aqa  Explanations of resistance to social influence, including social support and locus of control.


There are occasions when people appear not to conform – to behave independently. True independence is unresponsive to the norms of a group. Anti-conformity, whereby an individual deliberately chooses to behave in a way that is different from the group norm (i.e. dye their hair black/dress differently) is not true independence when it depends on group norms (i.e. the individual always does the opposite of the group; if the group favours short hair, they will grow theirs long, but if the reverse occurs the individual will then adopt short hair). True independent behaviour may converge with the group norm by accident, but is not affected by it. For example a student may ignore the dress norms of fellow students and dress to please themselves, but this may sometimes overlap with friends coincidentally.Similarly, independent people may go along with requests or instructions from those in authority as long as the requests coincide with their own beliefs or values.


Independent Behaviour – Conformity

Desire for individuation – The desire to maintain a sense of our own individuality sometimes outweighs pressures to conform. In Western cultures, it seems that people feel uncomfortable if they appear like everyone else. Snyder and Fromkin (1980) led one group of American students to believe that their most important attitudes were different from those of 10,000 other students. Another group as told that their most important attitudes were nearly identical to those of 10,000 others. Later, when those students who had been stripped of their identity participated in a conformity study, they resisted pressures to conform. Snyder argued that this was an attempt by them to assert their individuality.

Prior Commitment: Once people publicly commit themselves to an opinion, they are less likely to change their position that if their first opinion had been held privately. For example football referees who have awarded penalties or shown a red card do not change their minds because members of the penalised team voice their objections. A variation of Asch’s procedure demonstrated the power of prior commitment. The naive participant publicly gave his judgment before any of the accomplices who then unanimously gave a different answer. When offered the chance to reconsider, participants almost never did. The fear of appearing indecisive encouraged people to stick to their original decision.

Time to Think and Find Social Support: According to Aronson (1999) one of the best ways to stop ourselves being swept along by inappropriate social norms is to take time to think about what we are doing and to become aware of what type of normative social influence is operating – a necessary first step towards resistance. However, on its onw, mere awareness is not sufficient to prevent conformity. Fear of rejection or ridicule may prevent us from actively resisting conformity. In such a situation, finding an ally – or several allies – will build confidence and aid resistance as we no longer face a unanimous majority. In asch’s study conformity dropped to 8.7 per cent when the participant received social support from an ally.

Independent Behaviour – Obedience

Disobedient Models: Exposing people to the actions of disobedient models, i.e. seeing others refused to continue giving shocks when they thought the learner was in distress. One such participant, in a follow-up study, when asked why, said she had experienced too much pain in her own life, having grown up in Nazi Germany, and did not wish to inflict pain on anyone else. According to Milgram, the triggering of painful memories had ‘awakened’ her from an agentic state. She felt responsible for any harm produced.

Questioning Motives and Status of Authority: Questioning the motives, legitimacy and expertise of authority figures has been proposed as a way to prevent automatic obedience. For example, when Milgram’s study was moved to a run-down office block, the levels of obedience dropped. The lack of prestigious surroundings made it easier for participants to question the legitimacy of the authority.

Reactance: The process of reactance may occur when we want to protect our sense of freedom. Gamson and colleagues found in their study that once someone had voiced their concern about what they were being asked to do, others quickly joined in and this was the start of rebellion against the unjust authority. Blatant attempts to restrict people’s freedom can sometimes produce a boomerang effect, causing people to do the opposite of what is being asked. It has been suggested that reactance might contribute to underage drinking and the increase in cigarette smoking among young people, although peer pressure and conformity effects probably play a part as well.[/message_box][/toggle_item][/toggle_box]

Model Exam Answer

Discuss one or more explanations of why people resist the pressure to conform (8 marks)

“One reason why people resist the pressure to conform is locus of control (LOC). The LOC scale has been used to find how responsible people feel for events in their lives. People with an external locus of control believe that factors such as luck or fate have a strong influence over events in their life. Alternately people with a strong internal locus of control believe they have a strong influence and effect over events in their own lives which makes them more likely to resist pressures to conform. Support for this explanation comes from research by Shube. Shube researched the effects of peer pressure on attitudes towards drugs. He found that people with an internal locus of control were less likely to show conformity that people with external locus of control. This therefore provides support for the idea that having an internal LOC can explain why people resist the pressure to conform.

Another theory to explain why people resist pressures to conform is because they have social support. having social support not only demonstrates how to resist pressure, but also means the individual is not left feeling totally isolated and uncomfortable. Support for this comes from Asch’s study. Asch found that in the presence of just one other person going against the majority reduces conformity rates from 37% down to just 5%. This therefore provides evidence for social support explaining how people resist the pressure to conform.

Another theory as to why people resist pressures to conform is if they are in an out-group. The theory is that we conform to the group we belong to. If we do not feel we belong to a group we will not conform to them. Support for this comes from a study by Hogg and Turner. They conducted a version of the Asch study but asked participants to record their answers privately. In these conditions conformity was only shown when participants believed confederates were part of their ‘in-group’. This supports the theory as we resist the pressure to conform if the pressure is coming from an ‘out-group’.

This theory has practical implications. It could be used in prisons for trying to prevent prisoners from conforming to gang ideology. The prisons can ensure that the prisoners at high risk of conforming to gangs can be put in a wing with people who they would consider to be in their ‘out-group’ and so would be less likely to get involved with them.”


Extension Resources

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