Summary: Group Influences

Many of the early studies in social psychology involve group influences on individuals. Allport (1935) proposed that conformity followed a pattern called a j-curve, with large deviations less common than small deviations. Sherif (1936) found that people in a group arrived at a group norm for judging the movement of a point of light in a darkened room...movement that was an illusion. Asch found that people could be pressured into making an obviously incorrect judgment, if seven other people made the same judgment first.

The Asch experiment stimulated a lot of research about conformity. Stanley Milgram was one of those inspired by Asch. Milgram performed the famous Obedience study, in which subjects were led to administer what they thought were shocks to a helpless victim. To the surprise of psychiatrists, most people obeyed instructions that seemed to be harming another person.

Attitude has been a central concept of social psychology for over 60 years. An attitude typically involves a value judgment: a like or dislike. Persuasion is an attempt at attitude change. Hovland outlined three variables likely to affect persuasion: characteristics of the communicator, the communication, and the situation. People can be inoculated against attempts at persuasion and propaganda by exposing them to weak attacks and teaching them how to respond.

Cognitive dissonance theory emerged in the 1950s and had a large impact on social psychology. It is based on the assumption that people seek consistency between their behavior and their attitudes. If forced to do something that contradicts their value judgments or opinions, people feel dissonance and are motivated to change either attitudes or behavior, to bring them into consonance (agreement) with one another. This theory often makes counter-intuitive predictions (for example, that a person paid less will experience more attitude change, if induced to endorse a previously disliked position). That makes the theory especially interesting and useful.

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Copyright © 2007 Russ Dewey