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Social norm

There are several variations of social norms. Injunctive norms are behaviours which are perceived as being approved of by other people. Descriptive norms are perceptions of how other people are actually behaving, whether or not these are approved of. Explicit norms are written or spoken openly. Implicit norms are not openly stated (but you find out when you transgress them). Subjective norms, expectations that valued others have about how we will behave. Personal Norms, standards we have about our own actions.

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Following on from Jenness (1932), Sherif (1935) conducted an experiment called the auto kinetic effect. Participants sat in a darkened room and stare at a pinpoint of light that appears to move. They are asked to estimate the distance it moves individually at first, there were differences between there suggested movement estimates. They were then told estimates of two other individuals who took part, under this influence they converged on similar figures. Since the movement is only apparent the correct answer is it doesn’t, however Sherif’s participants were not aware of this at the time. Within both experiments, social norms emerge as a core factor, and clearly swayed the individual to harmonize with the rest, due to informational conformity, this usually occurs when there is a lack of knowledge as an individual and they look for group guidance.

Asch (1951) notably disagreed with Sherif’s findings and questioned how ambiguous the task was, as there was no right or wrong answers, which in conclusion would make it difficult to judge group conformity. Asch decided to devise his own pilot study, a simple take that conducted experiments in individuals deciding which three comparison lines of different length matched a standard line. As shown below is the basic formula Solomon Asch used:

Asch tested 36 participants individually on 20 slightly different variations of the task shown above. Only 3 mistakes were made out of 720 trials over a succession of experiments from 1951, 1955 and 1956; a tiny percentage of individual differed with their answers. Asch then adapted the procedure so he could better study the effect of conformity and the differing variables within; he named this the Asch paradigm.

This allowed him to plant accomplices, who were informed that one participant would be completely ignorant of them being his confederates. The unknowing test subject was placed with 7-9 other individuals, who were required to answer out loud the wrong answer, influencing the na�ve participant to conform. In a total of 12 trials, on 11 occasions the na�ve individual concurs with the rest of the group. Asch unearthed that 32 per cent was the overall figure of na�ve participants who agreed with the incorrect minority answer. When questioned, the na�ve individuals said they wanted to be liked by everyone and not outcast, not to upset the experimenter or appear different to the rest of the group, some even believed there eyesight genuinely got worse during the experiment. Asch had his critics:

“These theories have no basis in fact; any facts about the mind used in their support would have necessitated the use of such theories. In effect, the psychological world so dear to the heart of many social psychologists is a social construction, and the findings used to justify statements about this world are only valid insofar as one remains within the theoretical (and metatheoretical) paradigms of the field. Research findings don’t have any meaning until they are interpreted, and these interpretations are not demanded by the findings themselves. They result from a process of negotiating meaning within the community.” (Gergen 1999 p123)

According to Leyens & Cornielle (1999), the study took a more individualistic approach, and focused purely on the naive participant’s independence, rather than the group’s independence. Fiske (2004) agrees, Asch’s research is “stripped down” social influence, without the everyday interactionist within a group environment.

Does the minority or majority influence, Moscovici & Faucheux (1972) argue that Asch-type experiments can suggest ideas may be accepted, but also provide evidence to maintain the status quo, Moscovici believes majority rule is misleading. If groups followed the majority decision all the time, wherein the individual accepts the majority, it must be right, or influences from a social structure dilutee a conforming group, then where would innovation come from. However Spencer & Perrin (1998) inject a differing stance, suggesting Asch’s experiments overemphasize the influence of a majority, to suppress the minority individuals, in this case the naive candidate. Leading to various other group processes, risky shift theory which is more a means tested experiment which Sherif covered, or group polarisation which Moscovici & Zacalloni (1969) studied.

And so: “…thus, majorities can be converted by minorities, but majority individuals do not admit it to others, and perhaps not to themselves, thereby avoiding public identification with the unpopular minority position.” (Gross 2005 p449) Moscovici (1969) brought about a similar Asch-type experiment where he attempted to see if influences of a consistent minority on the responses of a majority. Individuals were placed into groups of 4 participants, and 2 confederates.

They were all shown 36 slides each, and asked to say the colour out loud. There were 2 groups in the experiment, and the stooges answered green every time. Within the second group the confederates were inconsistent and answered green 24 times and blue 12 times. His findings showed 8.42% of the trials, participants agreed with the minority, and answered green. Overall 32% of the participants agreed at least once. The study suggested that minorities can indeed exert an effect over the opinion of a majority. Not to the same degree as majority influence, but the fact that almost a third of people agreed at least once is significant. However, this also leaves two thirds who never agreed. In a follow up experiment, Moscovici demonstrated that consistency was the key factor in minority influence, by instructing the stooges to be inconsistent. The effect fell off sharply.


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