The influence of conformity and obedience affect behaviors of the individual and society. Acts of evil and heroism alike intrigue the social scientist. Exploration of the concepts of conformity and obedience will culminate in an analysis of Asch’s classical conformity study. The dangers of blind obedience will be evident in a discussion of Abu Ghraib. Finally, a discussion of the individual and societal influences that lead to deviance from group norms will demonstrate the utility of social psychology in the real world. Although the prospective for evil and good exist in the world and the situation the individual experiences can activate either domain, social psychology can facilitate a better understanding of those situation and alleviate the potential for evil.
Conformity and Obedience
Conforming is the act of bending to perceived group pressure and mimicking the actions or adopting the beliefs of others bringing the individual’s behavior within the constructs of a societal standard including law, etiquette, or fashion (Brownlee, 2004). Conformity can be an automatic response to situational norms. When unsure of their own ability to define “normal” accurately an individual will observe and take cues from those who appear confident (Franzoi, 2008). Situational factors that influence conformity include, the size of the influencing group, the cohesiveness of the group, and social support. On a personal level, the individual’s degree of independence, self-awareness, self-presentation, personal desire for control, and gender affect conformity.
Compliance may follow because the request is morally right, but obedience results from potential risk to sanctions. Fear of the consequences resulting from disobedience can compel obedience even when the demands in question are perceived as morally wrong (Brownlee, 2004). Most people learned to respect and obey authority from childhood. Therefore, the individuals’ self-perception" may require obedience.
Conformity is similar to obedience in that either requires yielding by individuals of whom conformity or obedience is expected. However, obedience requires a submission of one’s resolve to the decree or authority of another (Brownlee, 2004). Obedience contrasts with the subtle methods of persuasion. Obedience is more overt and results from an exercise of power.
The obedient individual complies with the demands of another regardless of either the legitimacy of the demand or the individual’s opinion regarding the command. Furthermore, obedience requires abandoning the autonomous judgments that would follow consideration of potential options, the moral implications of those options, or the possibility that the authority is not valid in the particular situation.
Asch’s Conformity Experiments and the Influence of the Group on Self
After World War II, society wondered how so many people could go along with the atrocities that occurred. Solomon Asch attributed much of the support provided to German and...