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Types and Explanations

Kelman (1958) suggested that there are three types of conformity:

Internalisation: This is a type of conformity when the person changes the internal beliefs as well as their external behaviour. This change is permanent and is usually due to informational social influence.

Identification: This is when the person wants to be part of a group and identifies with some aspects of that groups values, however they do not fully change their beliefs. There is a lack of internalisation. Therefore they change the public behaviour and only temporarily change the beliefs to fit in with the group.

Compliance: This is when the person changes the public behaviour but does not change any of their private opinions. This is the most superficial type of conformity and is only seen when the group is present.

Deutsch & Gerard (1955) developed the two process model and suggested that there are two main explanations for why people conform to the majority:

Normative Social Influence: This is sometimes referred to as the desire to be liked. This is when the person conforms to the opinion of the group just to fit in. They do not change their private opinion, only the public behaviour. This explanation links to compliance or possibly identification, but not internalisation.

Informational Social Influence: This is sometimes referred to as the desire to be right. This is when the person conforms to the opinion of the group because they believe that the group is correct in their opinion. It is seen in situations where an answer is ambiguous. The person looks to the group for guidance and therefore goes along with what they believe to be the groups superior knowledge. This leads to internalisation.


1.One strength of NSI is the research support from Asch's (1951) standard line study. Ash interviewed his participants afterwards and asked them why they confirmed. They said they confirmed because they wanted to be accepted by the group.

2.One strength of ISI is research support from Asch. In one of his variations, when he made the task more difficult, the lines were very similar in length to each other, conformity increased. He said that this could be explained by the desire to be right, ISI.

3.Another strength of ISI comes from the study of Lucas et al, (2006). Lucas gave his participants maths problems to solve. He found that when the maths problems were more difficult, participants were more likely to confirm to the group opinion. He concluded that this was due to ISI, because the participants wanted to be correct.

4. One limitation for NSI comes from the research of McGhee and Teevan, (1967). they argued that there are individual differences in conformity and that some people have a strong need to be liked. He found that these people, whom they called 'Naffiliators' have a strong need for affiliation (to relate to other people) compared to others. This means that not all behaviour can be explained by situational factors.

Asch's Research

Asch's Research (1951)


The aim of the study was to see how far people would conform to the opinions of others, even in a situation where the answer was clearly wrong.


Asch recruited, 123 male undergraduate students to take part in his famous line study. Each participant went through 18 trials, of which 12 were considered to be critical trials. They were seated around a table with 7 to 9 confederates of Asch. They were always the penultimate person to answer the question which was asked. The question related to a series of lines which was shown to the group. They had to match a comparison line with one of three other lines. The answer was clearly evident, but the confederates were instructed to give the same wrong answer.


Ash found that the naïve participant confirmed, 36.8% of the time and gave the same incorrect answer as the rest of the group. He found that 75% of the participants conformed at least once and 25% did not conform at all.


Asch concluded that people will feel pressure to go along with a group and conform even when the answer is clear and unambiguous.

Variations of Asch

Group size:

Asch varied the number of confederates in the group with the naïve participant. He found that the relationship between group size and conformity did not increase beyond the presence of 3 confederates. In fact, adding more confederates did not increase conformity rates. If there were two confederates conformity to the wrong answer was 13.6%. When there were three confederates conformity rose to 31.8%, after that conformity stayed the same.


 In one variation of Asch, he introduced a dissenting confederate. This was a confederate who gave the correct answer. It was found that in the presence of the dissenting confederate conformity reduced to less than a quarter of what it was when the majority was unanimous. This is because the dissenting confederate encouraged the naïve participant to behave independently and keep their own opinion.

Task difficulty:

In this condition, Asch made the task much harder by making the stimulus line very similar to the comparison line. In this condition conformity increased. The conclusion made was that in ambiguous situations we are more likely to look to others for guidance and go along with the opinion as we assume they are right. This is due to ISI.


1. One strength of Asch's research was that the study is that it is scientifically valid. His research has high scientific validity because he was able to establish causal relationships due to having standardised procedures and a controlled environment.

2. One weakness of Asch's research is a lack of ecological validity, as the study was conducted in a laboratory setting. The study also lacks mundane realism as the task is not something that a person would do in every day life. This means that Asch's research cannot be fully generalised to every day situations. In addition, participants may have been showing demand characteristics and just going along with what they thought was expected of them. Furthermore, the nature of the group was artificial, as it dies not resemble groups in everyday life. The groups were put together for the purpose of a study and in the real world a group would consist of people you know, such as work colleagues or friendship groups.

3. Another weakness is that Asch's research has ethical issues. This is because participants were deceived as they did not know they were taking part in a study of conformity. This is an issue as they did not give the full informed consent to take part.

4. Another weakness of Asch's research is that Asch only studied American men. It has been suggested by Netto (1995), that women might be more conformist because they are more concerned about being accepted by the social group. Furthermore, as the study was conducted in America, which is an individualistic culture, this might not reflect findings in other cultures, which may be considered to be more collectivist, e.g. China or Japan. Therefore this means there is a lack of population validity.

Conformity to Social Roles

Zimbardo's Research (1973):


To investigate the effects of social roles on conformity.


21 male students from Stanford University took part in Zimbardo‘s study. They were selected as they were considered to be emotionally stable, and then were randomly allocated to either the role of the prisoner or of a guard.

The social roles were encouraged by using uniform to distinguish between the prisoners and guards. The prisoners were given a uniform, which was dehumanising and deindividuating. They were given a smock to wear and a badge, which displayed a number. They were referred to by this number rather than the name for the duration of the study. The guards were given a uniform which symbolised power with reflective sunglasses, a wooden baton, and some handcuffs.

The prisoners were arrested at home by the police department and driven blindfolded to the university where they were taken into the basement where the simulated prison was constructed. They were then strip searched, deloused and given the uniform to wear. Prisoners were told that they could not leave, but they could ask for parole.


The study should have continued for 14 days. However, it was stopped after six days because of the conditions within the mock prison. The guards appeared to adopt the rules rather enthusiastically and treated the prisoners very harshly. One guard in particular behaved in a brutal manner towards the prisoners, and this was said by him because he had modelled his behaviour on a character from a film that he had seen called, 'Cool Hand Luke'. The prisoners started to show signs of psychological disturbance and also physical ill health. They tried to rebel against the prison guards under their behaviour. For example, one of the prisoners went on hunger strike. However, because of the brutal nature of the prison guards to the prisoners, Zimbardo made the decision to stop the study early.


Zimbardo concluded that social roles can have a powerful influence on behaviour. This is evident from seeing how the guards and the prisoners adopted the rules and behaved in accordance with them.



1. One strength of the Stanford prison experiment is that only the most emotional stable participants were selected to take part in the study and they were randomly allocated to one of the two conditions. This therefore increases the internal validity of the study, as they were allocated by chance and not due to their personalities.

2. One weakness of the Stanford prison experiment is that people have argued that the participants were mainly playacting.

However, Zimbardo argued that the participants behaved as if they were in a real prison. He analysed the conversations that were held within the prison, and he found that 90% of the conversations were about prison life. In fact, one of the prisoners even started a rumour that the prison that that they that they were in a real prison and it was being run by psychologists.

3. Another weakness of Zimbardo's study is that some people have argued that he acts that he exaggerated the power of social roles, and failed to consider dispositional influences. For example, only a small percent of the guards behaved in a brutal manner, some of the guards behaved in a more civilised way towards a prisoners and gave them cigarettes and extra privileges.

4. Reicher & Haslam (2006) 


Conformity Exam Questions

Conformity Mark Scheme

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