in
belief or behaviour in response to real or imagined pressure from a person or
group of people which is known as the majority influence (REFERNCE FROM A LEVEL BOOK). It can also be defined as
“an attempt to understand and explain how the thoughts feelings, and behaviours
of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined or implied presence of
others” (Gordon Allport, 1954, p.5)

According to Kelman, there are
three types of conformity: compliance, identification and internalisation.

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Solomon Asch’s line study is a
research study for conformity, specifically compliance. He wanted to
investigate whether people would conform to social norms. Compliance is when
people agree with views in public, but disagree in private making it a
temporary change. For example, laughing at a joke simply because everyone else
is laughing although you may not find it funny. This can explained through
normative social influence. This is the norm or typical behaviour in a social
group. Therefore, people conform to fit in as they fear rejection and want to
gain approval.


Asch conducted his line study as
he wanted to investigate whether people would conform to the majority in a
situation where an answer was obvious. His study consisted of 123 American male
undergraduates, there were seven participants in every group which were all presented
with a standard line and three comparison lines. In each group there was only
one true participant and six confederates, the naïve participant was unaware
the rest of people in the group were confederates. Asch found that the naïve
participant conformed 36.8% of the time, 25% of the participants did not
conform at all, and 75% conformed at least once. When participants were
interviewed after, most of them said they conformed to avoid rejection which
supports the normative social influence explanation.


Asch’s paradigm had five variations:
group size, private answers, having an ally, importance of a group &
collectivistic vs individualistic societies. In his group size variation, he
wanted to know whether the size of the group would be more important than the
agreement of the group. He found that with three confederates, conformity to
the wrong answer rose to 31.8%.


A strength of Asch’s study is
that it is research support for normative social influence. In view of the fact
that Asch found that many of his participants went along with a clearly wrong
answer just because others did as they said that they feared disapproval. When
he repeated the study, he made participants write their answers instead which
led conformity rates to drop by 12.5% therefore supporting normative social
influence because people wanted to gain social approval.


Asch’s study lacks ecological
validity as it is based on people’s perception of lines. Therefore, it doesn’t
reflect the complexity of real life conformity. Therefore elucidating the
impression that his study was an artificial task which does not reflect
conformity in everyday life which means that findings cannot be generalised to
everyday situations.

It also lacks population validity
as the study was on carried out on American males making it ethnocentric. In
addition, the sample used consisted of only males which leads to gender bias.

Therefore, results cannot be generalised to people from other cultures or to females.

As a result of this, his sample was biased which means that further research is
needed to determine whether males and females conform differently.

Asch’s study is also unethical as
participants were deceived as they were told the study was about perception of
lines in regards to a vision test, not conformity. Therefore, they could not
give informed consent which meant that they could have felt embarrassed when
the true nature of the study was revealed. However, deception was needed in order
to achieve valid results. This is because participants could have acted
according to demand characteristics if they knew the true aim of the study.

Another reason why his study was unethical was due to participants not being
protected from psychological harm as participants felt stressed when
disagreeing with the majority. However, Asch did debrief them in the end and he
also conducted a follow up session.


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