Monday, March 26, 2012


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The Effects of Social Pressure



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Social compliance (Asch 151, 15) is defined as the act of giving in to demands or requests, under the influence of a group of peers or authority figures. Social compliance is a large part of psychology and how ones beliefs and views are formed. Those who have low self-esteem are easily swayed to agree with what those who are around them say and sometimes do. Another form of social compliance is conformity. Conformity is the changing of your ideas in order to fit the ideas of those around you. In the study of conformity and social compliance, two psychologists lead the way in this field Solomon Asch and Stanley Milgram. Both psychologists were instrumental in the findings of how people react to differing interactions with peers and authority figures. Asch ran a study on how people reacted when in a group of confederates (actors to help Asch with the experiment) gave a blatantly wrong answer to an easy set of questions concerning a set of lines and there perceived size. Milgram’s experiment was a few years later and involved a person’s ability to give a shock to someone whom they did not know. The shock’s increased each time in strength. The only thing that kept the person giving the shock to continue giving them was a man who was dressed in a lab coat and appeared to be a scientist. Both of these studies were considered breakthrough experiments that showed many Americans the danger’s of social pressure.

The first psychologist to go into an in depth look at social compliance was Solomon Asch. Asch was born Warsaw in 107 and immigrated to the United States in 10. He took a job at Swathmore College a seat on the psychology board. There he became famous for his experiment on conformity. Asch was interested in the effect of how people changed their views to conform to the “in group.” Asch set up an experiment to determine whether one’s decisions are the same in a non-pressure situation, as in a social situation in which others disagreed with that person’s opinion. In order to set up the experiment Asch set up an experiment, where he told the study that he/she would be sit in with six others (confederates) to determine perception. Obviously, had the study known the experiment was on conformity then they would not have complied with the group norm. Then Asch sat all seven in a room with a table with seven chairs the only true person being studied would be placed second to last to ensure that they heard the others responses to the test before saying their own choice. Then a series of lines were presented. One line was the base line to which the other lines were to be matched up with. The group was given a set of three other lines to compare to the first. Of the three lines, one was obviously the correct answer while the other two were clearly wrong. The confederates at the beginning of the table then gave the answer they were told to give. Asch purposely told them to give them the wrong answer to see if the study would conform to the wrong answer. Surprisingly enough, thirty-five percent of the time the study gave in to the groups wrong answer. This can correlate to the fact that over a third of the time we give in to our friends plans that conflict with our own. This discovery by Asch created an uproar from scientists to rush out and duplicate his work.

One psychologist who became very intrigued by this discovery was Stanley Milgram. Stanley Milgram was born New York in 1 and worked in that area until, 15 when he joined Asch in Princeton to study conformity. This was just after Asch had come out with his social compliance theory. Milgram wanted to do something much like Asch’s experiment but had one other idea in mind. Milgram had been fascinated by the Eichmann Trial. Eichmann a German officer during World War II, was on trial for the murder of the millions of Jews he had killed in his prison during the Holocaust. In his defense, Eichmann claimed that he was just taking orders from his superiors. Milgram wanted to see if what Eichmann had said would hold true in a much less dangerous situation. Milgram set up an infamous experiment called “Obedience to Authority” (Milgram 174). In this experiment Milgram asked the individuals who volunteered, to be a teacher for another’s experiment. This other person was actually an actor who was in cahoots with Milgram. The “teacher” was the only actual study. Milgram then had the study place the “student” in the first room while the study then went to the next room. The study had no actually visual look at the student but could hear him over a microphone. The only other person was a man dressed in a lab coat who served as the authority figure to the teacher. The teacher was then informed to give the student a series of questions. Each time the student gave the wrong answer, the teacher was to give him a shock. The volts started at fifteen and increased by fifteen each time after the first. After each shock the student, who was not actually receiving the shock at all, gave a predetermined response such as oww, stop that or that hurts. After the shock reached a certain high level of volts around 50 the student would begin to scream with pain. The teacher would then hesitate to give the next shock. He would look back at the authority figure, which might have just nodded, or said “You said you would help with the experiment”. Even though the scientist said no more then that the teacher would continue, despite hearing the scream of the “student”. In the end, sixty-five percent of the studies shocked the students to the highest level (450 volts), which was well past the level needed to kill a person.

Conformity is one of the leading studies of social psychology today. Asch and Milgram were the two pioneers of this field of study and both are credited with sociopsychology awards as well as respect in the psychology field as a whole. Asch began research through his “Social Compliance Theory” and Milgram furthered that by his “Obedience to Authority” idea. Although unethical today, Milgram’s experiment showed how those in power extremely influence our reactions. This was also proven in the Mi Lai incident. American soldiers loosed fire on a village of women and children. Afterwards, they claimed they were following orders. In order to really understand conformity one must completely understand that anyone, can be easily influenced by a group of peers or an authority figure. This is will always be an issue for psychologists, as long as there people’s esteems and standards are changing.

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