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Social Psychology

Groups

Obedience and Authority

Groups, page 2

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Social psychologists consider a group to be composed of two or more people who interact and depend on each other in some way. Examples of groups include a baseball team, an Internet listserv, a college psychology class, and a cult.

Features of Groups

Groups usually have the following features:

  • Norms that determine appropriate behavior
  • Roles that are assigned to people that determine what behaviors and responsibilities people should take on
  • A communication structure that determines who talks to whom within the group
  • A power structure that determines how much authority and influence group members have

Example: A college psychology class has norms, such as when people should arrive for class. The professor’s role includes teaching, inviting discussion, and administering exams. The students’ role is to attend class, listen to lectures, read materials, and pose questions. The communication structure of the class demands that students listen without talking to each other while the professor lectures. The power structure gives the professor more authority than any of the students. Some students also may have more authority and influence than other students, such as those who are more familiar with the class material.

Conformity

Conformity is the process of giving in to real or imagined pressure from a group. In the 1950s, the psychologist Solomon Asch did a famous study that demonstrated that people often conform.

Asch’s Conformity Study

Asch recruited male undergraduate subjects for the study and told them that he was doing research on visual perception. He placed each subject in a room with six accomplices. The subject thought that the six were also subjects. The seven people were then given a series of easy tasks. In each task, they looked at two cards, one with a single line on it and the other with three lines of different lengths. The people were asked to decide which line on the second card was the same length as the line on the first card. On the first two tasks, the accomplices announced the correct answer to the group, as did the subject. On the next twelve tasks, the accomplices picked a line on the second card that was clearly a wrong answer. When put in this situation, more than one-third of the subjects conformed to the choices made by their group.

Factors that Influence Conformity

Asch and other researchers have found that many factors influence conformity:

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