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An important type of social influence is conformity. Conformity occurs when someone voluntarily performs an act because others are doing it. That is, by conforming, someone is acting at odds with ones beliefs or perceptions because other people are acting in that way. From this stems two opposing views of influence, majority and minority influence.

The brilliant series of experiments carried out by Solomon Asch (15) is a great example of majority influence. Asch was not the first investigator to study conformity, but his approach was the most direct and dramatic. He reasons that perhaps conformity occurred in only rather ambiguous situations, when people were quite uncertain about the correct standard of behaviour was. He thought that if the stimulus situation was clear, there would be little or no conformity as people would trust their own perceptions and remain independent. essaybank.co.uk

Five students arrived to take part in a study of perception. They sat around a table and were told they would be judging the lengths of lines. They were shown a white card on which three black lines of varying lengths had been drawn and a second card containing one line. Their task was to choose the line of the first card that was most similar in length to the line on the second. One of the lines was exactly the same length as the standard, whereas the other two were quite different from it. When the lines were shown, the subjects in turn answered aloud in the order in which they were seated. Since the judgement was so easy, there were no disagreements. A second set of cards were shown, responses were given and a third set was produced.

At this point, the experiment really started. The first four subjects gave the wrong answer. When it was time for the fifth subject to respond, he was quite disturbed. He was confused as he didnt know whether to trust his own judgements or go with the majority.

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Under these circumstances a third of people sitting in the fifth position gave the wrong answer. They agreed with the others even though they knew it was incorrect. This error rate takes on significance when we realise that other subjects tested alone on the same stimuli get the answers right on all but about percent of the cases.

Variations on Aschs original study showed the following interesting points

a). Conformity increases when the task is ambiguous.

b). Conformity decreases when performance on a task by a naive person is supported by the behaviour or performance of a confederate or ally.

c). The uniformity of the group is more important than the size of the group. In fact, Tonford and Penrod (184) found that the relationship between the size of the group and conformity is S-shaped.

d.) Conformity decreases if subjects answered on a piece of paper.

The conformity, and especially the discomfort seen in these experiments illustrated the powerful social influence that results from our assumption that other people perceive the same world as we do. People conform for basically two reasons, the desire to be right which is called informational influence and the desire to be liked which is normative influence.

Informational influence is the degree that people are influenced because they accept the other subjects as sources of information about the word. Our tendency to conform based on informational influence depends on two aspects of the situation how well-informed we believe the group is and how confident we are in our own independent judgement. The more we trust the groups information and value their opinions in a situation, the more likely we are to go along with the group. Anything that uncrosses confidence in the correctness of the group should increase conformity, and conversely, anything that leads us to doubt the groups knowledge or trustworthiness should decrease conformity.

Occasionally we feel its more important to maintain other peoples positive regard. This type of influence by normative reasons is called normative influence. Sometimes we conform to gain the approval of the group, in other times we do so to avoid disapproval. In growing up, people often learn that one way to get along with the group is to go along with group standards. the fear of being deviant is justified by the group s response to deviance. When someone does not go along with a group, that person becomes the target of efforts to bring them in line, and ultimately risks rejection.

Conformity to majority patterns is a basic aspect of social life. But our emphasis on the power of the majority should not blind us to the importance of minority influence. The important social movements of our times have all begun with small numbers of people who challenged the existing assumptions of the majority. The Civil rights, womens rights, and gay rights movements had their start with small numbers of people convinced that their positions were better in accord with moral facts of the matter than were in the views of the majority.

Moscovici (16) proposed that the behavioural style of a minority is important. His research procedure, was like an Asch experiment and involved having subjects making judgements in the presence of the group. He showed subjects different coloured slides, which were unambiguous and members of groups of six were asked to name the colour of the slide. Now all the slides were blue but varied their luminance. In a control group, all six subjects were naive, that isnt to say there were no confederates opposing the majority, virtually all the slides were described as blue. In the experimental group, however, two confederates were employed who consistently labelled the colour of the slides green. Subjects had previously been told that all group members had normal vision, so they could not suggest that what appeared to be incorrect responses was due to colour blindness. With this minority pressure, about a third of the subjects reported seeing at least one green slide, and 8 percent of judgements were the slides were green. Clearly, the minority view had a noticeable effect on the naive majority.

The consistent minority, affected subjects in two quite different ways. First, it caused some of the subjects to change their overt responses, a direct effect. Secondly, it affected a larger number of subjects by causing them to alter the way they looked at the blue-green distinction. It caused them to broaden their concept of green, a so-called latent effect of minorities.

Nemeth et al (174) argued that rigid consistency is not necessary to influence. What is important is that the minority seem coherent and certain. She repeated the Moscovici experiment but made one of the confederates alter his judgement after every slide.

Minorities have more influence when their position is taken seriously and seen as reflecting certainty and competence. People who are influenced by a minority are thought to experience conversion rather than mere compliance; that is, they dont simply conform in public, but they also experience a change in their private convictions.

To conclude, people are influenced by the majority so they can be right and make a good impression on others. Minorities influence with consistency, both over time which is called diachronic consistency and with each other or synchronic consistency. A consistent minority is effective because it is coherent, it disturbs the group norm(s) by creating conflict and it has an innovative impact. Those who can do this have an envied talent.

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