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Peer Pressure and Conformity
Stanley Milgram Experiment (1961)
The Stanley Milgram Experiment was created to explain some of the concentration camp-horrors of the World War 2, where Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, Slavs and other enemies of the state were slaughtered by Nazis.
Do as you’re told. Many war-criminals claimed they were merely following orders and could not be held responsible for their actions, in the trials following the World War 2. Were the Germans in fact evil and cold-hearted, or is this a group phenomenon which could happen to anyone, given the right conditions?
Preparation of the Stanley Milgram Experiment
The psychologist Stanley Milgram created an electric ‘shock generator’ with 30 switches. The switch was marked clearly in 15 volt increments, ranging from 15 to 450 volts.
He also placed labels indicating the shock level, such as ‘Moderate’ (75-120 Volts) and ‘Strong’ (135-180 Volts). The switches 375-420 Volts were marked ‘Danger: Severe Shock’ and the two highest levels 435-450, was marked ‘XXX’. The ‘shock generator’ was in fact phony and would only produce sound when the switches were pressed. 40 subjects (males) were recruited via mail and a newspaper ad. They thought they were going to participate in an experiment about ‘memory and learning’. In the test, each subject was informed clearly that their payment was for showing up, and they could keep the payment “no matter what happens after they arrive[d]”. Next, the subject met an ‘experimenter’, the person leading the experiment, and another person told to be another subject. The other subject was in fact a confederate acting as a subject. He was a 47 year old male accountant. The two subjects (the real subject and the con-subject) drew slips of paper to indicate who was going to be a ‘teacher’ and who was going to be a ‘learner’. The lottery was in fact a set-up, and the real subject would always get the role of ‘the teacher’. The teacher saw that the learner was strapped to a chair and electrodes were attached. The subject was then seated in another room in front of the shock generator, unable to see the learner.
The Stanley Milgram Experiment (Links to an external site.) aimed at getting an answer to the question:
“For how long will someone continue to give shocks to another person if they are told to do so, even if they thought they could be seriously hurt?” (the dependent variable (Links to an external site.)) Remember that they had met the other person, a likable stranger, and that they thought that it could very well be them who were in the learner-position receiving shocks.
The subject was instructed to teach word-pairs to the learner. When the learner made a mistake, the subject was instructed to punish the learner by giving him a shock, 15 volts higher for each mistake. The learner never received the shocks, but pre-taped audio was triggered when a shock-switch was pressed. If the experimenter, seated in the same room, was contacted, the experimenter would answer with predefined ‘prods’ (“Please continue”, “Please go on”, “The experiment requires that you go on”, “It is absolutely essential that you continue”, “You have no other choice, you must go on”), starting with the mild prods, and making it more authoritarian for each time the subject contacted the experimenter. If the subject asked who was responsible if anything would happen to the learner, the experimenter answered “I am responsible”. This gave the subject a relief and many continued.
During the Stanley Milgram Experiment, many subjects showed signs of tension. 3 subjects had “full-blown, uncontrollable seizures”. Although most subjects were uncomfortable doing it, all 40 subjects obeyed up to 300 volts. 25 of the 40 subjects continued to complete to give shocks until the maximum level of 450 volts was reached.
Conclusion – Obedience to Authority
Before the Stanley Milgram Experiment, experts thought that about 1-3 % of the subjects would not stop giving shocks. They thought that you’d have to be pathological or a psychopath to do so. Still, 65 % never stopped giving shocks. None stopped when the learner said he had heart-trouble. How could that be? We now believe that it has to do with our almost innate behavior that we should do as told, especially from authority persons.
Source: Experiment-Resources.com, 2008
Solomon Asch Experiment (1958): A Study of Conformity and Social Pressure and Perception
Imagine yourself in the following situation: You sign up for a psychology experiment, and on a specified date you and seven others whom you think are also subjects arrive and are seated at a table in a small room. You don’t know it at the time, but the others are actually associates of the experimenter, and their behavior has been carefully scripted. You’re the only real subject.
The experimenter arrives and tells you that the study in which you are about to participate concerns people’s visual judgments. She places two cards before you. The card on the left contains one vertical line. The card on the right displays three lines of varying length.
The experimenter asks all of you, one at a time, to choose which of the three lines on the right card matches the length of the line on the left card. The task is repeated several times with different cards. On some occasions the other “subjects” unanimously choose the wrong line. It is clear to you that they are wrong, but they have all given the same answer.
What would you do? Would you go along with the majority opinion, or would you “stick to your guns” and trust your own eyes?
In 1951 social psychologist Solomon Asch devised this experiment to examine the extent to which pressure from other people could affect one’s perceptions. In total, about one third of the subjects who were placed in this situation went along with the clearly erroneous majority.
Asch showed bars like those in the Figure to college students in groups of 8 to 10. He told them he was studying visual perception and that their task was to decide which of the bars on the right was the same length as the one on the left. As you can see, the task is simple, and the correct answer is obvious. Asch asked the students to give their answers aloud. He repeated the procedure with 18 sets of bars. Only one student in each group was a real subject. All the others were confederates who had been instructed to give two correct answers and then to some incorrect answers on the remaining ‘staged’ trials. Asch arranged for the real subject to be the next-to-the-last person in each group to announce his answer so that he would hear most of the confederates incorrect responses before giving his own. Would he go along with the crowd?
To Asch’s surprise, 37 of the 50 subjects conformed themselves to the ‘obviously erroneous’ answers given by the other group members at least once, and 14 of them conformed on more than 6 of the ‘staged’ trials. When faced with a unanimous wrong answer by the other group members, the mean subject conformed on 4 of the ‘staged’ trials.
Asch was disturbed by these results: “The tendency to conformity in our society is so strong that reasonably intelligent and well-meaning young people are willing to call white black. This is a matter of concern. It raises questions about our ways of education and about the values that guide our conduct.”
Why did the subjects conform so readily? When they were interviewed after the experiment, most of them said that they did not really believe their conforming answers, but had gone along with the group for fear of being ridiculed or thought “peculiar.” A few of them said that they really did believe the group’s answers were correct.
Asch conducted a revised version of his experiment to find out whether the subjects truly did not believe their incorrect answers. When they were permitted to write down their answers after hearing the answers of others, their level of conformity declined to about one third what it had been in the original experiment.
Apparently, people conform for two main reasons: because they want to be liked by the group and because they believe the group is better informed than they are. Suppose you go to a fancy dinner party and notice to your dismay that there are four forks beside your plate. When the first course arrives, you are not sure which fork to use. If you are like most people, you look around and use the fork everyone else is using. You do this because you want to be accepted by the group and because you assume the others know more about table etiquette than you do.
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