Experiments

Matthew Li
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Psychology (Social Influence On Individual Behaviour) Note on Experiments, created by Matthew Li on 08/07/2013.

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Matthew Li
Created by Matthew Li over 5 years ago
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Aim: Solomon Asch (1951) conducted an experiment to investigate the extent to which social pressure from a majority group could affect a person to conform.Procedure: Asch used a lab experiment to study conformity, whereby 50 male students from Swarthmore College in the USA participated in a ‘vision test’.Using a line judgment task, Asch put a naive participant in a room with seven confederates. The confederates had agreed in advance what their responses would be when presented with the line task. The real participant did not know this and was led to believe that the other seven participants were also real participants like themselves. Each person in the room had to state aloud which comparison line (A, B or C) was most like the target line. The answer was always obvious. The real participant sat at the end of the row and gave his or her answer last.There were 18 trials in total and the confederates gave the wrong answer on 12 trails (called the critical trials). Asch was interested to see if the real participant would conform to the majority view. Asch's experiment also had a control condition where there were no confederates, only a "real participant".Results: Asch measured the number of times each participant conformed to the majority view. On average, about one third (32%) of the participants who were placed in this situation went along and conformed with the clearly incorrect majority on the critical trials.Over the 12 critical trials about 75% of participants conformed at least once and 25% of participant never conformed. In the control group, with no pressure to conform to confederates, less than 1% of participants gave the wrong answerConclusion: Why did the participants 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.Apparently, people conform for two main reasons: because they want to fit in with the group (normative influence) and because they believe the group is better informed than they are (informational influence).Evaluation: One limition of the study is that is used a biased sample. All the participants were male students who all belonged to the same age group. This means that study lacks population validity and that the results cannot be generalized to famales or older groups of people.Another problem is that the experiment used an artificial task to measure conformity - judging line lengths. This means that study has low ecological validity and the results cannot be generalised to other real life situations of conformity.Finally, there are ethical issues: participants were not protected from psychological stress which may occur if they disagreed with the majority. Asch deceived the student volunteers claiming they were taking part in a 'vision' test; the real purpose was to see how the 'naive' participant would react to the behavior of the confederates. However, decepetion was necessary to produce valid results.The Asch (1951) study has also been called a child of its time (as conformity was the social norm in 1950’s America). The era of individualism, ‘doing your own thing’, did not take hold until the 1960s.Perrin and Spencer (1980) carried out an exact replication of the original Asch experiment using British engineering, mathematics and chemistry students as participants. The results were clear cut: on only one out of 396 trials did a participant conform with the incorrect majority. This shows the Asch experiment has poor reliability.

Aim: To investigate how readily people would conform to the roles of guard and prisoner in a role-playing exercise that simulated prison lifeHypothesis: Zimbardo didn't really have a hypothesis however he did want to know, "what happens when you put good people in an evil place? Does humanity win over evil, or does evil triumph?"To summarise the findings: the participants quickly morphed their personality into the roles that they were given. Zimbardo's aim of trying to make the experiment as realistic as possible surely did the job and just hours after the start of the experiment the guards already started harassing the prisoners. The added uniforms and roles of both prisoners and guard immediately changed the participants attitudes to their role, despite their previous personalities. Just days after the experiment had began the prisoner began to feel even more traumatised and dehumanised. Some prisoners had to be let go early due to uncontrollable anger, crying and screaming. Within 6 days of the experiment begin, it was shut down due to the danger of participants being truely physically of mentally damaged.

Stanley Milgram in the 1960's conducted an experiment that studied obedience. His experiment required him to deceive his participants into believing that they were inflicting electric shocks to another participant. Milgram wanted to see at what point people would disobey a direct command issued by the experimenter. Aim: Milgram (1963) was interested in researching how far people would go in obeying an instruction if it involved harming another person. Stanley Milgram was interested in how easily ordinary people could be influenced into committing atrocities for example, Germans in WWII.Method: Volunteers were recruited for a lab experiment investigating “learning” (re: ethics: deception). Participants were 40 males, aged between 20 and 50, whose jobs ranged from unskilled to professional.At the beginning of the experiment they were introduced to another participant, who was actually a confederate of the experimenter (Milgram). They drew straws to determine their roles – leaner or teacher – although this was fixed and the confederate always ended to the learner. There was also an “experimenter” dressed in a white lab coat, played by an actor (not Milgram).The “learner” (Mr. Wallace) was strapped to a chair in another room with electrodes. After he has learned a list of word pairs given him to learn, the "teacher" tests him by naming a word and asking the learner to recall its partner/pair from a list of four possible choices.The teacher is told to administer an electric shock every time the learner makes a mistake, increasing the level of shock each time. There were 30 switches on the shock generator marked from 15 volts (slight shock) to 450 (danger – severe shock).The learner gave mainly wrong answers (on purpose) and for each of these the teacher gave him an electric shock. When the teacher refused to administer a shock and turned to the experimenter for guidance, he was given the standard instruction /order (consisting of 4 prods):Prod 1: please continue.Prod 2: the experiment requires you to continue.Prod 3: It is absolutely essential that you continue.Prod 4: you have no other choice but to continue.Results:65% (two-thirds) of participants (i.e. teachers) continued to the highest level of 450 volts. All the participants continued to 300 volts.Milgram did more than one experiment – he carried out 18 variations of his study. All he did was alter the situation (IV) to see how this affected obedience (DV).Conclusion:Ordinary people are likely to follow orders given by an authority figure, even to the extent of killing an innocent human being. Obedience to authority is ingrained in us all from the way we are brought up. Obey parents, teachers, anyone in authority etc.Milgram summed up in the article “The Perils of Obedience” (Milgram 1974), writing:“The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of enormous import, but they say very little about how most people behave in concrete situations. I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects’ [participants’] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects’ [participants’] ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.”

Asch (conformity)

Milgram (Obedience)

Zimbardo (Power and Status)