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“Describe the main features of conformity and obedience analyse two conformity and obedience studies and evaluate their application in the public services.” Conformity: Debra Gray defines conformity as “A change in behaviour in response to real or imagined group pressure when there is neither direct request to comply with the group nor any reason to justify the behaviour change”. Conformity is the degree to which members of a group will change their behaviour, views and attitudes to fit the views of the group. The group can influence members via unconscious processes or via overt social pressure on individuals.

Influence by peers: People have the need to fit in with the society not many people dare to be different. Psychologists have discovered that even the most independent-minded of us will conform to social pressure when we are with a group of people Emphasis on importance: People see being accepted by others and the sense of belonging as something much more important than actually being right or wrong in a situation. It can sometimes be easier for somebody to be wrong but like everyone else than being right but different to others. I personally believe that this is wrong though, I would rather express my views on something regardless of the controversy they may cause.

Regulates behaviour: The fact that people want to be alike and to be able to relate to others makes it easier for their personal views to be manipulated by the group norm, sometimes, a look of disapproval can be enough for someone to keep their viewpoints quiet and decide to agree with the majority. This is a worrying thought as if we loose our individuality we will never grow as much as we could as if we let our own thoughts be heard, we would end up in a very narrow minded society where a few people with stronger personalities and that dare to speak their mind will most probably gain control over us all, and society will follow this leader who may not necessarily be the most adequate like a flock of sheep would not questioning the situation or making a difference.

Behaviour similarities to peers: Often with people within the same social section, such as of the same age, gender, race, or religion, tend to act like and behaviour by a member of these social groups that doesn’t fit in with the tendencies it would be frowned upon within their social group. Psychological need to be accepted: If someone persistently refuses to agree with the group, he or she is frequently rejected and ignored. Humans have the need to be in groups and have people to relate to, we all need some form or companionship, and for this reason most of us tend to tweak our attitudes slightly if these cause people to not want to be around us.

Psychologists have been carrying out studies to investigate this since the 1930’s to investigate how this occurs and what affects these behaviours. Conformity: The main experiment carried out to analyse the way in which people conform was the one carried out by Solomon Asch first carried out in 1951; this experiment was put in place to investigate how people follow the group norm even though they know that the group was obviously in the wrong this is how the experiment took place:

The participants were given with an unmistakable task, a line judgement task. Participants were presented with two cards. One had on it a ‘standard’ line: on the other were three comparison lines. They were asked to judge which of the comparison lines were equal in length to the standard line.

Below I have included the image they where presented. This was done with a control group of 37 people, where the pressure to conform was removed. It was also done with an experimental group containing 6-8 confederates and 1 participant, who was second to last to answer. At first the confederates gave the correct answer, and then they changed to giving the same agreed wrong answer.

The results where that, in the control group 35 of the participants made no errors, 1 made a single error. Only 0.7% of the judgements were incorrect. In the experimental groups 37% of the judgements were incorrect. Of the 125 participants, only 25% gave the correct answer every time, compared to the 95% result from the control group. This was clearly a case of normative social influence, as participants did not want to stand out or to risk group disapproval. It was a case of public compliance. The power of majority influence was shown as participants sweated and squirmed.

Current affairs: A good current affair example of conformity could be the incidents which took place in Abu Ghraib which I discussed in detail within task 1.It is possible that not all the soldiers that got involved in these horrendous activities would of done this if they hadn’t felt a group pressure to do so.

Obedience: Obedience can be easily confused with conformity and sometimes the meaning can seem very similar but the main difference is that in obedience differently to conformity you are actually instructed to do something and what you personally think about it or is you disagree is irrelevant whereas in conformity you aren’t told to do anything you are choosing to behave in a way that will most probably comply with what you believe that the majority would rather you do.

In obedience you are being told what to do by someone of a higher status than you. In conformity you feel the psychological need to be accepted by others. I would personally define obedience as the action of following the instructions received by a superior, regardless of your personal feelings towards this. Being ordered or instructed to behave in a specific way: Obedience involves a person in authority telling you to do something or to behave n a specific way. You may not want to do this but as you are in a lower rank to the person ordering you have to carry these activities out regardless of your personal views. An example may be for example within the RAF a person in a higher rank may say to you “Get rid of those side burns” and although you may not want to you will do this. This shows that you are moulding your behaviour to what you are told to, regardless of what you personally want.

Ordered by someone in higher authority: If somebody that was in the same social level s you and had the same authority as you, ordered you to do something you didn’t want to do, you would be much less likely to carry this request out. In obedience it is important that the person giving the order has authority over the person being ordered. Involves social power and status: You are more likely to obey somebody’s commands if you believe them to have more social power and status than you. You will see them as higher class people and will want to be respectful and follow their orders. A great example of this is that within Milgram’s study it was found that people were more likely to obey if the person in charge was looked more professional or more important, in this case it was if they wore a white coat (doctors) this gave them a sense of importance and power.

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