The Effect of Group Influence on the Self
Many factors influence behavior. Some of these factors include personality, culture, religion and group influence. People’s conformity can be influenced by informational or normative influences. Informational influence occurs “when people rely on others for information because they trust their judgment” (Breckler et al., 2006). Normative influence occurs when a person wants to gain a reward or when he or she wants to avoid punishment. Several factors such as the need for acceptance and appreciation, self-esteem and confidence determine the lengths at which people are likely to conform. Confident people with high self-esteem are less likely to conform than those who are doubtful about their abilities and those who suffer from low self-esteem (Breckler et al., 2007; Cox, 2001).
Conformity and Behavior
Conformity is defined as the change of behavior caused by other people. Conformity is also based on acting like others, especially those whose behavior one seeks to emulate. A person who conforms will make choices that are pleasing and acceptable to the influential individual or group. Factors that influence conformity include the size and unity of the group. A person is more likely to conform to a larger and more unified group than to a smaller group lacking unity.
Obedience can be defined as doing something as a direct order from an individual or community. Obedience to authority is commonly seen as the right thing to do. This is especially the case in the home, school, or even at the work place. However, this is not always the case and some people will choose to disregard authority when they perceive that what is being requested of them is the wrong thing. Experiences can lead to disobedience regardless of who is giving the order (Cox, 2001). People who have faced difficult situations in the past because of past mistakes will refuse to follow an order if they perceive that the order will make them suffer again.
The major difference between obedience and conformity therefore is that obedience is a requirement while conformity is a choice, since a person can decide not to conform. Conformity is doing what other people are doing while obedience is compliance to authority. Obedience involves orders given by a person in a higher status while conformity is influence from one’s peers. It is possible for a person to obey one person in authority but conformity comes from group norms. A person usually conforms to the will of a particular group of an equal or almost equal status. In most cases, it is unlikely that one will conform to small group, or will be influenced by one person.
Obedience and conformity occur because of social pressure. One similarity between conformity and behavior is that both can happen for the wrong reasons. Milgram’s study shows that people obey even when they know that they are doing the wrong thing (Milgram, 1974). Another similarity between conformity and obedience involves the complexity of the task. Tasks that appear to be difficult and ambiguous produce more conformity since the individual members in a particular group are not sure of their answer (Breckler et al., 2006). Obedience requires one to perform the task irrespective of the level of difficulty.
Study on the Effect of Group Influence
Asch (1951) conducted the experiment on the effects of group pressure upon the modification and distortion of judgment in 1951. The aim of the experiment was to discover if group pressure had any influence on the self. He used one participant and seven confederates in the experiment. The experiment involved different line measurements and the individuals were supposed to say aloud, which line was equal to the test line. In some cases, the confederates gave the wrong answer. The participant was the last one to give his response. The results of the experiment were then compared to the results of the control group, which did not have any confederates. He purposed to find if the participant would change his opinion based on the answers given by the majority.
The results showed that some participants’ answers were contrary to the group while others went along with what the group said. In the cases where the confederates gave the wrong response, thirty-seven percent of the participants also gave the wrong response. Only 0.7% of the participants gave the wrong response in the control group (Essence, 2005). Asch’s experiment demonstrates the effects that the majority can have on the minority. The participants who had given the wrong answer were influenced by the responses given by the confederates because they did not want to stand out. Some chose to give the wrong answer even when they were aware that it was wrong. Those who responded correctly stated that they were confident of their answers and were only concerned with completing the task successfully. Although group influence was influential in making individual decisions, a large proportion of the participants gave the right response.
Several factors may have influenced the results of this experiment and had these factors been considered, the results of the experiment may have been different. Individuals are more likely to conform when they are assured of a reward. Rewards can be in the form of acceptance into a group or approval from an influential person. They will therefore do and behave in a manner that is more pleasing to their peers so that they can gain their approval. The participants used in the experiment were strangers. This means that the participants did not feel as if they had anything to lose or gain by going ahead with the experiment. Had the experiment included a particular group, which seemed popular in the view of the participant, the results would have been different. The participants did not face any threat then and there was no fear of punishment. For instance, participants would have felt the need to fit in and would have feared disapproval among their peers, and so many participants would probably have answered in a way that pleased the other participants (Eysenck, 2005).
People are likely to change their responses if they are aware that they are taking part in an experiment and this may compromise the results. The participants were college students and they probably knew they were taking part in an experiment (Cox, 2001). All the participants in the experiment were male students. The experiment might have produced different results if there was a combination of both male and female students. Political situations provide an avenue for most people to influence their opinions and values among others. Most politicians and political campaigners try to make others see their point of view.
Deviance from Dominant Group Norms
Studies and research on conformity have concluded without doubt that people conform to gain approval. Despite this however, some people will deviate from dominant group norms. Some people act and behave differently from what is expected. Krueger and Funder (2004) posit that people become deviant through conformity with false majority judgment and destructive obedience. Deviance can then be defined as the behavior that violates social norms. Social norms are the acceptable practices as defined in a particular society or group. Individual and societal influences can lead to a person having deviant behavior.
Different theories help in defining defiance. These theories enable a person to understand why someone will deviate from dominant group norms. A person who is considered by the society as being deviant will act in a defiant manner (Rohall et al., 2007). This person will therefore feel that they have to live up to their identity. According to Durkheim (1951), great social changes come with changes in norms and values. Because of this, individuals develop anomie whereby it becomes difficult to distinguish right from wrong. This individual perception may cause a person to act in a manner that seems defiant. Merton viewed deviance as the “natural outcome of social conditions, in which socially acceptable goals cannot be obtained through legitimate means” (Rohall et al., 2007). This is the basis of social strain theory as described by Merton in 1957. Prostitution is seen as deviant behavior in most societies. A number of women who choose to engage in this behavior do so because it is the only way they can get income. Jobs may be hard to come by especially if the person does not have the required qualifications.
Hirschi developed the social control theory in 1969. He asserts that deviance comes about because of weakened bonds between an individual and the society. According to this theory, individuals are bonded to the society by attachment, commitment, involvement and belief. When individuals feel that these bonds are being threatened, they are more likely to act in a defiant manner (Rohall et al., 2007).
According to the differential association theory, the society can be a cause of defiance through interaction. A person becomes defiant when he or she interacts and communicates with defiant groups. This is in line with the interactionist approach, which views deviance as an expression of social interactions (Rohall et al., 2007). As individuals interact, they form habits and rules, which are to be followed by everybody in the society. Breaking these rules amounts to being defiant.
Conformity influences people’s behavior greatly. A person is more likely to conform as a way of gaining approval from his or her peers. Unlike obedience, conformity is a choice. Obedience involves the commands given by a person with more authority. Conformity and obedience can have dire consequences. Although obedience is a requirement and there are usually limited options, one can choose to disobey the given orders especially if they are harmful. Societal influences can lead to deviant behavior. Someone might feel the need to gain acceptance and he or she will act in a manner that is contrary to the social norms of the larger society.
Breckler, J. S., Olson, M. J., & Wiggins, C. E. (2006). Social psychology alive. New York, NY: Cengage Learning.
Cox, E. (2001). Psychology for A-Level. United Kingdom: OxfordUniversity Press.
Eysenck, W. M. (2005). Psychology for AS level. United Kingdom: Taylor & Francis.
Krueger, I. J., & Funder, C. D. (2004). Towards a balanced social psychology: Causes, consequences, and cures for the problem-seeking approach to social behavior and cognition. Cambridge University Press, 27 (3), 313-378
Milgram, S. (1974). Obedience to authority: An experimental view. United Kingdom: Taylor & Francis
Rohall, E. D., Milkie, A. M., & Lucas, W. J. (2007). Social psychology: Sociological perspectives. Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.
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