Why People Conform and Obey…


Doing something without being told (Compliance is doing something when asked. Obedience is doing something when told.)

Conformity is learned and reinforced and some genetic factor too.

You can conform to a point that it is bad for you.

Experiment: Subjects put in a group of confederates and asked to make judgments about line lengths.

In the basic Asch paradigm, the participants — the real subjects and the confederates — were all seated in a classroom. They were asked a variety of questions about the lines such as how long is A, compare the length of A to an everyday object, which line was longer than the other, which lines were the same length, etc. The group was told to announce their answers to each question out loud. The confederates always provided their answers before the study participant, and always gave the same answer as each other. They answered a few questions correctly but eventually began providing incorrect responses. In a control group, with no pressure to conform to an erroneous view, only one subject out of 35 ever gave an incorrect answer. Solomon Asch hypothesized that the majority of people would not conform to something obviously wrong; however, when surrounded by individuals all voicing an incorrect answer, participants provided incorrect responses on a high proportion of the questions (32%). Seventy-five percent of the participants gave an incorrect answer to at least one question. Variations of the basic paradigm tested how many cohorts were necessary to induce conformity, examining the influence of just one cohorts and as many as fifteen cohorts. Results indicate that one cohorts has virtually no influence and two cohorts have only a small influence. When three or more cohorts are present, the tendency to conform is relatively stable. The unanimity of the confederates has also been varied. When the confederates are not unanimous in their judgment, even if only one confederate voices a different opinion, participants are much more likely to resist the urge to conform than when the confederates all agree. This finding illuminates the power that even a small dissenting minority can have. Interestingly, this finding holds whether or not the dissenting confederate gives the correct answer. As long as the dissenting confederate gives an answer that is different from the majority, participants are more likely to give the correct answer. One difference between the Asch conformity experiments and the Milgram experiment as carried out by Stanley Milgram (also famous in social psychology) is that the subjects of these studies attributed their performance to their own misjudgment and “poor eyesight”, while those in the Milgram experiment blamed the experimenter in explaining their behavior. Conformity may be much less salient than authority pressure. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asch_conformity_experiments)

People use conformity to control, its all in the votes. It keeps people in voting blocks

One way of doing this is making them mad. If they are mad, they don’t think and stay in group. Mad people lose in the end. They are used to elect officials and then ignored.

Image via Wikipedia

Cognitive Dissonance

An adverse state that arises when an individual is aware of a conflict between his/her belief about something and knowledge that he/she performed a contradictory behavior.

“Smoking causes cancer and heart disease. I smoke”

Because dissonance is an adverse state there is a need to resolve it. Unfortunately, resolution usually takes the form of shifting the attitudes toward the behavior.

New gang members having to commit a crime. If they were against crime initially, they won’t be afterwards. They don’t do it day 1 though. They ease into it. Authoritarians tend to do it more.

Dissonance is aroused whenever individuals voluntarily engage in an unpleasant activity to achieve some desired goal. Dissonance can be reduced by exaggerating the desirability of the goal. Aronson & Mills[15] had individuals undergo a severe or mild “initiation” in order to become a member of a group. In the severe-initiation condition, the individuals engaged in an embarrassing activity. The group turned out to be very dull and boring. The individuals in the severe-initiation condition evaluated the group as more interesting than the individuals in the mild-initiation condition. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance)

Naïve Realism

Lee Ross

Tendency to see the “other guys” point of view as biased.

Showed Israelis a “Palestinian” peace proposal that was really an Israeli one. They disliked it. They then showed them an “Israeli” peace proposal that was really a Palestinian one. They liked the Palestinian one.

You know you are right regardless of the facts.

Very few people can admit they are wrong.


Controlling people by providing them with a small immediate reinforcer, even though they will eventually have to endure a significant punisher.

In other words, at the time, they want to do it.

Contingency trap

You can exploit people because they are easily conformed.

Obedience: Influence of the Authority figure

Stanley Milgram‘s “Shock Studies” (1965)

Image via Wikipedia

Confederate “learner” pretended to receive shocks

Experimenters told subject to keep increasing voltage until “learner” learned the task

Most subjects increased the “shock” until the “learner” became unconscious

It’s not hard to get people to kill. It’s hard to get them to be nice.

People obey more when you gradually get them to do something. They are going to shock them a lot early on.

Conformity and obedience mix together a lot.

Jonestown Commune.

A bunch of conformity and obedience got those people killed.


Civilization is very thin on people.

Tendency to Obey: Some key factors

High status authority figure

Belief that authority figure will be responsible (take responsibility)

Absence of clear cut point for switching to disobedience

Gradual nature of many obedience situations

Related articles

When is discrimination not prejudice?

Social Prejudice

Negative attitudes that are held about some identifiable group that are largely based on generalizations, faulty, and incomplete information

They are typically reinforced on a variable (ie. Hard to extinguish) schedule

Is discrimination on nonvalid or valid criteria?

Discrimination is denying or hiring someone based on relevant criteria.

Causes of Social Prejudice

Social (economic) factors

Two can’t live as cheaply as one

When the wolf comes to the door, the dove flies out the window.

Chinese building railroads. When done, they needed jobs. Americans prevented more Chinese from emigrating.

Personality Factors


Theodor Adomo

Why did people follow Hitler?

Authoritarian personality

F-scale (F=fascism)


Authoritarian submission (they want someone above them) (they want a father figure)

Authoritarian aggression (they like people below them that they can push around) (displaced aggression)

Hard-core cynicism

Preoccupation with power

Anti-introspective attitude

Strong need for consistency (between attitudes and behaviors) (way they controlled, need to match up)