Conformity, Compliance, Obedience - 13 Social Psychology - STEP 4 Review the Knowledge You Need to Score High

5 Steps to a 5: AP Psychology - McGraw Hill 2021

Conformity, Compliance, Obedience
13 Social Psychology
STEP 4 Review the Knowledge You Need to Score High


Solomon Asch set up a laboratory experiment using deception and confederates to determine what factors were involved in individual decisions to conform with a group decision. Asch instructed subjects to choose which of three lines was the same length as the original line shown. Each subject was on a panel with other “subjects” (Asch confederates) who all initially gave the same wrong answers. Approximately 35 percent of the real subjects chose to give an obviously wrong but conforming choice. Asch found that the greatest amount of conformity by subjects came when the confederates all gave the same wrong answer. If even one confederate voiced a different judgment, however, the subject was released from the conformity effect. During the debriefing sessions, subjects attributed their conformity to confusion about the nature of the task or doubts about what they were perceiving. Because subjects selected the correct line when allowed to vote secretly, Asch concluded that normative social influence resulting from a desire to gain social approval was the cause of the subjects’ behavior rather than informational social influences.


Individuals and groups can be skilled in their ability to convince others to go along with their requests. The foot-in-the-door phenomenon is a tendency to comply with a large request if we have previously complied with a smaller request. John asks Mary for help with his physics problem set. If Mary agrees to help him, she is much more likely to later agree to go out on a date with him. Reciprocity is a technique sometimes used by groups soliciting contributions. First, group members give us a small gift like a flower or pamphlet, and we politely listen to their pitch. Later, when they ask for a small donation for their worthy cause, we may feel obligated to comply with that request because of the initial gift. The low-ball technique occurs when someone offers an initially cut-rate price but then “ups the ante” with additional costs we assumed were included. We may decide to have expensive laser surgery from one doctor because his initial cost is so much lower than others, only to find out that required follow-up exams are not included. Finally, with the door-in-the-face technique, someone makes a very large request we are almost certain to refuse and follows this up with a smaller one. Out of guilt, we may comply with the later request.

Obedience to Authority

Stanley Milgram was interested in finding out under what circumstances ordinary people could be influenced to inflict harm upon others. Milgram advertised for participants to be involved in a test of how punishment influenced learning. He had a confederate and subject flip a coin to determine who would be the “teacher” and “learner.” The participant always became the “teacher” and was told to give increasingly stronger electrical shocks to learners when they gave an incorrect answer. “Teachers” did not know that “learners” were not actually shocked. Originally Milgram predicted that only 2 percent of the participants would actually go to the lethal shock level. At the conclusion of the study, 66 percent of the participants actually had obeyed and gone to the upper limit. Why did this occur? “Teachers” were initially deceived about the experiment and were subjected to severe emotional distress. The highest obedience came when the experimenter was close to the “teacher” and the “learner” was farther away and not visible. If the subject began to ask questions or show signs of quitting, the experimenter urged the subject to continue. Higher obedience came at Yale University than other settings, indicating that the prestige of the college and the legitimacy of the experimenter played a role in obedience. More than perhaps any other psychology experiment, the Milgram experiment led to the development of stringent ethical standards for psychological research. The powerful conclusion of this experiment is that even ordinary people who are not hostile can become agents of destruction when ordered to commit acts by someone they perceive as a legitimate authority figure.