Conformity is the propensity to adjust one’s opinions, feelings or performance in ways that are in agreement with those of a specific individual or group, or with known standards about how a person should behave in certain situations (social norms). The recognized studies and theories on conformity are such as (Asch, 1951), (Sherif, 1935) and (Jenness, 1932).
Asch examined men in a university in the United States of America. He gave them the task to answer simple questions with the right answers obvious to them. He had all the other participants state the wrong answer. His aim was to see if the participant would conform under the circumstance. This led 75% of the participants to conform in one or more of the 18 trials. They began stating the wrong answers in order to skip being judged or ostracized from the group. This is also referred to as cognitive dissonance. However when Asch took in another participant to state the correct answer he saw a clear difference. They formed a group within the group and the former participant started stating the right answer. This shows that we conform under the circumstances of us being alone against others but we are less likely to do so if we have someone arguing our case.
The problems with this study however exist in validity, method and ethics. The method in this study offers demand characteristics due to the possibility of figuring out the aim. It is also low in ecological validity due to the situations being unnatural and not relatable to real life, however Asch argues that the group constellation is not artificial. The internal validity does not meet the standards of the public. that pointed out that he could have been studying something other than he claimed to be, such as eyesight. The external validity is also questioned due to the fact that the participants were all young, Caucasian males and that cannot be generalized to the rest of the world. The ethical problems of this study consist of there being no informed consent and there was no protection against psychological harm, such as humiliation and lack of confidence.
Sherif, (1935) did research on the auto kinetic effect. This is when a still point of light in the dark appears to move, the participants had to estimate how far it moved, at first on their own and then in groups. When they were alone participants developed their own individual norms but in the group their answers became closer and closer to one another until a group norm was created. When he tested the participants afterwards alone again they answered using the group norm. They appeared to have taken on that norm. To conclude, participants were influenced by the answers of others. The answers became the same; they converged as they used information from other participants to help them.
This was a lab experiment that differs from Asch’s in a way that here it takes good eyesight to spot the light moving and to estimate how far it travels. However the answers were very clear to the participants in Asch’s study. Here another problem occurs, as mentioned before the examiner could have been studying something other than he claimed such as eyesight. Since there was no informed consent the participants were not protected from any psychological harm that may include humiliation and/or embarrassment. The participants could also have figured out the aim and caused demand characteristics.
Jenness, (1932) was the first psychologist to study conformity. He took a glass bottle and filled it with beans. He asked participants individually to state how many beans they thought the bottle contained. Jenness then put the group in a room with the bottle, and asked them to offer group estimation through discussion. Participants were then asked to estimate the number on their own again to find whether their first estimation had changed based on the influence of the majority. Jenness then interviewed the participants individually again, and asked if they would like to change their original estimates, or stay with the group’s estimation. Almost all changed their individual guesses to be closer to the group estimation. This shows that each of us has an individual self and a social self. That can influence our behavior for example; as in this case was that they estimated close to the group norm. Jenness did not deceive his participants and there was no protection from psychological harm. Because of this he could have been studying something else. This study is also very artificial and can therefore not be generalized to real life.
We have found that through these studies we can more easily estimate people’s reactions in specific situations. However, these situations cannot be generalized to reality. This shows an evident lack of ecological validity. These studies all show that most people conform in certain situations. Asch, sherif etc. are only a few studies that touch on the social psychological topic of conformity. We can evaluate only as much as what existing experiments give us. Despite the validity in the aforementioned scientist’s evaluations, as students we must not ignore the other possibilities that can be revealed in this topic. People conform under pressure and this has been established, yet further causes and studies are yet to emerge.